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Harold Orville Ekern
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Obituary for Harold Orville Ekern

Harold O. Ekern
October 31, 1926 – January 14, 2018
Harold Orville Ekern, known as Harry to his friends and family, and “Bud” to his South Dakota family, was born in Pipestone, MN on October 31, 1926, the only child of Helmer Oscar Ekern and Magda Ekern whose maiden name Ekern, same as her married name, but no relation. His mother died on December 28, 1928 when Harry was 2 years old. His father, Helmer, later married Ada Madson in Pipestone, and Harry’s sister, Laurel was born. They lived in Pipestone: Ada raising both children and Helmer managing his business, Ekern Turk Manufacturing, a successful Pipestone foundry. During the Great Depression, Helmer’s business was struggling when Harry’s father died of pneumonia. Ada took the children (Harry, 7 and Laurel, 2) back to her childhood home in Egan, SD where she and Harry both had family nearby in Flandreau.
Harry always had a spirit of adventure. He wanted to see the world. At the age of 12, living in South Dakota, he heard about a visiting barnstormer who was giving flights in his small plane over the area. Harry and a friend snuck away to see if they could take a flight. His mother would have been furious if she had known Harry had spent good money on something so silly and dangerous. But it was exhilarating and set Harry’s mind to become a pilot himself someday. Harry loved school and playing sports. In his senior year he was captain of the high school basketball team, and ASB President.
World War II was still going on when Harry graduated from Egan High School in 1944. He still wanted to fly so he joined the Army Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot. While he was in basic training, WWII ended so the military sent him to college for a year in Nebraska. His mother and half-sister later sold the house in Egan and purchased a small home near Minneapolis. Harry left college in Nebraska to move in with them to help make ends meet. His first paid job was shoveling raw meat on a concrete floor at the John Morrell Company, and later flipped burgers at the popular White Spot.
Harry joined the ROTC program at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis earning a BS in Mechanical Engineering in May 1950, becoming a First Lieutenant in the New U.S. Air Force. During his senior year he met LynWillow Slawson, a sweet southern gal from Louisiana who was working as a secretary in the athletic department of UM. They dated for several months and married on May 14, 1950 at the University Baptist Church, just 2 weeks after Harry’s graduation.
During their honeymoon, they camped from Minnesota to New York to Texas, visiting relatives and friends for 3 weeks until they ended up in Seguin, TX (near San Antonio), just outside of Randolph Air Field where Harry earned his wings. They were then transferred to Walker Air Force Base near Roswell, New Mexico. They bought a 40-foot, 1-bedroom green trailer and parked it in a nearby trailer park. Mark Harold Ekern was born July 15, 1954, and Laurie Lyn Ekern soon followed on November 19, 1955, both were born in a converted Army Barracks set aside as a maternity ward. Harry was flying B-29s and B-47s in bombing missions over Korea during this time. Air Force wives were not allowed to know where the husbands were flying, and never knew when they left each morning if they would be back that night or 5 months later. So they had to have the car keys and the check book always in hand every morning. Mark was 4 months old before Harry saw him. But Harry was in town when Laurie was born, and that event made the front page of the Base newspaper!
In 1957, Harry was transferred to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Fairborn, OH, where he got his Masters in Aeronautical Engineering. He then began work on the Air Force Missile program. In 1963, he moved the family across the U.S. settling in Kent, WA. He worked in the AFPRO Office at a Boeing facility in Seattle. His boss, Colonel James T. Wiley, was a Tuskegee Airmen of WWII. Together they worked with other Air Force and Boeing engineers to design missiles for the military. Major Harold Ekern retired in 1967 after 22 years in the Air Force. He went on to teach engineering and drafting at Green River Community for 20 years, retiring again in 1988.
Retirement wasn’t quiet for Harry. He volunteered as a docent at the new Museum of Flight in Seattle, and was a Guardian ad Litem, an advocate for abused/neglected children in the King County Court system. He and LynWillow (Papa and Nana) enjoyed traveling, visiting with friends and family, being involved in their church, and spending precious time with their four grandchildren, Brian, Eric, David, and Carol.
Harry and LynWillow were members of Victory Baptist Church, Des Moines, WA and Calvary Baptist Church, Renton, WA. LynWillow passed away on August 11, 2001. They were married for 51 years. Harry married Joan Bancroft on May 20, 2005. Their families first met in 1968 at Victory Baptist Church in Des Moines, WA. LynWillow and Joan remained friends over the years.  Harry and Joan first lived in Newcastle, WA then moved to Judson Park Retirement Home, Des Moines, WA in July 2009. Harry moved to Judson Park’s memory care unit in January 2016.  

He is survived by his wife, Joan; Harry’s children Mark Ekern and Laurie Humphreys, grandchildren Brian (Kristy), Eric (Lauren), David (Kelsey), and Carol; great-grandchildren Oliver, Bruce, Violet, and Evelyn. Harry’s stepfamily includes Joan’s children; Kathy, Brian, Bruce, Doug and grandchildren; Rusty, Ben, Jeffrey, Sydney and Audrey as well as great-grandchildren Austin, Kalea, AJ and Monroe.
He is preceded in death by father Helmer Oscar Ekern, mother Magda Christina Ekern (maiden name was also Ekern, no relation), stepmother Ada May Madson Ekern, sister Laurel Ada Ekern Tschimperle, and his first wife LynWillow Slawson Ekern.

Gifts in memory of Harold Ekern can be given to Franciscan Hospice House either:
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Franciscan Foundation
PO Box 1502
Tacoma, WA  98401
(253) 428-8411
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1:30 PM
Tahoma National Cemetery

18600 S.E. 240th Street
Kent, WA 98042


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