James Franklin Levister Sr., 68, assessed nursing homes for the state

James Franklin Levister Sr. 600
James Franklin Levister Sr.

FRANK LEVISTER had a passion for helping people, especially those in dire straits.

He worked with the homeless in Philadelphia, and his job with the state Department of Welfare was to make sure that nursing homes were doing their job helping others in need.

James Franklin Levister Sr., a 21-year employee of the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare who later worked for two of the nursing homes he monitored, died Aug. 23 of multiple health complications at the age of 68.

Frank was a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War. Although his family didn't know what happened to him there, it was obvious that he saw combat because among his decorations was the Purple Heart for wounds.

"Frank did not talk about his experiences in Vietnam, but I noticed a significant change in him," said his younger brother, Michael.

After the war, Frank, as he was called by family and friends, wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life.

"He wondered about going to college," his brother said. "I felt privileged to give my big brother advice and encouraged him to go for it."

Frank applied to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, in Greensboro, N.C., and was accepted.

Basketball was always an important part of Frank's life, from the days when he starred at Murrell Dobbins High School, and so he became involved in the game at college. He served as a recruiter and scout for A&T, and became an assistant basketball coach. He graduated in 1972.

One characteristic that Vietnam could not change in Frank Levister was his need to help people.

"Frank had a passion for helping those in distress," his brother said, "so during his summer breaks from college, he devoted himself to working with the homeless in Philadelphia."

"He was the best husband and father anyone could want," said his wife, Sheila Henderson-Levister.

They met in 1975 at the Lehigh Avenue welfare office where both were working. They were married on Oct. 18, 1985.

Despite the seriousness of his work, Frank had a sense of humor that wouldn't quit.

"His sense of humor was infectious," his wife said. "He kept everybody laughing."

With the state, Frank's job was to make sure that nursing care was being delivered to the city's needy with efficiency and compassion. After retiring from the state, he was hired in 1996 as vice president of residential services for the Evangelical Manor Nursing Home. In 2006, he joined the North City Congress nursing facility. He retired finally in 2009.

Frank was born in Harlem, N.Y., to James Felix Levister and the former Eula Mae Shamberger. The family moved to North Philadelphia in 1957. After graduating from Murrell Dobbins, Frank enlisted in the Marine Corps, serving from 1965 to 1968, including a 12-month tour in Vietnam.

"These last years of multiple physical challenges were difficult," his wife said, "but Frank kept us all going."

One of the delights of his later years was the birth of a grandson, Nathaniel James Levister.

When Frank was bedridden with illness, Nathaniel would come into his bedroom and call out, "High five, Grandpa!" and Frank would manage to raise a hand for their traditional greeting.

Besides his wife, brother and grandson, he is survived by two sons, James Franklin Jr. and Justin Farral, and a daughter, Janell Felice.

Services: 11 a.m. today at Foster Memorial Baptist Church, 2401 N. 18th St. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in the Washington Crossing National Cemetery, Newtown.