David W. Kistler, born November 17th, 1923 in Wilkes-Barre, passed away on Sunday, March 24th at the Celtic Hospice Inpatient Unit at Geisinger South in Wilkes-Barre—the same city he served his whole life.
Longtime friend, Leo “Lou” Solomon, worked with “Doc” Kistler when Solomon was principal of Dodson Elementary and Doctor David Kistler was serving on the Wilkes-Barre School Board, and described the late physician fondly, “He was such a great person, never did anything for himself, it was always for the community. It was wonderful to work on education projects with him because he was very progressive, always looking ahead. He would always look to enhance education, getting kids to think for themselves—critical thinking.”
I asked how he had preferred to be addressed: “Doc,” David, Dave? “Oh, we didn’t worry about such things,” was Solomon’s quick response, “we just loved to talk, whether it be politics, current events, or happenings in the community. He was so good to talk with. His father was actually my first family doctor on Hanover Street, before Doctor Kistler became my family physician. I remember Doctor Kistler’s first office on Dana and Grove where the Albright Church sits now. I lived a few doors down. It had a big porch and I would watch sometimes ten, eleven at night people on the porch waiting to see ‘Doc.’ That’s the way he was.
“He always brought out the best in people, maybe because he was so well respected. Doctor Kistler had a gift for unity, to get people to get along. He could see through any circumstance, and work out people’s differences to serve the greater good.”
Debbie Istvan Zorlular, born and raised “on the hill” in Wilkes-Barre, also had warm memories of Doctor Kistler and the neighborhood she grew up in. “Dr. Kistler was a kind, gentle man. I would walk to Dodson Elementary School, where Leo Solomon was principal. I walked up Moyallen Street, past Jerry’s Barber Shop, turned onto Grove Street passing Leggieri’s Market, which was famous for its kibbeh meat, past my own father’s dental office, before turning onto Stanton Street, where Dr. Kistler’s medical office was located. The route through his office parking lot was a shortcut to Dodson Elementary. Dr. Kistler’s office had a special, clean smell that could be detected even as I walked past the entrance door.
“The walk was safe, and the houses were clean, with flowers in almost every yard. There were kids from every ethnic and socio-economic background. It was a nice community. When someone on the street died, Mrs. Dobash went from house to house to collect money to give to the families and everyone brought a plate of food to the house. The Syrian Hill, as it was called, was a wonderful place to grow up. It was our community. It was home, and Dr. Kistler was an integral part of it.
“Dr. Kistler delivered me and I was his patient until he retired. I remember him coming to our house to give my mother her medicine when she was dying of cancer. When my son was born, Dr. Kistler came to my room at Geisinger, wearing the blue sport coat that my mother had bought for him. The 1960’s seem like an eternity ago. I am so grateful for the sweet memories.”
Joanne Lacey McDade treasures similar recollections. “My love for Dr. Kistler goes back 55 years. He delivered me, gave me my vaccination, talked with a caring, gentle style throughout my adolescence, and let me follow him around as a nursing student.
“My Dad was proud to work at the Kistler Elementary School, named in Doctor Kistler’s honor. Megan, my daughter, was gifted with a college scholarship in his name. We were honored to be guests at his appreciation dinner. Just about everyone in South Wilkes-Barre and beyond our neighborhood has been impacted by Dr. Kistler’s life. He was an advocate for public schools and an inspiration for everyone, a real hero who always wanted to know how the kids were doing. Immeasurable gratitude, Doc. Will look to the skies for your shining star.”
Doctor Kistler’s passing prompted these sentiments from Loretta Hankey: “As a doctor he was very caring, and took the time to explain everything to you, no matter how busy he was. Growing up, if you saw him outside or walking around the neighborhood he always had a smile on his face. He always asked how you were and how the family was. He was just a kind person with such an infectious smile.
“My sister and dad died four months apart. He always asked how my mom was doing. I said very sad, and he responded, losing a loved one is very tragic, but one thing we will never lose is the memories, hold them close to your heart and live and love life.”
For many of those in this community Doctor Kistler’s own words are most poignant; they will never lose the memories of the man they knew as doctor and friend.
The list went on and on of local residents seeking to share with us their recollections of David Kistler, the man. Another lifelong resident of the city, Joe DeVizia, recalled, “He was the best doctor that ever lived in our community. He was driven by values that never had an agenda. Our family-owned business, DeVizia Drug, was three blocks down from Doctor Kistler’s office. He would often stop and just talk. He was a very humble man, not uppity in any way.” Leo Solomon likewise noted, “He never lived an ostentatious life, [but possessed a] small car, modest home.”
“He loved the Children’s Service Center,” noted DeVizia, referring to the facility DeVizia ran for many years. “He was a visionary. He opened a clinic on Park Avenue, maybe the first clinic in Wilkes-Barre with the ability to serve more people and in an area where some might not have access to a physician. His foresight led to what is now Geisinger.
“His personality was so welcoming. He was a doctor, humanitarian, family man, educator, a leader in the community that always was on the high road. When I talk about Doctor Kistler all kinds of good memories come back.”
“My dad very often was a patient at Wyoming Valley Hospital under Doctor Kistler’s care. My mother had passed on, and, having no siblings, I was left to make the decisions concerning his care, on my own. They were often difficult ones but Doctor Kistler was always there for me,” shared Joan Price West.
Doctor Kistler’s accomplishments include his service as a school board member, as a community doctor, a family doctor, a visionary, and as the first Chief of Staff of Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center. His most enduring legacy, however, may very well be the affection he elicited in the lives and hearts of those he touched. Wilkes-Barre will miss the Good Doctor, may he rest in peace.