Martin Lukes

Martin Lukes, 96, of Great Falls, a retired railroad clerk and a World War II U.S. Navy veteran, died of old age Sunday, Jan. 13, at a local hospital.

A vigil service with a rosary is 7 p.m. today at Holy Spirit Catholic Church. A funeral liturgy is 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the church, with a luncheon to follow in the parish center. Interment in Mount Olivet Cemetery will follow the reception. Schnider Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

Martin was born in Great Falls in 1916 to Frank and Catherine (Stepka) Lukes. He moved with his family to Chester and to Dante, S.D., returning to Great Falls at the age of 9. He started in fifth grade at St. Mary's grade school and eventually graduated in 1933 from St. Mary's High School, where he was a basketball star. After attending a one-year business college, Martin joined the Railway Express Agency (REA) in 1934.

In 1942, Martin married Leona Soennichsen. They remained married for 69 years until Leona's death (at age 91) in 2011 and are survived by their four children, Judy, Jerry, Don and Carol Sue; and four grandchildren. Martin and Leona's beloved daughter, Carol Sue, lived with and helped them until the end.

Martin joined the U.S. Navy in 1943 and served in California and in the Admiralty Islands. After his discharge in 1945, he returned to Great Falls and resumed his service with the REA until his retirement in 1975.

Martin was an avid outdoorsman. He loved to hunt geese, upland birds and big game. In the year he was age 88, he went out by himself to get his last moose and, later, his elk. During the rest of the year, he loved to fish. He could catch anything that swam under his little boat or passed under a hole in the ice. Martin taught his children to love the outdoors and spent many days camping, hiking, boating and traveling with them and Leona. After his retirement in 1975, Martin and Leona traveled all over the country, mostly in their little Roadrunner travel trailer. They visited every state capital in the nation and traveled as far as Mexico and Alaska. They also enjoyed going on many cruises.

Martin was an avid pilot who used his private plane to travel and, of course, to find the best fishing and hunting spots. He served in the Civil Air Patrol for many years, attaining the rank of captain. He and Leona went on numerous search and rescue missions throughout Montana. Martin stopped flying at the age of 85 commenting, "I've been lucky so far, and I think I'll quit while I'm ahead."

Martin was an eternal optimist and an enthusiastic companion. He was "a good guy to go with." He loved to learn and remained sharp until the day he died. In one of his only clear statements in the final days, he woke from a deep sleep and said, "Boy, it's been a wonderful life."

Martin is survived by his sons, Jerry Lukes of Olympia, Wash., and Don Lukes of Spokane; daughters Judy Charbonneau of Olympia and Carol Sue Lukes of Great Falls; and four grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Leona Lukes.

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Published in Great Falls Tribune on Jan. 16, 2013