All smiles, dentist looks back on 53 years in State College

Dentist Dr. George Kleban, whose office is located on Allen Street in State College, has retired after 53 years.
Dentist Dr. George Kleban, whose office is located on Allen Street in State College, has retired after 53 years.

While growing up in Michigan, George Kleban had a dentist for a next-door neighbor. The neighbor, Cy Collins, also happened to be a baseball player for the Detroit Tigers.

“He was kind of a neat guy next door,” Kleban said.

So much so that Kleban’s mother told him to get a job like Collins. The sentiment stuck. It stayed with him through a move to Pennsylvania, his days as a high school track-and-field athlete, all the way to dental school at the University of Pittsburgh.

After a mentor — the dean of the radiology department — told him about an office in State College opening up at 212 S. Allen St., Kleban decided to take the drive east to Happy Valley. It was a decision that shaped the next 53 years of his life.

He’s been downtown ever since.

“I don’t think there was more than five days out of all those years that I didn’t want to go to work,” he said. “I just loved what I was doing.”

After retiring at 79 in March, Kleban said he’s looking forward to seeing his five children and 11 grandchildren more, besides a well-deserved break. He turns 80 in July.

A retirement party for Kleban is being held at the Knights of Columbus, 850 Stratford Drive in State College, from 1 to 4 p.m. on May 21.

The soon-to-be octogenarian laughed when looking back on his life and career. For a man who deals in smiles, his own comes naturally. No poking or prodding needed.

Q: What do you enjoy about your work?

A: Everything about it. It’s great. It’s a challenge to see someone come in with a busted-up mouth and you restore it; see somebody in a lot of pain and you take them out of pain; see somebody come in who is scared to come in your office, can’t even come through the front door because they’re so scared of the dentist, and after you treat them a few times, the patient is looking forward to coming to your office. It’s the greatest feeling you can get.

Q: For those afraid of the dentist, how do you put someone at ease?

A: Just be honest with them. Don’t hurt them. How would you like to be treated? That’s how I look at it.

Q: What brought you to State College?

A: A man by the name of Dr. Clifford Eshleman. He was the head of the radiology department at the dental school at Pitt. When I was in dental school, I had to work, and the dean didn’t like that. He said you should be spending all your time studying. Well, that’s true, but I was married and I had three children when I graduated from dental school. So what I did was I defied them and I said, “Are my grades bad?” No. “Is there something I’m doing wrong?” No. So I didn’t quit my jobs.

But when Dean Eshleman called me in his office about three weeks before I graduated, he asked, “What are you going to do, George?” I said I was probably going into the service because they offered a pretty high-paying deal, you go in as an officer. He said there was a practice where a dentist died in State College, Pa.: “Go up and look at it.”

Well I said, “OK, I will.” Next day he comes over and asked if I made arrangements to go up there. I said no. Two days later, he asked, “When are you going?” I bit my cheek and I said I’m going to go up there next Thursday.

“OK, that’s great,” he said. I laughed and said, “Dean Eshleman, I’ve got a final examination in radiology from you next Thursday.” I start laughing. He looked me right in the eye and said, “Dr. Kleban, who cares if you take a final examination? It doesn’t matter. You’re a doctor. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. Consider yourself done.”

So I packed my three kids up, came up here, settled in the practice, found that I liked it and I’ve been here for 53 years.