Lester Milen "Bill" Zinser
1922 - 2019
{ "" }
Share Lester's life story with friends and family
Send an Email
Or Copy this URL to Share
Lester, a twin, was born in Hooppole, IL, November 20, 1922 to Arthur E. and Edith (Roberts) Zinser and died February 8, 2019 at 96. One of ten children, Lester grew up on the family farm, earning the nickname Bill (as in Wild), and waved at mail planes flying from Chicago to Moline. When he was ten, he paid $5.00 to fly with a barnstormer. "Bill's heart raced. A little fear swept through his body...a sensation of freedom and detachment from earth surged through him.1" That was it, he was going to fly! But first, he and his brothers built a three-trapeze set in the barn and flew from trapeze to trapeze. In 1942, Lester enlisted in the Army Air Corps and earned his wings. He was rated in B-24s and B-29s. After World War II, he remained in the Air Force Reserves reaching the rank of Major. And, so flying became the theme of his life. On February 11, 1945, he married Margaret Ingrid Peterson from Kewanee, IL. After the war, he attended the University of Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana on the GI Bill. In 1949, he received a master's degree in Educational Psychology, emphasis on human factors in aircraft design. In 1946, Lester and Margaret welcomed a daughter, Lynn. He earned his flight instructors license to bolster his GI Bill income. Graduated, he moved his family to Kewanee, IL where he worked for Kraft Foods as a field man, advising milk producers on sanitation and breeding. During these years, Margaret's widowed mother, Emma, joined the family until her death in 1974 and a second daughter, Dawn, arrived. Meanwhile, Lester dreamed of a rewarding aviation career. In 1956, a university classmate informed him of an opening at the Martin Company, later Martin-Marietta. Lester got the position and moved the family to Bel Air, MD where he joined a human factors group working on nuclear-powered aircraft. Nuclear-powered aircraft were short-lived (and a bad idea). In 1957, when his response to an ad seeking a flight instructor and chief pilot for Western Michigan University's fledgling School of Flight was accepted, he moved his family to Kalamazoo, MI. Initially, the WMU Flight School was located at a tiny airport in Plainwell, MI. Under his leadership, the school burgeoned into a new, larger facility at the Kalamazoo County Airport. He sponsored WMU's Flying Broncos at U.S. Intercollegiate Air Meets. They were renowned for their accuracy at the bomb drop (dropping flour sacks from airplanes at a target barrel). The safest place for the judge was always in the barrel until one of Lester's students dropped a flour sack on a judge. Many of his flight students remained lifelong friends. Lester's family grew by two during the WMU years, a daughter, Kari, and son, Kurt. Lester was also faculty advisor for the Sigma Delta Chi Fraternity, flew WMU football scouts to games around the country, and ferried pharmaceutical bigwigs to the racetrack. In 1960, while on Air Force Reserve Duty, he worked with the chimpanzees in the fledgling space program. Proudly, Ham, one of the chimpanzees, was the first "man" in space and appeared on the cover of Life Magazine. In 1966, on a Flying Broncos trip to Colorado, Lester met a university friend who mentioned an opening for a weather research pilot at the National Center of Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Lester returned home with the job, and Margaret packed up the family for the move to Broomfield, CO. Until his retirement in 1984, Lester flew purposefully into heavy icing, hailstorms, erupting volcanoes (Mt. Saint Helens and others), and tornadoes to help the meteorological community discover what makes the skies tick. He photographed weather phenomena from the pilot's seat of his meteorological research craft. One of a gust-front near Miles City, MT was mounted in the entry to NCAR. For the full story of his exploits, read Lester's book, Pilot Logbook Lies and More1. Upon retirement, Lester moved first to Parachute then Grand Junction, CO, then to Ajo, AZ, where he fell in love with peccaries, to Bakersfield, CA, where he helped underprivileged boys to fly, returning to Thornton, CO in 2004 to be near his son's family. He is survived by his daughters, Dawn Church (Alan) and Kari Hosmer (Basil) and son, Kurt (Toby) and grandsons and granddaughter; Mitchell and Alyssa Zinser, and Samuel Hosmer. He is also survived by brothers Robert, Rodney, and Roger, and sisters Hazel Dobbs and Phyllis Rosenblum, brothers-in-law Edward Nelson and Paul Clusen, sister-in-law Lucille, who introduced him to his wife, and many nieces/nephews, and grandnieces/nephews. His wife, Margaret, daughter, Lynn Moschetti Kask, twin brother, Leslie, brother Everett, and sisters Caroline and Leska predeceased him. As he always advised: Fly low and slow and keep your nose up in the turns. A memorial service will be held later in Cambridge, Illinois. Instead of flowers, please give to Save the Chimps, Rotary International, or your favorite charity.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The Daily Camera on Feb. 13, 2019.
Please consider a donation, as requested by the family.
Memories & Condolences
Not sure what to say?
6 entries
April 2, 2019
Les instilled in me the desire to "always fly the airplane first..." Several times over my flying career, I would hear Les in my head with one of his strong "directives." His instruction "style" left you with indelible memories that led you safely through any challenge. He will be missed in the flying community.
Norman Root
February 27, 2019
I worked with Bill Zinser for many years at NCAR. We participated together in more than a few field campaigns. Bill was highly regarded as a research pilot, and was famous in our community as being a pilot who cared deeply about the science as well as the flying. Bill was a joy to work with - smart. experienced, a superb pilot - and, best of all. A wonderful, kind and thoughtful colleague. He is still an icon among field scientists who engage in research using aviation as a platform, I was very, very lucky to know and to work with him.
Karyn Sawyer
February 22, 2019
Our Heavenly Father has given us a life span of 70-80 years if we are especially strong. May you celebrate a life well lived and loved by many. May the words of Psalm 90:10,14 bring comfort to the family
Pamela Johnson
February 19, 2019
Expressing sincere condolence to the family at this time of sadness.please allow the words found at psalms 9:9to strengthens and comfort you.

February 18, 2019
I'd like to extend my condolences to the family and friends for the loss of your loved one Lester Milne Zinser, may the words at 2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17 soothe your hearts.
February 16, 2019
Please accept my sincere condolences for the loss of your loved one, Bill. May 1 Thessalonians 4:14 bring you some comfort in knowing that there is a future for the ones we have lost in death. They are very precious in Gods eyes. May the God of all comfort strengthen your family during this time of deep sorrow.
Invite others to add memories
Share to let others add their own memories and condolences