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Lester D. Menke

1918 - 2016 Obituary Condolences Gallery
Lester D. Menke Obituary
Lester D. Menke

Des Moines

Lester D. Menke, loving family man, third-generation farmer, and lifelong public servant, passed away peacefully in his home in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 5, 2016, at the age of 97.

He was born December 16, 1918, on a farm near Calumet, Iowa. He was the son of Ernest Menke and Clara (Mugge) Menke, and grew up as an only child.

He was a 1936 graduate of Liberty Township High School (Calumet), a 1940 graduate of Morningside College, and attended the University of Iowa College of Law for one year. He married Kathlyn Kolp of Manson, Iowa, in 1941.

Lester returned to the family farm, where he raised grain and livestock for 31 years. In addition to farming, Lester performed occupational duties for the Veteran's Administration as an instructor for the on-the-farm training program, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation as the O'Brien County Director, and Farmer's Mutual Hail Insurance Company of Iowa as an agent and crop hail adjuster.

Lester was deeply involved in his community. He was a lifelong member of the Zion United Church of Christ in Calumet, where he served as president of the church board and taught Sunday school. In addition, he was active in many local organizations including 4-H, where he served as a Boy's Club Leader, and the local Masonic Lodge.

He was a lifelong learner with a passion for education, demonstrated foremost by his many years of service as a school board member on the local, county, state and national levels. His commitment to education included leadership roles as president of the Iowa Association of School Boards, director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, and nine years as a member of the State Board of Public Instruction of Iowa, with two years as president of the State Board as well as serving on the Iowa Educational Radio and Television Facilities Board. He received Morningside College's Distinguished Alumni Award in 1975, and later served on the Morningside College Board of Directors.

Lester entered politics in 1972, and was elected to six terms in the Iowa House of Representatives, serving the people of the 5th and 7th Districts from 1973 to 1985. He represented his constituents on the Education Committee throughout his time in office, served five years in House Leadership as Speaker pro Tempore from 1981 to 1985. Following his years in the legislature, Lester served as Governor Branstad's legislative liaison for two years.

During retirement, Lester volunteered at Living History Farms, and at storytelling events. He was an avid baker, and dancer and poetry writer. In 2012, Lester fulfilled a decades-long goal by completing and publishing his first book, an autobiography entitled, "When Apples Had No Worms." In August 2015, he inspired his grandchildren and their friends by demonstrating that you're never too old to have fun as he rode the roller coaster at Arnold's Park noting that he and a friend were the first to ride the coaster in 1930.

He is survived by five children, David, Urbandale, Daniel, Calumet, Timothy, Cherokee, Anne, Las Cruces, New Mexico and Sarah Menke-Fish, Potomac, Maryland; nine grandchildren, Jason, Kyle, Grant, Ned, James, Nicholas, Abby, Sean and Michelle; fifteen great-grandchildren, Andrew, Carter, Kennedy, Elijah, Ava, Emma, Anna, JJ, Luke, Winn, Pierce, Brynn, Clara, Nolan and Aubree; and his longtime friend, Mary Grefe.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Kathlyn, daughter, Mary and sister, Neva.

A celebration of life will be held Sunday, March 13 at 3:00 PM, Zion United Church of Christ, Calumet.

The family wishes to express their gratefulness for the loving care provided by Hearts in Home Health Care, Lisa, Shelby, Angie, Heather and Theresa and HCI Hospice Care of Iowa, Leann, Jill, Marcia, James, Dana, Carol and Pam.

Memorial contributions may be made to Zion United Church of Christ in Calumet, Iowa.

Condolences may be expressed at
Published in Des Moines Register on Mar. 8, 2016
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