Otto W. Knauth
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Otto W. Knauth

Des Moines

Otto W. Knauth, 97, died as he lived, with great dignity, on August 22, 2013, at Scottish Rite Park in Des Moines, IA.

Otto was born May 3, 1916, in Leipzig, Germany, the son of Theodore and Gabriele Knauth. He spent his childhood living in New York City and Pleasantville, New York, before returning to Europe for his secondary education. Following high school graduation in Berlin, Otto worked as a tour guide at the 1936 Olympics and then, motivated by his love of flying, attended flight school in northern Germany.

Returning to the United States in 1938, Otto enrolled in the University of Illinois, and then initiated his career as a journalist working at his Uncle Victor's magazine "Sea Power" in New York City. It was there that he met his beloved wife Dorothea (Dot). However, their wedding plans were delayed when Otto joined the Army Air Corps Reserve. After receiving his "wings," Otto and Dot married in 1943 and moved to Danville, VA, where Otto worked as a flight instructor.

Otto served his country in both World War II and the Korean War. Being fluent in German, in WWII Otto was assigned to the Army Counter Intelligence Corps where he worked as a special investigator at the Supreme Allied Headquarters in Germany.

In 1946 he returned for a joyful reunion with his wife and new daughter Kathy, and then moved to St. Joseph, MO, where he worked for that city's local paper. Two years later, Otto and family moved to Des Moines, and Otto began his career with the Des Moines Register, first as a copy editor and then as assistant city editor.

With the outbreak of the Korean War, Otto returned to military service in the Counter Intelligence Corps, this time stationed at the MacArthur headquarters in Tokyo, Japan.

When at last his enlistment ended in 1951, Otto returned to Dot, Kathy and the Des Moines Register. Six years later, son Tod was born.

Otto was employed with the Des Moines Register for 33 years, serving as Science Editor until he retired in 1981. His columns were popular with Iowans in every part of the state, reflecting not only his outstanding skills as a writer but also his complete commitment to the people and topics he reported on.

Beyond his work, Otto enjoyed biking, canoeing, traveling, and generously sharing his vast knowledge of Iowa and the outdoors with others. He especially enjoyed his later years spent with his wife and children at the family's summer cabin on Madeline Island, WI.

Otto is preceded in death by his wife Dorothea, his parents, a sister and a brother. His survivors include his daughter Kathleen Knauth of Minneapolis, MN; his son Theodore Knauth, daughter-in-law Jennifer Larson Knauth, and grandsons Oliver and Theodore, all of Madison, WI; his sisters, Christine Arndt of North Bethesda, MD, Sybilla Pfeiffer of Fishbourne, England; and many extended family members both in the United States and Europe.

Otto belonged to our country's "greatest generation" and his death brings a special sadness. His memory is cherished by his many friends who knew him to be a consummate gentleman who was consistently the finest conversationalist at the table - temperate in his opinions, modest about expressing his knowledge, and ever deferential to others. He will be remembered as a great friend and missed by the many Iowans who knew him.

If desired, memorials may be made to the Madeline Island Historical Preservation Association (MIHPA), Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, or Planned Parenthood of Iowa.

A memorial gathering is being planned for a Fall date.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in the Des Moines Register on Aug. 25, 2013.
Memories & Condolences
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8 entries
August 23, 2020
I first met Otto when his daughter Kathy, wife Dot and I went on a Register and Tribune canoe trip he led on the Iowa River. What a kind, thoughtful and intelligent man. I can still see him, in his flat cap, quietly leading their dog Spot across the street to stay with neighbors while we were away. I remember his shock at my phobia of snakes - even 4" baby garters snakes. I remember his nephew Chris saying at his Memorial Service "we didn't need Encyclopedia Britannica - we had Uncle Toe". I remember his grief when he lost Dot, his resilience in continuing forward without her, and his determination to adapt to the life changes his cancer demanded. Knowing Otto Knauth added to my life beyond measure. He was indeed a remarkable human being.
Louise (Lolly) Fawcett
October 23, 2013
In my early days at the Register, I liked to write about beautiful things, like the beginning of spring. My city editor allowed me to go find a spring story. I did. But I returned to find that Otto had done the same thing, only much better. Otto had the finest, lightest, most perceptive touch. Kind and incomparable.
Louise Swartzwalder
August 28, 2013
Ott's obituary says it all - he will be greatly missed by many. But for me, it was Otto's inclusion of Kathy's and Tod's friends into family life and activities that are my most treasured memories. Lolly Fawcett and Rick Olson
August 27, 2013
As fine a journalist as I've ever known, but more important, as fine a person. Otto was an inspiration to me in both ways. Iowa and the world are diminished without him.
Lad Paul
August 25, 2013
Otto was incomparable -- as a gentleman, as a newsman, as a friend. He is honorary captain of the R&T newsroom's all-time all-star team.
Dave Witke
August 25, 2013
I recall reading Otto Knauth's articles about the building of the Saylorville Dam project to the north of the Des Moines area during the 1970s. His reporting of that story introduced me to the Des Moines Register and to newspapers in general. Knauth was a giant among giants. Long may his memory live.
Joel Bader
August 25, 2013
Otto, you were a kind and wonderful mentor when I was a DMR "copy kid," and the consummate science journalist -- making the wonders of science accessible to all.
Lyn Jerde
August 25, 2013
Uncle To was a good Uncle and fine outdoorsman with an amazing history, of which he kept to himself. His modesty and kindness are an example to us all. For this, and so much more, he will be sorely missed.I take solace in knowing that he is with his wife Dot, as sure as the sun casts rainbows in spindrift.
Timothy P. Knauth
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