All in the family: People of vision

Choosing a career path was never a hard decision for Marietta optometrist Matt Ingram.

“I was always proud to say my dad was an optometrist. I still get so much enjoyment seeing the happy expression on someone’s face when they can see better,” he said.

Matt, 34, was only a baby when his father, Dr. Greg Ingram, started Eye Care Associates with a fellow optometrist in Marietta in 1980.

He grew up in the family business and followed in his father’s footsteps, graduating from The Ohio State University College of Optometry eight years ago and joining Greg and Dr. Mark Ruff at the practice.

When patients ask Greg, 62, when he plans on retiring, he responds, “Maybe in a few years. But my new and improved version is coming up.”

And Matt and Greg are not the only Ingrams helping hold down the fort. Both of their wives take an active role in the business.

Greg’s wife, Mary, is the business’s optical manager, helping patients choose and fit frames.

Matt’s wife, Kara, does bookkeeping from home.

In fact, Greg started a bit of a family trend when he moved from Los Angeles, Calif. to study optometry.

Greg’s sister and her son practice optometry in Bloomington, Ind., he said.

“I came from a big family and I was the first to go to college. I kind of started the tradition of studying optometry and now there are four of us,” he said.

At 4 months and 6 and 8 years old, it might be a little early to start counting Matt’s children as third-generation optometrists, but the possibility is there, said Matt Ingram.

“They express an interest in optometry along with a little bit of everything else too,” he said.

Naturally, a lot of talking shop continues after hours.

“Family businesses don’t stop at five. We will consciously turn it off sometimes. We’ll go out to dinner and be like ‘OK. We need to stop the office talk sometimes,” joked Matt.

But having the common denominator is often nice, said Mary Ingram, 58.

“I understand the issues he talks about. He understands what I talk about. Sometimes we even have the same patients,” she said.

Despite sharing an office, the Ingrams do not actually get much opportunity to interact while at work.

Matt and Greg spend a lot of time rotating around Eye Care Associates’ satellite locations in Beverly, Woodsfield, McConnelsville and Belpre.

They are only together at the Marietta office on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Similarly, Mary keeps busy helping customers find frames while her husband and Matt see a steady stream of patients on the opposite side of the office.

“We go all day sometimes and don’t see each other,” she said.

Another activity the family have long shared in are yearly medical mission trips. For the past decade, Greg and Mary, along with a team of local medical doctors and dentists, have packed up a large load of donated glasses and traveled to Nicaragua to help treat patients there and fit them for glasses.

Matt has also participated in the Nicaraguan trips in the past and Greg has visited several other countries doing optical mission work, said Mary.

“It’s great. We have a rapport there with the patients and many of them come back from year to year,” said Mary, who proudly displays pictures of some of their longtime Nicaraguan patients in the office.

While working together as a family is nothing but positive for the Ingrams, it has been known to cause some humorous confusion in patients.

“Patients have said, ‘I can hear your dad in the other room and it sounds like I’m listening to you talk,'” laughed Mark.

But in all, Greg said he thinks patients appreciate coming to a practice where multiple family members are involved.

“Patients see some stability,” he said.