Mass of Christian Burial for Herman A. Strafuss, 93, who passed away Feb. 24, 2023, was 10 a.m. Monday, March 6, 2023, at Seven Dolors Catholic Church in Manhattan.
Graveside services were 3 p.m. Monday, March 6, 2023, at Pilsen Cemetery.
The family greeted friends from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Sunday March 5, 2023, at Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen Funeral Home in Manhattan. Rosary was at 7 p.m.
Herman was a consummate storyteller. When his wife, Rita Marie (Tajchman) Strafuss, realized his memories were beginning to fade, she encouraged him to write down his experiences.
What follows are stories that set his life’s direction:
I was born Oct. 25, 1929, in a farmhouse located three miles northwest of the small town of Princeton, Kansas.
It was a simpler time but very challenging for my mother and father. In fact, the day before I arrived, the stock market had crashed, signaling the start of the Great Depression.
We lived frugally without indoor plumbing, used an out- house, stored our food in a root cellar that doubled as a tornado shelter, and had one horse, Philip, who plowed the fields and pulled our buggy when we went to Mass on Sunday.
Dad farmed a 160-acre homestead that he bought from my Grandpa Strafuss, who purchased it after immigrating to America from Austria.
My siblings and I all attended the one-room, one-teacher Valley View schoolhouse, located one mile from home, which we walked to and from every school day.
In early 1944, our father heard that a large airplane had made an emergency landing in a farmer’s field about 10 miles east of our farm. That next Sunday, Dad drove the family to the site so we could see the massive Boeing B-29 lying on its belly.
The landing gears were in the up position, and all four propellers were bent and twisted, but otherwise it was not damaged.
I was amazed at the size of the plane, which at the time was the largest in the world. Boeing had just launched the plane a couple of years earlier, and in the following year, it would drop the atomic bomb to end World War II.
We made almost daily visits to the airplane and watched the engineers eventually lift the plane, extend the gears, and install 4 new engines and propellers. At the same time, bulldozers were carving out a dirt runway on our neighbor’s farmland.
It was a Sunday when the airplane was scheduled to take off, so Dad took the entire family to watch the event, which by now had drawn large crowds. It truly was an unforgettable event first hearing the massive engines rumble to life and then seeing the massive dust clouds form behind the airplane as it started to move forward — slowly at first and then finally, just before the end of the dirt runway, lifted into the air.
From that experience, I knew I had to find a way for aviation to be a part of my life.
I never would have dreamed that, within a few years, I would be a navigation instrument technician for B-29’s stationed at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.
Our missions required skirting the border between Russia and the United States, sampling the air to track the progress Russia was making developing their own atomic bomb.
There were many 15-hour flights when we returned to base with one engine shut down that brought back my memory of the B-29 that was forced to land near our Princeton farmstead.
When I turned 21, my parents gave me the opportunity to plant and share crop profits on land located in the Kansas River basin near Ogden.
I planted 60 acres of wheat in the fall and 80 acres of corn in the spring.
By midsummer, the wheat was headed and getting near harvest time. The corn was four to five feet high, and I had just cultivated it for the last time when I saw storm clouds again approaching from the west.
It had been unusually wet in some parts of Kansas that summer. But what came next would change the course of my life’s work.
The flooding started to the west in Hays and fed into the Kansas River. It eventually would be recorded that the river crested to its highest level ever near Manhattan, with the water four feet deep on 4th and Poyntz.
Every day, I would ride horseback to a bluff overlooking my wheat and corn fields and watch the river slowly overtaking crops that I had hoped to harvest.
It wasn’t long before I discovered that the high and rapid-moving water had cut a new river channel through my entire field.
I witnessed all the green corn and golden wheat fields disappear along with my dreams of becoming a farmer.
I was very discouraged and without consulting anyone, decided to join the U.S. Air Force.
Mom and Dad were downhearted that I had decided to enlist, but I was only concerned with passing the physical because I had accidentally cut off half of my left-hand index finger when I was 3 years old playing with an upside-down lawnmower.
On Dec 5, I bused to Kansas City, had a brief physical (which I passed), and was assigned a service number with barked instructions: “Don’t ever, ever forget it”.
We then walked to the Kansas City Union Station, where I boarded a train bound for San Antonio, Texas, and Lackland Air Force Base.
After I completed aircraft and engine schooling in Texas, I was sent to Chanute AFB near Champaign, Illinois, to attend the aircraft instrument overhaul and repair school.
I made a friend there who loved to attend dances at the USO club on the base. I attended a few of these dances, and there were always a lot of girls at them.
Because I never drank, some considered me shy. But when I saw my future wife from across the dance floor, I remember thinking she was pretty in her brightly colored poodle skirt.
After being introduced, what I liked about her the most was her cheerfulness and that she was from a small town south of Herington.
We danced all night and then agreed to meet the next night for a movie. Before she returned to Kansas two days later, we had exchanged addresses and agreed to write each other — she from Wichita, where she worked for Boeing, and me from a base in Alaska to which I had just been assigned.
I also remember that Rita had a chartreuse Ford convertible with blue diamond taillight inserts and twin Smitty exhaust pipes. It was a sharp car.
Years later, after I proposed, her brother, Valerian, suggested she sell her car to him before we get married to ensure I had true intentions.
Besides being a cool car, it was very durable as we drove that car to Alaska after we were married.
As far as I can remember, I worked two jobs; one full-time job in civil service, from which I retired in 1990 as head of operations for Fort Riley, and a second part-time job as an aircraft mechanic at Manhattan Airport.
The first job covered all the bills, and the part-time job allowed our boys to attend Catholic schools and me to pursue my love of aviation as a pilot and as a rebuilder of older airplanes with my boys.
Dad always wanted his sons to find and pursue their own dreams — not his. As a father, he realized that his sons would follow his example more readily than they would follow his advice, and so he lived his life accordingly.
Rita Marie, Herman’s wife of 62 years, passed away in 2016. They are survived by six sons, Ben, Mark, Dan, David, Jim, and Jon; 16 grandchildren; 9 great-grandchildren; and three of Dad’s sisters, Dorothy Finan, Irene Wienck and Esther Schultz.
The family suggests contributions in memory of Herman to the Manhattan Catholic School or the Alzheimer’s Association.
Contributions may be sent in care of the Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen Funeral Home, 1616 Poyntz Ave, Manhattan KS 66502.
Online condolences may be left for the family through the funeral home website at www.ymlfuneralhome.com