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Frank Val Koester, 88, of Wellsville passed away suddenly Thursday, September 26, 2019 at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Audrain in Mexico, Missouri.
Frank was the youngest of two sons born to August Henry and Ivy Irene Talley Koester on December 9, 1930 in St. Louis, Missouri. Frank grew up in the area of Chesterfield, Eureka, and the Gumbo Bottoms of St. Louis county.
From an early age, Frank was interested in flying. Every time a dirigible or airplane would go over, he and his dad would go outside to look. They saw dirigibles more often than planes. As a little boy in 1936, he got to take his first airplane ride at the air races held in St. Louis. Later, he picked up soda bottles and turned them in for the deposit, saving enough that at age 15, he was able to buy a Cushman motor scooter. He would ride to the airport to hang around pilots and airplanes. He helped the pilots get their planes in and out of the hangar. An instructor told Frank that if he could get enough money together, he’d give him a lesson. Lessons cost $7 an hour, and Frank got his private pilot’s license at about age 16. He loved basketball, swimming, and was a competitive boxer.
Frank recalled that although they didn’t have much, they had a big garden, so they always had plenty to eat. This likely inspired his passion to garden, which he did with expertise annually for most of his life. The family farmed 20 acres, but he said that even the big farmers of that time only farmed about 60 acres since farming was done with teams, not tractors. He started first grade in 1936, and walked 1 1/4 miles one way to school. There were 3 boys and 1 girl in the class. He and his brother Calvin carried little round lunch buckets with an egg or sausage sandwich, all raised on the farm. They always had chickens, pigs, and three milk cows. On Friday nights, they would take their eggs and cream to town to trade for groceries. There were hungry hoboes and relatives who didn’t have enough to eat who would often stop by for food. When World War II started, the life of the family improved with the growing economy. Frank’s father got a tractor, and the family farmed some 240 acres.
One of Frank’s funniest memories was of the night he and a friend went to the barn with a light, and caught starlings in a sack. Frank carried the birds in the sack under his jacket, and the two boys sat down in the back row of the local movie theater They waited for the movie to start, got the birds out, and threw them. The birds went about 30 feet before they “got their wings” and started flying. The movie had to be shut down, and the workers got brooms to shoo them out.
Another of his escapades was with the same friend. After he got his pilot’s license, he flew a plane under the 40-61 bridge at Gumbo. As he said, “there was plenty of room, there was no feat to it, but it’s illegal as all get-out.” He said he went down the river a good way before he came back up because he didn’t want anyone to be able to get the number on the plane.
With his love of flying, Frank went into the Air Force. After going through Basic, followed by Aircraft and Engine Mechanic School, he was sent to Kadena, Okinawa as a Corporal. He soon made Staff Sergeant, and served as Flight Engineer. He flew many bombing missions from Okinawa over North Korea as crew Flight Engineer, a dangerous duty, as on numerous occasions, friends and/or fellow servicemen never made it home. For his service, Frank received a Korean service medal with four battle stars for having participated in combat four times. He also served in England and North Africa. Frank was color-blind and could not serve officially as a pilot, but his well recognized skills allowed him the opportunity to pilot an extensive list of military aircraft during his service.
Frank met Carolyn Switzer while stationed in Tucson, Arizona. Their courtship was largely by mail while he was stationed in England. He said, “She was the prettiest girl in the world. So sweet, so nice, a good Christian girl. The kind of girl every man dreams of marrying.” They married on April 18, 1955.
After leaving the military, the young couple settled in St. Louis county, and soon had their daughter, Laura. Frank obtained employment with McDonnell Douglas, rising quickly during his time there, but it was his dream to farm. They bought a farm and moved to Wellsville, Missouri, where they lived the rest of their lives. Their son Bruce soon came along. Several years later, they adopted Nathan, a cute toddler in the foster care system, whom they met at church.
Frank farmed just outside Wellsville, growing mostly wheat, corn, soybeans, and milo. He later operated heavy equipment for a living. Frank was an expert mechanic, and did his own repairs on farm equipment, bulldozers, and vehicles.
He continued to fly as a private pilot for many years. He enjoyed taking people up and doing loop de loops. As others in Wellsville began to get interested in flying, he put a grass airstrip on the farm, and for a number of years was a certified flight instructor teaching and helping others in the area become pilots.
Frank served on the Wellsville library board and was active in Jaycees. He officiated at tractor pulls at area fairs for many years. He was a long time participating member of the Missouri Archeology Society. One of the things he was most proud of was his service on the Monroe County Water Board. Rural residents either had wells or had to haul water, so Frank and a few other individuals approached the water district about bringing water to the large rural area. He canvassed prospective water customers, gathered easements, and became a member of the Board of Directors in 2003, serving until 2016.
Frank enjoyed working for several years with archeologists from the University of Missouri and Nebraska, excavating Native American sites most extensively at what became the Cannon Dam and Mark Twain Lake. He had always loved arrowheads and artifacts, and he pioneered a way of using his old cable operated scraper to remove fractions of inches of soil at a time, which led to significant finds. He became adept at advising the teams where hand excavation should begin. He would camp in the field, or stay at the motels with the students and staff, making many friendships and becoming a valued member of the team. Details of every excavation site were carefully recorded during progress, each being named, and information on finds and observations recorded. These all became published books, and Frank has at least two excavation sites that bear his name in their published titles.
He never met a stranger, and cared nothing about status, treating those from all walks of life with the same respect. Frank was outgoing and humorous. He was never too busy to lend a hand to a friend or stranger in need.
Frank is survived by his daughter Laura Davis (Mark) of Shirley, Arkansas, sons Bruce Koester of Fulton, Nathan Koester of Sedalia, granddaughters Michelle Bond, Nikki Koester, Anna Koester, and Erin Mize, step-grandson Shaun Tinsley, seven great grandchildren, five step-grandchildren, and numerous loving nieces and nephews.
Funeral services were at 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, October 2, 2019 at the Church of Christ in Centralia. Rev. Mark White officiated.
Graveside services were at 1:00 p.m., Wednesday, at the Wellsville Cemetery. Serving as pallbearers were Jack Bruns, Mark Davis, Jose Flores, Bruce Koester, Nathan Koester and Rodney Lansford.
Full Military Honors were provided by Wellsville VFW Post 3056. Missouri Military Funeral Honors folded and presented the United States Flag to his family.
Services were under the direction of the Myers Funeral Home in Wellsville.
Memorial contributions were suggested to Centralia Church of Christ c/o Myers Funeral Home, 203 East Bates Street, Wellsville, MO 63384.