Leo Alfred Kuehl was born near Selby, South Dakota, on August 29, 1924 to John August and Theresa Martha (Thies) Kuehl. He was baptized on October 12, 1924 at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Akaska, South Dakota and confirmed on June 30, 1940 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Selby, South Dakota.
Leo began his education at the Bertsch School, a country school north of Selby. In 1930 he transferred to the Selby School. Leo worked many jobs as a child. The “Dirty Thirties” depression years were difficult ones in South Dakota. He always heard things were better in Minnesota, so he dreamed and longed to be in Minnesota. He spent much time with his grandparents, John and Alvina Thies. He helped on the farm cutting hay, herding animals, and harvesting their meager crops. All the work was done with horses. He worked at the school on a WPA program and various businesses in Selby stoking stoves, hauling clinkers, sweeping and oiling floors, cleaning, and delivering groceries, often until late at night. He also helped his Uncle Jack Thies haul gravel by horse and wagon for the WPA.
Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech and the declaration of war on Japan was broadcast through loudspeakers at the school in December of 1941. All the boys were concerned and wondered when they would be called to serve their country. Leo graduated from Selby High School in 1942 and at the age of 17, was on his own.
He completed a course in aircraft assembly in Minneapolis then headed to Los Angeles, California, with $19.00 to his name. He was immediately employed by North American Aviation and Douglas Aircraft until he was drafted into the Army Air Corps at Inglewood, California. He served with the 20th Air Force, B-29 bomber command in the China, Burma, and India theater and on the island of Guam until the summer of 1946.
While on furlough in 1944, he was passing through Minneapolis, waiting for his train to Selby. On a street corner outside the station, he had a chance meeting with two girls from Selby who introduced him to their friend, Mavis Diedrich. They all worked together at Sears and had spent the afternoon together seeing the sights. Leo and Mavis exchanged addresses before his train departed. They wrote letters nearly every day for a year and a half and were married in Minneapolis on May 18, 1947. They were married for 61 years before Mavis passed away in 2008.
Upon his discharge from the service and during his early married life, he and Mavis operated the Opera House Theater in Selby. Leo also worked as an electrician and lineman for Montana Dakota Utilities (MDU) in Mobridge and Selby, South Dakota. He also attended the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City, South Dakota. In 1951 he joined Northern States Power Company, now Xcel Energy. He served as a ground man, lineman, troubleman, and district representative in the Norwood, Clarkfield, and Montevideo, Minnesota areas. Leo was with the power company for 36 years before retiring in 1987 to his home in Clarkfield.
Leo was active in making his community a better place to live. He was a member of the American Legion and the Civic and Commerce Association, serving as its president; the Clarkfield Fire Department, the hospital board, the Housing Authority Board, and city council. He served as mayor of Clarkfield and during that time he was instrumental in securing the Valhalla apartment project. He volunteered his time and bucket truck to put up the main street Christmas decorations. Leo has been a member of Clarkfield Lutheran Church for 68 years, serving on the council and helping with special projects.
Leo’s greatest interests in life were his family, his church, his job, and aviation.
His love of aviation began at the age of three when he saw his first airplane on a farm west of Selby. He held private and commercial pilots’ licenses with an instrument rating. His airplane partnership with Roy Roe of Granite Falls, Minnesota, led to a treasured friendship of many years. Leo and Roy would fly local people and family to Rochester, Minnesota, for medical treatments and, along with their wives, Mavis and Bea, enjoyed many flying vacations. Leo shared his love of flying with his grandsons. Grant had his first of many flights beginning at the age of 3 months. As Lance got older, he was happy to teach him the basics and often handed over the controls when they flew together.
He has been a longtime member of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association (MAPA). Leo and Roy always looked forward to attending the big EAA airshow at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and the Mooney Conventions in Kerrville, Texas.
On Thursday, December 24th, 2020, at the age of 96, Leo passed away at the Clarkfield Care Center. He is preceded in death by his parents, John and Theresa; loving wife, Mavis; brothers, Tilmer, Arlo, Eugene, and DaWayne, and special friend, Earlene Rolighed.
Leo is survived by his daughters Susan (John) Minor of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Charlann (Paul) Anspach of Clarkfield, Minnesota; grandsons, Grant (Crystal) Minor of Kendrick, Idaho and Lance (Nae) Wilson of St. Paul Park, Minnesota; great-grandson, Matthew Minor of Kendrick, Idaho; sister, Laverne (Vern) Hoffmann of Bismark, North Dakota; brother, Orvil (Lucy) Kuehl of Selby, South Dakota; and sister-in-law, Arlene (Tilmer) Kuehl of Clear Lake, South Dakota.
Visitation will be held on Thursday, December 31st, 2020 at 10 AM at the Clarkfield Lutheran Church, followed by the funeral service at 11 AM. Due to COVID-19, masks are required to be worn in the church and social distancing will be observed. Interment to follow in the Clarkfield Lutheran Cemetery.
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