John P. Kildahl, of Scarsdale and White Plains, died on June 17 at the age of 91. Born in Owatonna, Minnesota, on Christmas Eve, 1927, Mr. Kildahl was the second son of Johan and Edith Kildahl. His father and grandfather were Lutheran ministers, and Mr. Kidlahl was ordained in the Lutheran ministry in 1953, after graduating first from St. Olaf College in 1949 and then Luther Theological Seminary in 1952. His only brother, Paul, died in action serving in the U.S. Army in Italy in 1944. Mr. Kildahl enlisted in the U.S. Navy upon graduation from high school in Webster, South Dakota, and was in naval flight school when the war ended. He married Joyce Peterson of Mabel, Minnesota, in August of 1951. They had met at St. Olaf College in a Norwegian language class and had five children, Kent, Margit, Lisa, Karl and Ann. Mrs. Kildahl, who died in 2002, was “the love of John’s life,” their family said, and their marriage together was a “loving and wonderful” partnership.
Mr. Kildahl’s professional life was devoted to psychotherapy with the goal of helping patients be happier, more productive, autonomous people. He earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from New York University in 1957 and did additional training in psychotherapy at the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health and the William Alanson White Institute, eventually teaching at both.
The author or co-author of eight books on the value of therapy, Mr. Kildahl saw the analyst’s role as that of helper and supporter; he never strayed far from the “pastoral” side of psychological assistance to patients. He was in private practice in Manhattan from 1958 until 2010, and he taught pastoral counseling at New York Theological Seminary as well.
The couple owned and cherished a cabin at Highland Lakes, New Jersey, for 60 years and were avid travelers. As a member of the Fox Meadow Tennis Club in Scarsdale, Mr. Kildahl was a cunning tennis and platform tennis player, his family said. He was also a 50-year congregant of Grace Lutheran Church and maintained strong ties to St. Olaf College, where his grandfather was president from 1899 to 1914.
Mr. Kildahl’s family said his life was “devoted to affirming the value and joy of human life” and he was a “devoted and deeply loving, supportive father.”
In addition to his five children, he leaves a legacy of “deep affection” with his sons and daughter-in-law — Catharine Hill, William Burmeister and Alan Highet — and his 11 grandchildren — John, Tom and Lizzy Kildahl; Katharine and William Burmeister; Alex and Sarah Highet; Jessica Kildahl; and Karin, Peter and Nathan Honarvar.
A funeral service to celebrate Mr. Kildahl’s life was scheduled on June 26 at Grace Lutheran Church in Scarsdale.