Aug. 23, 1928 - Dec. 16, 2017
Dr. Joel D. Hittleman, a retired Williamsville dentist who practiced for more than 40 years, died Saturday in Buffalo General Hospital after a brief illness. He was 89.
He spent the majority of his career, from 1965 to 1990, working as the Director of Dentistry at the West Seneca Development Center, while also working as a professor of dentistry at the University of Buffalo School of Dentistry.
Dr. Hittleman's daughter, Andrea LaVere, said her father would often bring students to West Seneca. As a dentist for the Development Center, he would deal with kids facing severe developmental issues, she said.
"He was a remarkable person," said LaVere.
But one of his first loves was basketball.
He was born in the Bronx and grew up playing in the school yard. He was too short to play for his high school basketball team, but he didn't give up playing. He joined the Army and shot up to his full height of 6-feet 3-inches and refined his skills, playing on the Fort Pickett basketball team for two years. He was honorably discharged as a private first class.
He was then awarded a full scholarship to play basketball for Loyola University of Maryland where he was an All-American Athlete. Many of his records still stand 60 years later. He was inducted into the Loyola Hall of Fame in 1984.
After receiving a bachelor of science degree in biology from Loyola, Dr. Hittleman was drafted into the NBA by the Fort Wayne Pistons, now the Detroit Pistons, until an injury cut his career short.
He worked in research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute and then Roswell Park, where he met his wife, the former Joyce Haenggi. The two were married for almost 60 years. She died on March 3, 2016.
In 1956, at age 28 , he chose to continue in the medical field and went to Temple University School of Dentistry.
In 1970, his career in dentistry and his love of basketball were combined when Paul Snyder, the owner of the Buffalo Braves, recruited Dr. Hittleman to become the team dentist. He remained with the franchise until they left Buffalo in 1978.
His daughter said her father could be spotted at every home game and would take part in one-on-one games with names such as Bob McAdoo, Bobby Kauffman, Randy Smith, Ernie DiGregario, and Gar Heard.
"Growing up as a kid, players would come to our house and then come out back and shoot baskets with us," said his daughter, reminiscing. She said these same players, as well as coaches and owners were frequently spotted in his private office waiting room as well.
"That was his passion," said his daughter.
In addition to his daughter, Dr. Hittleman is survived by a sister, Linda Masteris, four grandchildren and a great-grandson.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Perna, Dengler, Roberts Funeral Home, 1671 Maple Road, Williamsville.