One of our most touching Homecoming traditions is the awarding of those with Alumni Merit. Alumni Merit Awards have been presented annually since 1958 to Southeast alumni who have brought distinction to themselves and the University.

Each month, we'll take a closer look at this year's recipients and the honor they bring to the University and the impact they've made beyond SEMO. This month, we get a two for one: amazing alumni making a difference and a love story.

Janet and Patrick have practiced dentistry in Cape Girardeau for 45 years at Ruopp Family Dentistry. The pair work out of the same dental office where Janet’s father practiced dentistry and where they met in 1967.

Janet graduated from Southeast in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science in zoology and a minor in chemistry education. Patrick finished his undergraduate courses at the same time as Janet but did not officially complete his degree requirements and graduate until 1976, when he earned a Bachelor of Science in biology with a minor in chemistry.

After completing four years of study in three years at Southeast, the couple went on to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry. Patrick and Janet were married two weeks before starting dental school and were the first husband and wife team in the history of the school to start and finish the dental program together.

Janet and Patrick each knew early on that they wanted to pursue dentistry, and Southeast gave them the tools to do so.

Janet and Patrick said they were inspired by a few of the same faculty members: Dr. Norman Braasch, who taught zoology; Dr. Carl Train, who taught protozoology and parasitology; Dr. John Hinni, who taught embryology; and Dr. Michael Readnour, who taught chemistry.

The Ruopps were each recognized three times with the Certificate for International Volunteer Service from the American Dental Association in 2015, 2016 and 2017,

Patrick has also been the recipient of the Missouri Jaycees Distinguished Service Award. Janet was honored in 2006 as the United Way Adult Volunteer of the Year and in 1981 as the recipient of the Young Woman of the Year Award, presented by the Cape Jaycees.

The Ruopps are members of the American Dental Association, Missouri Dental Association, Southeast District Dental Society, and Cape Dental Study Club, as well as the SEMO President’s Council, SEMO Athletic Booster Club, SEMO Copper Dome Society, and SEMO Horizon Club.

Patrick is a member of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce, the River City Rodders, and the Southeast Missouri Corvette Club. Janet is a member of the Oral Health Coalition of Southeast Missouri, MissionFest Cape, the BeTween Initiative, Zonta Club of Cape Girardeau Area, Grace United Methodist Church Foundation, and Granting Grace Outreach.

Looking back on her accomplishments over the years, Janet said she is proud to be able to give back through dentistry. She has participated in eight dental missions to Haiti; five Missouri Missions of Mercy (MOMOM) — a large-scale dental clinic that provides free oral healthcare to patients who cannot otherwise afford or access care — with the Missouri Dental Association. She has also donated dental work through Oral Health Coalition and Donated Dental Services, and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, United Way of Southeast Missouri, and the Cape Girardeau Public Library.

The Ruopps live in Cape Girardeau and have two children — both of whom are Southeast alumni and practicing dentists — Dr. Alyssa Ruopp Baker, and Dr. Brenton Ruopp, and four grandchildren.