Years after he retired from his Suffolk County practice, a pediatrician and former Setauket resident is being remembered fondly by those who knew him.
Dr. Leo Dvorken, the founder of what is now known as Kids Care Pediatric Medicine P.C. in Selden, died July 21 at the age of 86. At a funeral service July 24, Rabbi Stephen Karol and Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky addressed the mourners who filled Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook and read eulogies from Dvorken’s family members filled with anecdotes and praise. His former practice partners were also on hand to pay tribute to a man they considered a valuable colleague and close friend.
In a eulogy written by his daughter Rachel, she described being in the presence of her father as a gift, calling him gentle, kind and possessing a joie de vivre, a French phrase meaning a joy for life.
“Whether it was pancakes at the diner, lobster fest at Bay Road East [Strong’s Neck], midnight boat rides, rainy day hikes, ski trips, sing-alongs in the car, watching our kids’ games or concerts or just hanging out — it was always fun,” she wrote in the eulogy. “I just loved being with my father.”
While Dvorken spent his final years in New Jersey, Temple Isaiah was the appropriate place for his funeral service. His daughter wrote that her father, who was committed to Judaism and loved Israel, cared deeply about Temple Isaiah. When the temple couldn’t obtain a mortgage to construct the building in the late 1960s, Dvorken was one of 13 members who personally guaranteed the mortgage, according to his daughter.
Born Oct. 19, 1931, he was the third child of Harry and May. Leo’s first brother, Simon, died before he was born, and his brother Henry was a few years older than him. When Leo was a child, he excelled in oration, chess, singing, art, Boy Scouts and chemistry. He loved to play football, basketball and baseball. Later in life, he became interested in tennis, skiing, music and fishing.
He first attended Haverford College in Pennsylvania but then left the school to pursue an advanced degree in chemistry from New York University after being inspired by a conversation with a medical school professor at the college. Dvorken was 27 when he decided to go to medical school, but many of the New York area colleges thought he was too old, so he applied to and was accepted to a prestigious school in Geneva, Switzerland. He first had to take courses in French since all the classes were in that language.
Before he traveled to Switzerland, he met his wife, Doris, a Columbia University undergraduate. The two, who recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary, met at a party in the Bronx, according to his wife’s eulogy. The first time she met him his wife said she knew she would marry him.
“From the minute I met him and talked to him, I felt like I didn’t need to ever talk to another person again,” his wife wrote. “It was like we were in a room alone, even though we were surrounded by others.”
After studying in Switzerland, Dvorken spent his residency in a Jewish hospital in Brooklyn. In 1969 he moved out to Setauket and opened the pediatric group in Selden. His friends that he met during his residency, Dr. Arie Aloni and Dr. Boris Lustik, soon joined the practice and bought homes in Setauket, too.
“It was the best decision of my life,” Lustik said.
Aloni and Lustik, who are both retired from the practice, in phone interviews described Dvorken as a wonderful person and physician, and the doctors formed a strong bond.
“Our practice was unique in a sense that not only were we colleagues, but we were also friends who became an extended family,” Aloni said. “So much so that my kids call him Uncle Leo.”
Lustik described Dvorken as an astute physician who was gentle with his patients, while Aloni said the doctor didn’t have a bad bone in his body.
“He was the glue of our practice,” Aloni said.
When other practices refused to take patients on Medicaid, Aloni said Dvorken ensured the practice was open to everyone whether they could afford medical care or not. When a 7-year-old asked him for an interview once, Dvorken answered his questions and showed him around the office. The doctor became a mentor to the boy who later went on to become a pediatric oncologist, according to Aloni.
Lustik remembered Dvorken’s love of music and going to see the New York Philharmonic with him, while Aloni and the doctor would play tennis a few times a week at the Three Village Tennis Club until they retired.
Tennis continued to be a passion in Dvorken’s life. Aloni said the two would talk on the phone during big tennis tournaments discussing strategies and critiquing the players. On Dvorken’s last day, they were on the phone chatting about Wimbledon, he said.
In a eulogy written by Dvorken’s grandson Fran Rosenberg, he summed up the gifts his grandfather left with him and others.
“My grandfather taught me through example how to be a man who produces, loves and serves his family, serves the community, follows his heart, lives his passions and respects everybody — no matter where they come from,” Rosenberg said.
Dvorken is survived by his wife Doris; son Gregory; daughter Rachel; son-in-law Harry Rosenberg; and four grandchildren, Fran, Zach, Katrina and Jakob Rosenberg.