WILKES-BARRE — Dr. David Kistler, one of the forces behind the establishment of Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center and a community leader in medicine and education, died Sunday at the age of 89.
Conrad Schintz, vice president for community relationships for Geisinger Health System, visited with Kistler recently and said the conversation centered on Geisinger and the progress made by the health system during his lifetime.
“He was so pleased by that,” Schintz said. “He was very well-thought-of guy and a terrific physician. He knew his condition was grave, but he found great happiness in how far Geisinger has come.”
Kistler was there from the beginning with his longtime friend and colleague, the late Ben Badman, when NPW Medical Center was transitioning to become Geisinger Wyoming Valley.
Schintz said Kistler was the hospital’s first chief of staff, holding that position from 1981 to around 2000. He continued his general practice until 2002, Schintz said.
Kistler was involved in the community as well, serving on the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board. The district would name an elementary school in his honor in South Wilkes-Barre. Kistler also donated several scholarships to all five area colleges.
David Jolley, spokesman for Geisinger, said Kistler led an exemplary life.
“He was committed to advancing health care and education in our community,” Jolley said. “Beyond his professionalism, Dr. Kistler was a true gentleman who will long be remembered and missed.”
Attorney Gene Roth was a close friend of Kistler’s and he described him as “a wonderfully caring individual.” Roth said Kistler always had a very caring attitude.
“When he spoke of Geisinger, he always marveled at how it had grown,” Roth said. “From a traditional general hospital to a health system with many specialties to provide the best possible health care for the people of the valley.”
Roth said Kistler was a very loving husband and father. His wife, June Ann, died in October 2011.
There’s nothing more to say other than he had such a concern for people of the valley and he will be greatly missed,” Roth said. “He lived a full life.”
In 2011, Kistler was honored by the Luzerne Foundation as recipient of the Mary Bevevino Community Service Award.
At the dinner, Charles Barber, president and CEO of the foundation, said, “Dr. David Kistler is legendary in the Wyoming Valley and in Northeastern Pennsylvania for the quality of care he has provided to people during his long and illustrious medical career over 53 years. But what might not be fully understood by many people is his passion and dedication for building a foundation for quality education.”
The David W. Kistler Elementary School, just a few blocks from his South Wilkes-Barre home, was named in his honor in 1974. In 1998, Kistler established the Dr. David W. Kistler Scholarship Fund of the Luzerne Foundation that Barber said provided the “modest gifts in the thousands of dollars” awarded to high school graduates.
“It helps kids fulfill their dreams of going to college, and it has helped magnificently,” Barber said at the dinner.
In accepting the award, Kistler was pleased to learn that students try extra hard to win the scholarships.
“It’s very rewarding to hear that sort of thing,” Kistler said. “Medicine was my vocation. Education is my avocation.”
Kistler was a graduate of Meyers High School, Colgate University and Hahnemann Medical College (now called Drexel).
He served of the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board, Wilkes-Barre Area Vocational-Technical School, Wilkes-Barre Board of Health and the Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians.
He was honored as Family Physician of the Year in 1999, and his name is attached to the Geisinger Medical Group Kistler Clinic in Wilkes-Barre, Kistler Learning Center at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township, and Kistler Family Medicine Residency at Geisinger.
Kistler and his wife had four sons: Christopher C. Kistler, who passed away in 2007; and Dr. David W. Kistler Jr., Dr. William A. Kistler and John C. Kistler.
Kistler fought a controversial battle to establish a new hospital in the Wyoming Valley at a time when regional health care initiatives needed the approval of a parochial board, and members of the local medical society weren’t fond of the idea of competition. The NPW Medical Center, which later became Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, came about after officials at three facilities — the Nanticoke, Pittston and Wyoming Valley hospitals — decided to merge.
The plan for a new 500-bed hospital in Plains Township was born in 1969. After many changes, a plan for a $32.9 million facility with 230 beds was approved by the Health Services Administration in 1977, and the Geisinger Medical Management Corp. was retained to manage the facility in November 1978.
The NPW Medical Center admitted its first patients on April 20, 1981 with Kistler as the facility’s first chief of staff.
Kistler also served on the Luzerne County home rule charter committee in 1974.
“I’ve always wanted to be of service, do something worthwhile to help people,” Kistler said when accepting an honor. “I think it promotes a win-win situation. You help somebody else and you’re helping yourself.”
For Kistler’s obituary, see page 6A.