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Salt Springs - George E. Custer, Sr., USN (Ret), age 87, of Salt Springs, FL passed away on Friday, April 4, 2014.
He was born in Tift County, GA, but was raised near Lakeland, FL. Mr. Custer joined the Navy in 1944 and studied at Emory, Duke and Florida Southern where he completed his BA- majoring in math with a minor in music. He began his naval aviation career in 1952 and earned his wings in 1953. He performed hundreds of carrier takeoffs and landings, feeling a "ripple" effect while breaking the sound barrier and surviving ejection from a disabled jet. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Mr. Custer was a courier shuttling top secret surveillance photos from Jacksonville to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C. The photos were taken over Cuba by the Navy Light Photographic Squadron VFP-62. He retired in 1970 as a Lieutenant Commander. Following his retirement, he worked as the city manager of Orange Park.
In his early years, he received his classical music training from Florida Southern College. Mr. Custer also studied with the famous Russian violinist Toscha Seidel and with jazz great, Joe Venuti, in Los Angeles.
After Custer finished military service in World War II and graduated from college, he began his fiddle career by playing with his uncle, Bob "Georgia Slim" Rutland and his band, Texas Round Up, in Dallas. Custer and his cousin, Henry Rutland were billed as The Twin Fiddles at 1982 World's Fair, and were the nation's only twin fiddle team, so honored.
Equally talented as a musician in the Jazz, Contemporary and Traditional genres, he was honored in 1990 when he was presented with the Florida Folk Heritage Award by Governor Bob Martinez and the State Cabinet.
Mr. Custer played in the nationally acclaimed Audoubon Film for PBS Television: The Woodstork: Barometer of the Everglades. Mr. Custer has been featured in other television specials including a Charles Kuralt travelogue and a Nashville Network show covering traditional southern fiddling.
Mr. Custer called music his "special vitamin." He has been a veteran member of the Ocala Symphony Orchestra and served as Concertmaster in the 1990's. He performed frequently with various musical groups including Johnny Cash and Ray Price, whom he met in 1949. He enjoyed playing the violin, especially while visiting the nearby Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters. Even into his mid 80's Mr. Custer taught violin at his home in Salt Springs.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years Fay Custer; children Deborah Custer, George E. Custer, Jr., Karen Custer Evans, Greta Custer and Rachel Crocker; son-in-law Robert Crocker; brother Charles Custer; sisters Nell Sprott and Reba Golon; grandchildren Matthew Silverthorne and Johnny Doub.
A memorial service with military honors will be held at Charles Whiteacre Memorial VFW Post, 23498 NE Hwy 314, Salt Springs, FL on Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 2PM.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Humane Society of Marion County in memory of George E. Custer, Sr.
Published in Ocala Star-Banner from Apr. 9 to Apr. 10, 2014
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