On Friday, Jan. 3, our father, Alvin Dreiling, died peacefully at Good Samaritan of Hays. Dad was 95.
Dad was born in a farmhouse near Victoria, Kansas, to Nick and Anna Dreiling but grew up on a farmstead near WaKeeney. He attended public schools in WaKeeney, graduating from Trego Community High School in 1936. Two days after graduating from high school, Dad accepted a position as manager of the Ogallah Co-op. He was 18 and still holds the record as the youngest elevator manager in Kansas. Dad gladly gave up his high school job, which was shoveling coal out of boxcars; Dad received $1 a boxcar and felt himself lucky he had a job while so many Americans were jobless. He gave his wages to his parents, who were struggling during the Depression.
Dad would have loved to go to college; he truly was gifted in math, but the Depression and then World War II quashed that dream. Dad enlisted in the Army as America entered World War II. He completed his basic training at Fort Riley and then was assigned to 1st Cavalry Division headquarters at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas. By this time, Dad had married our mother, Eleanor Luea of Ellis, Kansas, who went with him to Texas. There they lived in the married couples barracks and formed life-long friendships with other couples. After the war, this tight circle of friends rarely missed the annual 1st Cavalry reunion, traveling to cities throughout the United States to renew old friendships and to tell one another of what their lives now entailed (replete, of course, with pictures of children and, eventually, grandkids).
Dad served with distinction during World War II, receiving the Bronze Star for valor during the battle of Leyte Island in the Pacific campaign. But what Dad was most proud of was participating in the liberation of POW's from Santa Tomas Prison in Manila. With Japan's surrender, members of the 1st Cavalry boarded an ocean liner to return home. Arriving in San Francisco harbor, Dad processed the honorable discharge forms for the members of the 1st Cavalry on board. The last discharge paper he processed was his own.
After the war, Dad was hired as the accountant of the Ellsworth, Kansas, Co-op. We three children were born in Ellsworth. Dad then took a position as field auditor for the Farmers Union Jobbing Association, whose headquarters were in the Kansas City Board of Trade building. Eventually, Dad was promoted to the position of grain merchandiser, having a seat on the Board of Trade, and we moved to Kansas City. Over time, the Farmers Union Jobbing Association was absorbed by Far-Mar-Co. Dad was promoted to chief coarse grains merchandiser, a position he held until his retirement in 1980.
When Dad retired, he and Mom returned to western Kansas, buying a home in Hays. Here, Dad pursued in earnest his love of farming and farmed until his health prohibited strenuous physical labor. He was 81. Around this time, Dad began to care more and more for Mom, whose health was in serious decline. Dad took care of Mom until her condition necessitated professional health care. Mom died in 2004. She and Dad had been married for 61 years.
After Mom's death, Dad decided to sell his home and move into St. John's Assisted Living in Hays. As Dad aged, it became necessary for him to become a resident of Good Samaritan of Hays. He was a resident there until his death.
We children, Shirley Shea, Judy Cleghorn, and I, have immense pride in our father -- and are amazed at what Dad experienced during his long life. In his youth, Dad farmed with horses; his family used wagons to travel; their farmhome had neither electricity nor plumbing. I can remember when Dad told me how excited he was when his parents bought their first car, a Model T. No more hitching up horses in the dead of winter for midnight Mass. He lived through four major American wars, 17 presidents (Dad was born when Woodrow Wilson was president), the Cold War, social and political upheavals, and man landing on the moon.
Not being able to attend college himself, Dad insisted we children go. Not attending was never an option. Although successful professionally, he understood his lack of college credentials had hindered his advancement. Dad, more than we children, understood the importance of education, the joy of learning. As usual, he was right. All of us have degrees, all of Dad's grandchildren have degrees, and his great-granddaughter has college ahead of her -- as soon as she graduates from high school.
Dad was our provider, protector, mentor and sage. He taught us how to live by living what he taught.
He was the best man I've ever known.