Shelter Island and Mattituck have lost a dentist but gained a teacher.
Dr. Frank Kestler wrapped up his 38-year career as a dentist treating patients in offices first in Mattituck and then, for 27 years, on Shelter Island as well.
He has loved the work and his patients. But a memory nagged at him when he recalled his dad practicing dentistry until he was 88. At 65, Dr. Kestler decided he didn’t want to follow that example. He had other ideas for his future. But one that emerged was a surprise, even to him.
From the mouth of his granddaughter, Brooke, 8, who lives with the Kestlers in their Hay Beach home, came the suggestion that if he was going to leave dentistry, he should get another job and she knew just what he should do. Brooke has just completed 3rd grade at Shelter Island School and Dr. Kestler worked in the past few weeks as a substitute there, even subbing in Brooke’s class. She loved the idea and he clearly enjoyed it as well.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have other responsibilities already on his plate, but the idea appealed to him. At the same time, Dr. Kestler had been named by his wife Chrys Kestler and son Jimbo Theinert to become vice president of the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund.
First Lt. Joseph Theinert was killed by an improvised explosive device on June 4, 2010, in Afghanistan, protecting his platoon.
The family turned grief into action. They reached out to his men in the platoon, inviting them to visit on Shelter Island. It was during that visit that the idea occurred to them of contributing land they owned in New Mexico to become the site of housing for troops returning from war torn countries as a respite for them, their families and other Gold Star families who had lost loved ones.
It has been years of planning and fundraising, but the family expects a new bunkhouse will be completed this fall, Dr. Kestler said.
In the interim, while the planning was ongoing, Jimbo and Dr. Kestler have organized a number of retreats through the years for troops, staying at the Kestler’s house. There will be ongoing fundraising projects because those who stay at the ranch will do so without cost, all expenses covered by the Memorial Fund.
The Kestlers are about to embark on a cross-country drive to New Mexico, because Ms. Kestler has items for the ranch she wants to bring out to the ranch.
Dr. Kestler’s ties to the military are extensive. He retired as a “full bird colonel,” so named for the insignia of a silver eagle recognizing those with 19 or more years of service. He deployed to work as a dentist for members of the armed forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Germany, Italy and in the United States at Fort Bliss and Fort Drum.
He recalled one case of a soldier who wanted to deploy with his company, but was told he couldn’t because of severe dental problems. Dr. Kestler examined the soldier’s teeth, asked how long he thought he could endure dental procedures, and in a single date after hours of seeing patients, was able to bring the young man’s teeth from a critical state to a state that would improve his teeth for at least a year. The soldier was grateful he was able to deploy with his company after a day of extractions, fillings and other procedures.
Through the years, Dr. Kestler said, dental technology has changed with improved materials, better pain treatment and digital imaging. “I’m going to miss it,” he said.
Three years ago, before he had decided on retirement, he aligned his practice with The Smilist Dentistry and said it enabled him to turn over the business functions to the company and concentrate his energies on dentistry.
It was a good move for him and his employees, he said. But even then, he told company officials they should begin seeking younger dentists. They had no problem staffing the Mattituck office, but Shelter Island proved more difficult and the best they could do was hire one dentist who would work here once a week. That’s why, with Dr. Kestler’s retirement, the Shelter Island office was closed as of June 17 and Island patients were informed they could see Smilist dentists in Mattituck.
What else is he finding time for now that he has taken the step into retirement? Horseback riding, he said. Several years ago, Santa Claus brought Brooke a horse she rides five days a week. But on her off days, Dr. Kestler climbs into Gangster’s saddle.
“If I didn’t do it now, it wasn’t going to happen,” he said.