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By Sally Smith
The sign read, "The Man in the Window says goodbye." And to neighbors along Church Street, that could mean only one thing: Dean Bistline, the man whose window signs had cheered and challenged passersby for 18 years, had died.
On April 15, after 85 years of living life to the fullest, Bistline's body finally failed. But his spirit will survive in the pithy quotes and thoughtful messages he left in his window, and in the many kindnesses he bestowed upon others.
"He touched hundreds of people, and had nothing but good to say about people, and he was always opening his window and reaching out to say hello," said Abed Amas of Fattoush Restaurant, next-door neighbor and a longtime friend. "I will miss him a lot."
Within hours of the notice appearing in the window, an impromptu memorial sprung up on his doorstep. "Flowers started appearing--orchids and lilies, and notes and cards," said Susan Bistline, Dean's wife of 31 years. "There was even a note from a little girl to whom Dean used to give tootsie rolls that said, 'Dear Dean, I hope your second life is great."
Dean's first life started in 1921, in the small town of Boone, Iowa. "He was the only child of an Iowa farmer," said Susan.
He spent his youth in Grand Junction, Iowa, and enlisted in the Coast Guard right after Pearl Harbor. After leaving the service at the end of the World War II, Dean went back to school, earning his college degree from Simpson College in Iowa and a master's in education from Columbia University in 1950. Along the way, he met and married his first wife, Clare, and together they raised five children while Dean pursued a career as a teacher and high school principal.
During the 1960s, he moved to San Diego, Calif. It was there that Dean "got involved in politics, working to help a Mexican-American candidate run for office," says Susan.
Bitten by the political bug, he went to Washington, D.C., in 1967, and stayed for the next 15 years, working as a policy analyst, editor, and speechwriter for the U.S. Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That's where he and Susan met and later married.
Four years after Dean's retirement in 1985, Dean and Susan moved to San Francisco, settling into the bottom flat of the house at 1357 Church Street owned by his daughter and son-in-law, Deanna and Ricardo Hernandez.
Soon, Dean began printing out his favorite quotes and placing them in his front window. Some expressed his displeasure with the policies of Presidents Bush ("I love my country, I fear my government"). Others offered words of wisdom ("Leap, and the net will appear"). (To read more, go to the October 2005 issue at www.noevalleyvoice.com.)
Throughout his life, Dean kept his political idealism. "He was always a liberal, bordering on anti-authoritarian," Susan says. "But the essence of Dean was that he never made a judgment of anybody."
He volunteered at soup kitchens, visited the elderly, and helped those in need. Susan notes that he was handing out Godiva chocolates and splits of champagne to people on Church Street during the last months of his life. "He went out with his life spent, his money spent, and tons of good memories. What a way to go!"
In addition to his present and former wife, Dean Bistline is survived by five children, two stepsons, 10 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
To celebrate his life, family and friends will hold a memorial gathering at the Noe Valley Ministry on Sunday, May 27, from 3 to 5 p.m. All are welcome to attend.
The family asks that donations in his memory be made to Martin de Porres House of Hospitality, 225 Potrero Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94103, or to the charity of one's choice.
Another way to remember him, Susan says, is simple. "Smile and be kind to a stranger."