Introduction: My friend, Bob, died this week. Bob was a wonderful fellow, a devoted and loving husband, a loyal friend, a staunch Republican, an avid reader and news junky, generous to just about any charity who asked for money (and believe me, he was on all of their mailing lists!). Bob lead an exemplary American story life: he grew up in rural Nevada, enlisted during WW2, married a hometown girl who was just a little older than he, served his country through three wars, retired to teach at the university and spend summers sailing and remodeling houses. He loved cars! Black cars, although Zona liked red ones. Bob loved to travel incuding one infamous cruise that lead to a new hip surgery in Germany – and that was at the age of 88!
In true Bob fashion, he composed his own obituary:
Bob was born in Racine, Wis. on March 19, 1926 to Jean J. and Edward E. Therkelsen and died on April 15,2018 in Reno.
Bob was preceded in death by his wife, Zona in 2011, after 64 years of marriage; and by his only son, Mark, who passed away in 1970 just prior to his 21st birthday. Bob has relatives in Nevada, California and Wisconsin, with his closest relative being his cousin, Rosemary Harrison, who lives in Sanger, Calif.
Based on doctor’s advice that Bob’s mother should live in a drier climate due to her asthma, his parents moved from Wisconsin when Bob was about ten years old. Bob grew up in a number of western states, with the family finally settling in Nevada. Bob graduated from elementary school in Ely and Mineral County High School (MCHS) in Hawthorne. Bob always said that his days at MCHS and all the friends and teachers he met there were one of the wonderful parts of his life.
Bob was in high school when WWII began. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Army Air Force as an aviation cadet. He hadn’t finished his pilot training when the war ended, and those who had enlisted from civilian life for aviation training were given two choices: they could finish the training and stay in the Army for two more years or they could have an immediate discharge. Bob chose the discharge, as he wished to attend the University of Nevada. In October, 1945, he returned to Hawthorne where his parents were living and worked there until the Spring semester at the university started in late January 1946. During this period, he became reacquainted with a delightful young lady by the name of Zona Betty, whom he had known briefly at MCHS. They were married in January 1947.
Bob was attending the university when they were married, so they set up housekeeping in Reno. Zona went to school to become a dental assistant and worked while Bob went to school and had part time jobs. The year 1950 was an eventful year as their son Mark was born and Bob graduated as a geological engineer. Bob had earned a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant through ROTC and the Korean War had just started. So again, Bob volunteered for military service, this time in the United States Air Force. He couldn’t go back to finish his pilot training as his eyes were no longer 20/20. Glasses were allowed for navigator, bombardier and radar schools and Bob ended up going to all three. He then flew 60 combat missions in Korea as a navigator on B-26 aircraft, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air medals.
Bob had many other interesting assignments in the Air Force including staff officer in the Training Command, supervising textbooks for navigators, two years as an exchange officer to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Research and Development Officer in Systems Command and graduate school at Ohio State University getting his Master of Science degree. Upon his graduation from Ohio State, Bob was assigned to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado where he eventually became the head of the Astronomy Department and director of the Air Force Planetarium. While at the Air Force Academy, Bob commuted evenings to the University of Denver earning a Ph.D. It was time to leave the Air Force Academy for a new assignment. Zona and Bob decided that since Bob now had 20 years in the Air Force it was time for something different, so he ended his military career retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.
The year Bob retired was also a tragic year, as Zona and Bob lost their son, Mark.
For years, Zona and Bob had visited Zona’s grandmother in Santa Cruz, Calif. and had grown to love the ocean and the area so this is where they settled. Bob enjoyed teaching and his Ph.D. provided an opportunity to find a position at San Jose State University, about a 45 minute drive from Santa Cruz. Bob taught there for 15 years. During the summer vacations from school, Zona and Bob played golf, remodeled their house, took sailing lessons, bought a sailboat and cruised the California coast. After a vacation to Mendocino, Calif. they decided to move there. They bought a fixer-upper on a cliff overlooking Mendocino Bay and had a great time converting it into a beautiful home. Finally, the call to be closer to family moved them back to Nevada.
According to Bob’s wishes, there will be no funeral services and he will be cremated. He will join Zona, his parents and Zona’s grandmother for internment at Santa Cruz Memorial Park.
P.S. If you are so inclined, raise a glass of your favorite beverage and toast a life well lived! Bob will have a gin and tonic.