Betty Kistler who with her husband responded to personal tragedy by embarking on a life of caring for the needs of special children died Tuesday, July 21, 2009, at the age of 85.
Betty and her late husband, Wayne, founded The Gregory Kistler Treatment Center, Inc. in 1978. The facility provides therapeutic outpatient care for children with a variety of disorders. With the help of occupational, physical, and speech-language therapy, children learn to play, walk, talk, and do many other things often taken for granted.
The Kistlers undertook this remarkable task when their son, 6-year-old Gregory, was severely injured after being struck by a car. The Kistlers soon learned there were no facilities available to provide the care they needed. So Wayne, a fireman, and Betty, a housewife, worked to see the help unavailable for their child and later their granddaughter, Michelle, who was born with spina bifida, was provided for countless other children and their families.
“They thought we really need something,” recalled Betty’s daughter, Jennifer, who today is executive director of the Kistler Center. “But something doesn’t happen just because you want it,” she continued. “It takes some effort.”
The Kistler family embarked on a mission. Betty and Wayne, along with Jennifer, took on the task – and the system that said it couldn’t be done – of bringing to Fort Smith, a premier pediatric treatment center. Today the Kistler family has grown to include literally thousands of children, their parents, siblings, grandparents, and caregivers that have benefited from the founding of the Kistler Center.
Long time Kistler Center physical therapist, Martha Osbun remembers Betty as unassuming and smiling. “Betty was there at the first board meeting, and she continued to be present whenever, wherever she was needed. She would answer the phone so the staff could go to a special luncheon, she brought us treats and left them on the break room table and she was present at special events and fundraising events.”
The Kistler Center opened in a single room at Sparks Hospital with one therapist using a few pieces of equipment to treat their six patients that first year. Fast forward 30 years and you have more than 600 children currently benefiting from a staff of 26 while receiving treatment in a 12,000-square-foot facility holding specialized rehabilitative equipment.
“When Betty came in and out of the Center, I think she loved to see her vision being put to action, watching other moms bring in their little ones. It did her heart good, and it always did our hearts good to see her come through the door” stated Martha.
Out of tragedy came hope. That is the legacy of the Kistler family and The Gregory Kistler Treatment Center, Inc.