For more than a half century Dr. David Allen Sisler was a fixture on the Petaluma High School football sidelines, providing care to players and unsolicited advice to coaches.
Doc Sisler died peacefully at home on March 1. He was 91 years old and beloved by not only those who knew him, but all who benefited from his professional care both as a volunteer on the football sidelines and as one of the vanishing breed of family doctors.
“He was a wonderful man and an outstanding doctor,” said former Petaluma High football coach and Sisler’s long-time friend Steve Ellison.
Sisler was also a unique individual who dispensed opinions and advice as readily as he dispensed compassion and care.
He was a passionate sports fan who loved everything football, from Petaluma High’s Trojans to Green Bay’s Packers.
His daughter, Beth Molinari, passes along the story of the women who visited Doc in his office. When she came out of the examination room, an anxious family member asked, “How are you doing?”
“I don’t know,” came the reply, “but Brett Favre is having a great year.”
Sisler was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and raised by his parents, Clifford and Ella Sister. He followed his father into medicine, even graduating from the same medical school, the University of Minnesota Medical School.
After medical school, he became an Army captain and was stationed at Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu.
He came to Petaluma in 1957 and settled in to practice family medicine for 56 years. He created the El Rose Medical Group and moved into his new office in 1960.
Molinari recalled that her father was a throw-back family doctor who not only treated patients at his office, but also made house calls and even saw patients in his own home.
He also volunteered to keep Petaluma High School football players safe and help them get well when they weren’t safe.
“He told me, ‘Our job is to make sure these kids have life after high school football,’ ” said his friend Rick Susick, a Petaluma physical therapist who worked with Sisler on the Petaluma sidelines for more than 20 years.
“Doc was amazing.” said Susick. “I worked the varsity games with him, but he was there for all the JV and freshmen games as well.”
Sisler’s dedication to Petaluma students went beyond the football field. He arranged to give all Petaluma athletes free pre-season physicals, a prerequisite for participation in any high school sport.
“He was a sweet man, with a heart of gold, who did so much for Petaluma High,” Susick said.
“He was an extremely caring person,” agreed Ellison. “I was so impressed with his care and concern. Way before there were concussion protocols, we trusted Doc. He would tell us if a kid could play or not play and we never doubted him.”
In addition to good medical advice, Doc provided football suggestions to the head coach.
“When he played he was a punter,” Ellison said. “He thought the fake punt was the greatest play in football.”
Ellison recalled once when Petaluma was playing Terra Linda, the Petaluma quarterback, Manny Lopes, noting that his end was uncovered on a fourth-down play, audibled into a fake punt and pass. The problem was that Petaluma was leading 48-0 at the time, and the coach did not want to appear to be running up the score.
“I was screaming not to fake, but I was too late. We completed the pass and got a first down. Doc was beside himself. He told me it was the greatest play ever at Petaluma.”
In 2011, Sisler and Susick were honored with the Service to Youth Award at the Petaluma Community Recognition Awards. Sisler was a member of the Petaluma High School Hall of Fame and was honored by the North Coast Section of the California Interscholastic Federation for his service to Petaluma High School. Through his long career he received numerous other community and professional awards.
Sisler was an avid horseman and a member of the Old Guard for the Sonoma County Trailblazers. One of his favorite activities was the Trailblazers’ annual spring ride, and he was often accompanied by his sons on the fabled excursions. “It was always a memorable week for Dad,” Molinari said.
He felt truly at home on “Medicine Mountain,” his 47-acre ranch just outside Petaluma. With help from friends, he built a log home there in 1972, snuggly fitting the logs together with minimal use of nails.
“I think he had 37 horses there over the year,” his daughter said. “He couldn’t say no to horses.”
Medicine, football, horses, Rotary, friends, his home, his pipe, Louis L’Amour novels and much more, Sisler loved them all, but the passion of his life was his wife, Cleo Emily Sisler, and his large family. He was father of 11 children, grandfather of 24 and great-grandfather of 15. “He was considered a father by many others,” his daughter stressed.
“He loved all his kids, grandkids and great grandkids,” she said. “He was their No. 1 fan. He was generous to a fault with all of them.”
One of the highlights of Sisler’s later years came last year when the whole family — kids, grandkids, great-grandkids and their families — met at the family home to celebrate his 90th birthday. “Everyone drew pictures about something they loved about him,” Molinari said. “It was wonderful.”
In addition to his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Sisler is survived by his brother, Albert Sisler, and sister, Barbara Kjolhaug. He was preceded in death by brothers Edwin Sisler and Richard Sisler.
A celebration of his life will be held later this summer.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hospice of Petaluma, 416 Payran St. Petaluma, CA 94952.
“He always told us there were three things that were important in life,” his daughter said: “Someone to love; something to do; something to look forward to.”