BURLEY • Retiring optometrist Jack Zarybnisky’s hands have cared for thousands of patients’ eyes during a career spanning nearly 40 years. But his heart and giving spirit have reached out to thousands more.
If Zarybnisky, 65, is not at work, church or doing Crohn’s Disease research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, N.Y., he can often be found handing out blankets and food to those in need in Mini-Cassia.
Stepping through his Burley office doors on his first day of work in August 1972, there were only a few kinds of eye-dilating drops available and lasers and computers hadn’t been invented. Peripheral vision was still being measured by using a felt screen located a set distance from the patient and the eye doctor with a pointing stick.
“Now you sit behind this instrument and the computer takes over, and it figures out exactly how big the blind spot is,” said Zarybnisky. “Things have changed so drastically since I started in optometry. It’s been thoroughly fascinating to watch.”
Optometrists used to set up shop in tiny offices by themselves, he said. Today many are located in blocks of physicians, including general practitioners so they can coordinate better care for their patients.
Often, optometrists are the frontline caregivers who catch medical conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, which can manifest symptoms in the eyes.
“Yesterday alone I sent four individuals to their primary physicians,” Zarybnisky said.
With more than 12,000 active patient files, he’s literally watched generations grow up.
“I am now seeing the grandchildren of my first patients,” he said.
Zarybnisky grew up in a small mining town called Stibnite near McCall, now part of the Frank Church — River of No Return Wilderness.
“The town was at about 9,000 feet, so we had snow 12 months out of the year,” said Zarybnisky. “I remember it snowing on the Fourth of July.”
When the mine closed down, his family settled in Nampa, later buying a 20-acre plot of ground. Zarybnisky’s father, who shared his son’s generous nature, later donated the land to the local school district. Lone Star Middle School was constructed in the shape of a V around a sycamore tree that Zarybnisky’s mother couldn’t stand to see cut down. The district also incorporated a few of the family homestead’s doors into the building.
Living on a farm, Zarybnisky soon learned he did not want to milk cows for a living. He met a Nampa man named Parke Sallee who encouraged him attend Pacific University College of Optometry and pursue a career. Sallee’s brother, Jack Sallee, opened an optometry practice in Burley in 1943. Howard Donaldson took over the practice and Zarybnisky later partnered with him.
Delbert Oman is Zarybnisky’s current partner. He will be soon joined by Eric Pierce as Zarybnisky retires. Pierce is a Burley native.
“When we first came to Burley we didn’t know a soul,” Zarybnisky said.
Now his reputation for kindness has spread. It’s not uncommon for Zarybnisky and his wife, Mary, who taught school for 39 years, to find someone — and not necessarily a patient — on their doorstep with something in their eye.
“My wife is fine with that. It doesn’t bother her at all,” Zarybnisky said. “Being able to take a chunk of metal out of someone’s eye and make them feel better is so rewarding.”
After all, he said, something foreign in the eye can make even “big, grown men almost cry.”
Zarybnisky’s compassion extends far beyond his profession. For the past 18 years the couple helped coordinate a free Thanksgiving Day meal in Burley. The first year the group fed about 40 people. For the last several years it’s been served from Charlie’s Cafe. Last year they handed out more than 1,000 holiday meals.
The Zarybniskys also help feed the homeless at the Community Oasis Outreach shelter in Rupert once a month.
In retirement, the Zarybniskys plan to continue making their home in Burley and donating their spare time to their favorite charities.
“This is our home,” he said.
But the couple also signed up to serve medical and educational missions through the Peace Corps, and Zarybnisky will continue to conduct research at the Mayo Clinic.
“I can’t tell you how much I’ve loved the things that I’ve done,” Zarybnisky said.