Robert A. Kraskin was a trumpeter in the 1940s in Washington, D.C. and played with some of the great jazz musicians from that era – like Dizzy Gillespie – who along with Charlie Parker were major figures in the development of modern jazz in that decade.
As much as he loved playing the trumpet, young Kraskin was also sweet on Marion Clepatch, whom he had known since elementary school, and wanted to one day marry. But, she didn’t think there was much of a future being married to a jazz musician, so she asked him to find a more solid and reliable profession to pursue, one that would offer the couple a better and more stable life.
He thought it over. His father, Lewis H. Kraskin, was an optometrist of note in D.C., so Robert decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and enrolled in the Pennsylvania State College of Optometry (PSCO), which would become the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1964.
To show his sweetheart he was serious about pursuing a career in optometry, the younger Kraskin mailed his trumpet from Philadelphia, where PSCO was located, back to Marion in Washington, D.C. That was enough to convince Marion and the couple married soon thereafter. The trumpet still hangs on the wall in the family room of the Kraskin home.
Robert Kraskin, OD ‘50, FAAO, FCOVD, would be the middle part of a three-generation Kraskin family optometry practice that has operated in the nation’s capital for more than 100 years. Starting with Lewis Kraskin, who had backed PSCO founder Dr. Albert Fitch’s idea of encouraging student enrollment in colleges of optometry by offering scholarship assistance to worthy and outstanding applicants in the late 1920s, the family legacy continued on with Robert Kraskin. He became an internationally renowned author, lecturer and practitioner in the areas of vision development, prevention of visual problems and visual training. Robert’s son, Jeffrey Kraskin, OD ‘80, continued the family tradition and still practices in D.C.
In fact, the family legacy runs so deep in Washington, D.C., that all three – grandfather, father and son – had treated the same patient before her death at the age of 103. And, that is indicative of another Kraskin family value.
“The patient was African-American, and during my grandfather’s time in the District of Columbia, doctors’ reception rooms would be segregated by race,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kraskin. “She told me that she and many of her friends went to see my grandfather because he didn’t notice skin color; he didn’t have a segregated waiting area.”
According to Jeffrey, his grandfather was one of the early pioneers of vision therapy. And, his father had Jeffrey involved in the optometry profession almost from birth.
“My first year of life was recorded by my father and reported in an article for the American Optometric Association,” said Dr. Kraskin. “It was called ‘The first year of an infant’s visual life.’ I guess I was introduced to it very early. He did this whole study with the retinascope and recorded responses from Day One.”
As it turned out, optometry was just a normal part of Jeffrey Kraskin’s upbringing, a continuation of a long and successful family practice.
“Even if we were to play ping-pong or a game of pool at the pool table, my father would throw on different value lenses to see our responses in playing the game. We were highly integrated into it,” said Dr. Kraskin.
The family’s optometry thread has seamlessly run through the generations. Jeffrey’s mother Marion – after receiving Robert’s trumpet and agreeing to marry him – was part of the family practice as well. Although not a formally trained optometrist, she did receive her PhT degree (known at PSCO as “Pushed Him Through” or “Putting Him Through”) while husband Robert finished optometry school. She then became Robert’s office manager and worked with him in vision therapy and vision training. She continued the role as office manager when Jeffrey took over his father’s practice and served in that capacity almost until the time of her passing in January 2020.
“As she said, her job was to be that extra pair of hands. Not only was she taking care of the management side, but she was that extra pair of hands for my father and for myself in vision therapy, working with patients,” said Dr. Kraskin. “She didn’t go on to be a certified vision therapist, but she probably knew more than I did about patient's visual function. She could pretty much look at patients and tell you what she would think their needs might be.”
Robert Kraskin, who passed away in 1996, served as president of the PCO Alumni Association in 1978 and 1979 and as a member of the College’s Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1983. He was the former president of the Optometric Society of the District of Columbia and was a consultant for Project Head Start for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Volunteers for Vision, founded by LBJ’s daughter Luci Baines Johnson
, developed from Robert Kraskin’s work with the Head Start program. Luci not only was a patient of Dr. Kraskin’s, but she worked in his office during her father’s time as president as a vision training assistant during the summer. Robert Kraskin was awarded PCO’s Presidential Medal of Honor at the College’s 75th anniversary in 1994.
Although his grandfather passed away in 1951, three years before Jeffrey was born, there is evidence of all three generations of Kraskin optometrists in the current office.
“In my examination room, which was my late father’s exam room as well, I still use a stereoscope in my testing. Within optometry, there is the telebinocular, which would be the fancier name, within the testing tools – testing two eyes working together. So the stereoscope that I use is the one that my grandfather used,” said Dr. Kraskin. “My patients today will say, ‘This is really neat. This is such a neat instrument that I’m looking into.’ They know that this has been used all these years and still gives insight into a person’s functional visual performance.”
All three generations of the Kraskins served as chair of the District of Columbia Board of Optometry -- the state licensing agency - on which Dr. Jeffrey Kraskin still serves today. “My father's license to practice optometry in the District of Columbia is signed by his father, and mine is signed by my father,” said Dr. Kraskin. All three generations of Dr. Kraskins have served as officers of the Optometric Society of D.C. - the state affiliate of the American Optometric Association.