He was born during the roaring 20s in rural Minnesota. He grew up during the Depression and served as a B-24 radioman during the closing days of World War 2. He returned to MN and raised a family that I joined 17 years ago when I married one of his granddaughters. He was a really nice man and, sad to say, great-grandpa Ken died this morning. He went to sleep last night and never woke up.
I think the first time I met him was when I realized that I really liked him. I think he liked me from the get go also. I knew he was a vet and I asked him about a wooden model B-24 on his shelf. He told me he flew in B-17s and B-24s, and that the B-24 was his favorite. I told him that as a kid (and I was only 21 at the time, so I'm was really talking about just a few years before) my favorite model airplane to build was the B-24D Liberator. I got the feeling that no one had really asked him about the planes he flew, just about flying. He was so animated talking about the plane and his experiences, and I really enjoyed hearing about them.
I only saw him twice a year when we visited MN at Christmas and during the summer, but he was always genuinely happy to see me and to talk to me.
Ken's wife Edie died about 10 years ago. She was a WAC and they married just after the war. They raised 4 children and have double digit grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. They lived in MN their entire lives. Edie was a hair stylist (they kept her barber's chair in their house long after she retired) and Ken owned a green-grocers and then worked for 3M. We always returned home from Christmas with a huge bag of 3M tape, post-its, and other products that he purchased with his employee's discount. We still have a few bags left.
In a part of MN that really doesn't welcome strangers, he stood out. He welcomed me, the NY Jew, and my wife says that he learned (some) Spanish so he could speak with the immigrants moving into town. I never saw him with anything other than a smile on his face and he always seemed incredibly happy when he was around his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren.
As my wife and I said, almost in unison this evening, he was a really great guy.
At synogogue this morning, we recited Kaddish, the mourner's prayer. I've always recited it for my family members who have passed from this earth, but also for those for whom no one else can speak it. We didn't learn that Ken had passed until this evening, but without realizing it, I said the prayer for him.
Rest in peace, Ken, rest in peace.