La PORTE — A La Porte innovator and philanthropist is being remembered for a lifetime of giving back to the community.

Dr. Peter C. Kesling, 90, passed away on July 25 at Northwest Health-La Porte.

“He was one of those guys that was a really humble person – super intelligent, but he had time for everybody. He was just a gentle soul,” said La Porte County Sheriff John Boyd.

“My friends that I grew up with, a lot of us went to Kesling Rocke. Dr. Rocke, Dr. Kesling kind of lived through everyone’s smiles.”

Boyd knew Kesling for a long time as his family were friends of the Keslings. He noted that there wasn’t anything the doctor couldn’t do.

“He always was a genius. He always was tinkering, yet he was a professional. He had so many innovations in orthodontia, but he could also work on a car and diagnose it by listening to an engine what was wrong,” Boyd said.

Born on Jan. 1, 1932, in La Porte, to Dr. Harold D. “H.D.” and Jean A. (Crawford) Kesling, Peter Kesling helped guide the family’s orthodontic business.

His father founded TP Orthodontics in Westville in 1942 with his invention of the original tooth positioner.

Peter Kesling joined his father in leading TP Orthodontics in 1958, and his professional and business experience included being president/CEO of TP from 1958 to 1980, Exclusive Orthodontic Practice (Retired) and Kesling & Rocke Group from 1958 to 2005.

He was also an associate clinical professor of orthodontics at Saint Louis University for more than 40 years and was a diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics.

Kesling was issued more than 50 patents on orthodontic appliances.

“Dr. Kesling was a unique individual. He was, I would say, if not a genius, a borderline genius,” said former La Porte Mayor Leigh Morris.

“He had very strong opinions about many things, but he really worked to improve this community as he built a remarkable business – TP Orthodontics – that had been founded by his father and associates into a worldwide, successful organization,” Morris said.

Kesling also strove for the best in everyone.

“He really wanted things done well and he was uncompromising when it came to doing things halfway or doing them well. We had a number of common interests – history, automobiles, the Rumely Company – a whole host of different things. I valued every experience I had with him,” Morris said.

When asked by the La Porte County Herald-Argus in 2003 what fascinated him about teeth and orthodontics, Kesling said it was because his father was a dentist.

He added that he had wanted to be a cartoonist.

“I was sending cartoons in to the Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker at that time. I got them all back. I went to pre-dental. I hated dentistry. I hated to give people shots,” Kesling said.

He said “orthodontics was much more interesting. It was clean and you’re working mainly with young kids. You make them look and feel so much better.”

And while a career drawing cartoons did not pan out, Kesling would be named in the 1973 Guinness Book of World Records for creating the Worlds’ Largest Cartoon – three stories high and one block long.

Kesling’s passion was collecting and restoring antique cars. He was 14 when he purchased hid first car for $40, a 1925 model, from a widow on I Street .

“My 70-year love affair with automobiles began with a Model T in a chicken coop,” he told the Herald-Argus in 2017.

In 1993 Kesling built the Door Prairie Auto Museum at 2405 Indiana Ave. to house his extensive car collection, some of which is now on display at the La Porte County Historical Society Museum, another of his favorite projects.

In July 2003, Kesling drove a 1903 Winton Touring Car he restored from New York to San Francisco to mark the 100th anniversary of the first transcontinental trip by automobile.

He successfully re-enacted in 40 days the 63-day, 3,720-mile journey made by Horatio Nelson Jackson in 1903.

During the cross-country trek, Peter and Charlene Kesling stopped at A and 18th streets in La Porte on July 14, 2003, where La Porte Mayor Kathy Chroback presented a key to the city.

Kesling also drove a 1911 Ford in the 1976 Great Race from Istanbul, Turkey, to San Francisco, finishing third; and participated in more than 10 transcontinental antique auto tours driving a 1910 Velie or 1914 Mitchell.

“It’s fun,” Kesling said about his affection for vintage cars in 2017. “I’m not interested in just buying something to own it. I enjoy working on them. There’s nothing I like more than turning a pile of junk into something nice and shiny.”

Kesling was also passionate about giving back to the community and preserving its history.

“He restored the Door Prairie Barn ... and another barn just south of there, near CR-250S. He didn’t want people to forget about our history. He knew how important it was,” Boyd said.

In May of 2003, the La Porte County Board of Commissioners accepted an offer from Kesling to house the Historical Society Museum artifacts in his Door Prairie Auto Museum. The museum had previously been housed in the La Porte County Complex.

La Porte County Historian Bruce Johnson said the Historical Society, its board of directors, and museum staff will be forever grateful for all that Kesling did to help “improve, sustain, enhance and promote” the county’s collections.

“We have been extremely blessed to have our home in his magnificent building and to have him share his incredible automobile collection with the public. We have truly lost our greatest friend. Thanks for everything, Dr. Pete! We will certainly miss you” Johnson said.

He called it “a tremendous honor and privilege” to have worked with Kesling during the past 16 years.

“We worked together in his office brainstorming ideas on numerous projects and sharing stories of our fascinating lives,” Johnson said.

“He was a brilliant, multitalented, energetic, and independent individual who achieved greatness in many ways and generously shared his successes throughout La Porte County.”

In 2019 the museum building was officially named The Kesling Building in honor of Dr. Peter C. and Charlene J. Kesling.

“I admired his preservation of historical artifacts of La Porte such as the Grafton murals from the Hotel Rumely and the facade of the Lonn building on Lincoln Way, which he had installed on Main Street in the museum.

“Because of his restoration of the Door Prairie Barn, it continues to be a beloved landmark and the pride of La Porte County,” Johnson added.

Morris added that Kesling was interested in what was right and best for the community.

“Every time I come into the city of La Porte on U.S. 35, from the south, I see that wonderful Door Prairie Barn. That was a gift of Dr. Kesling to this community, to give us that attractive entry to our city. He preserved it, he protected it, he enhanced it,” Morris said.

The Kesling family is well-known for philanthropy in La Porte County. Kesling Park on La Porte’s south side is the result of donations from the Kesling family starting in the 1970s.

In 2013, Peter and Charlene Kesling made a $1 million donation to the fundraising efforts for a Student Services and Activities Complex at Purdue University North Central (now Purdue Northwest). The gymnasium was named The H.D. Kesling Gymnasium in honor of his father.

“Their names are going to live forever in the La Porte Community. We need to be able to remember who these important people in our past are, that made today possible – and our future,” Boyd said.

When asked by The La Porte County Herald-Argus what he would like his legacy to be, Kesling said it would be to “leave some healthy kids and grandchildren.”

“I don’t know what else is left after you’re done. This ground, we are just current owners of the property. It comes and goes. You take care of it for the next generation,” Kesling said.

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