115 years of family eye care

March 18, 2024
What Natalie Noble, O.D., has learned from three previous generations of optometrists. She is the fourth generation of her family to serve Pennsylvania communities.
AOA Member Spotlight: Dr. Noble

The steel industry collapsed in western Pennsylvania, but the Duppstadt family tradition—optometry—continues. The family of optometrists has served the boroughs there for generations.

“As a family, we have proudly offered continuous eye care to patients for what is now 115 years,” Natalie Noble, O.D., of the latest generation, says.

Who are the optometrists in the family?

My great grandfather, Orlo Arthur Duppstadt (1882-1970), graduated from Duppstadt Family Photo of Optometry Northern Illinois College of Optometry and opened a jewelry and optometry store in 1909 in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, called Duppstadt Jewelers. His brother, Robert W. Duppstadt (1893-1973), a World War I veteran, also graduated from Northern Illinois College of Optometry. He worked in the family store briefly then went on to pursue other professional opportunities. My grandfather, Arthur G. Duppstadt (1924-2021), briefly attended Bucknell University before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps at the age of 19, where he served as a first lieutenant in the 355th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, from 1943-45 (World War II). On Aug. 28, 1944, his plane was shot down over German-occupied France, and he made his way back through the French Underground to Paris. He served as a fighter pilot instructor until his discharge. He graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) in 1949 and came back home to expand his father’s practice in Vandergrift and Leechburg (Duppstadt Vision Center). Arthur Orlo Duppstadt, my uncle , graduated from PCO in 1975. He came back to Leechburg to join the family practice. He owns and operates Duppstadt Vision Associates in Leechburg today.

Your grandfather, Arthur G. Duppstadt, had a notable career in optometry.

Keeping true to Pittsburgh regional history, the small neighboring river town economies of Apollo, Vandergrift and Leechburg were dependent on the local steel mills. The optometry practice grew and thrived by providing local steelworkers and their families with eye care and safety glasses. When contact lenses arrived in eye care in the 1950s, my grandfather jumped on the opportunity and believed that “firm” lenses reduced aberrations that couldn't be corrected with glasses. He was correct. He started fitting fully customized PMMA and eventually GP (gas permeable) lenses out of a lab in the back of the office. Without the assistance of corneal topography at that time, he believed that few corneas were spherical, and all lenses should have a 3/4 base down prism to allow for quadrant fitting adjustments to be made. He eventually designed and patented his Panoramic D (D for Duppstadt) simultaneous vision multifocal RGPs. With the help of Mike Klaphake, head of Beitler McKee Optical contact lenses lab, Beitler manufactured Panoramic D lenses for my grandfather, myself and many other doctors of optometry in the area. My grandfather continued to serve the community with their eye care needs until his retirement in 2019.

And your practice?

After graduating from New England College of Optometry in 2010, I had the privilege of working in the family practice part time for many years. In 2013, I purchased a small practice in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and founded Noble Vision Center. With immediate advancements in medical technology and patient care, the practice quickly grew, and I renovated a historic building down the street to allow for expansion. Over the years, I’ve had to focus more exclusively on the needs of my specialty-lens and ocular-surface-disease patients. I am extremely fortunate to have an exceptional staff and my associate, Dr. Stephanie Sikora, supports the primary care patient base and excels in complex medical optometric care. Three years ago, I partnered with AEG Vision, which supports our specialty practice in every way possible.

What did you learn from previous generations?

My grandfather took great pride in his legacy and community service. He was a visionary and taught me the importance of environmentalism, volunteerism and service to the community for the benefit of generations to come. He taught me to do more for patients—that every patient in your chair deserves the best possible care, no matter how difficult it might be to achieve. By example, he led me into my own passion for fitting specialty lenses of all kinds and caring for keratoconus and corneal disease patients who require time, patience and advanced skills to improve their quality of life. Working with my uncle and grandfather gave me the opportunity to learn that running an optometric business starts with great care. If you prioritize patients' needs, financial success will surely follow. They both demonstrated the importance of developing relationships with patients and caring for the whole patient, not just their eyes. Eye care offers unparalleled job satisfaction through the privilege of providing immediate enhancements to a patient’s quality of life whether through glasses, contacts, early diagnosis or sometimes taking a few extra moments to have a meaningful conversation. All of these values and experiences have shaped my approach to patient care, business ownership and development of a people-centric and transparent office culture prioritizing excellent staff training and patient communication.

Did you always want to be a doctor of optometry?

I always knew that I wanted to have a career in health care. I worked in my family's practice and lab starting in junior high, learning the ropes of the business as well as assisting my grandfather with his contact lens adjusting and tools. Given my early exposure, it was an easy decision to plan for optometry school.

Optometry isn’t the only family tradition amid the rivers and valleys of the Allegheny Mountains, is it?

Trout fishing is an annual family activity for us! The Duppstadts immigrated to Somerset, Pennsylvania, and established a homestead nearby in Trent, which is still owned by a relative and has a mountain fishing stream running through the backyard. We gather there every year for fishing, and the local women's group puts on lunch for the people fishing in the covered bridge downstream. It’s like time has stopped when we're up there. It is definitely so peaceful.

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