Another veteran of the Second World War has fallen to the silent artillery of time.
Don Schlect, born on December 28, 1923, died on November 3 at age 96. He grew to adulthood in Yakima, went to war, and afterwards returned home to become an orchardist and raise a family.
Don’s parents were Charles and Pearl, natives of Iowa who had moved to the Yakima Valley in the mid-1920s. He had four older siblings: Velma, Earl, Cecile, and Charles. At age seventeen he left Yakima High School to enlist for the war, during which time he served in the 388th Bomb Group of the Eighth Air Force of the U.S. Army Air Corps at Knettishall Airfield near Thetford, England. He provided ground support for waves of American bombers lifting off for the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944. Later he volunteered in early May of 1945 to fly on a food-drop mission over Nazi-occupied Holland aimed at easing the suffering of starving civilians.
During the war the young airman corresponded with the school-teacher daughter of friends of his parents back in Iowa. After the war in Europe ended, Don made his way to Creston, Iowa, where he married Betty Haaf on June 1, 1946, in her parent’s farmhouse. The young couple then proceeded to the Yakima Valley to commence their life together in a marriage that lasted until Betty’s death in 2006. They were to have four sons: Steve, Neal, Christian, and Kurt.
In 1951, Don bought, with help from his friend Marion Ball, an apple and pear orchard located in the far reaches of West Valley, on what is now named Schlect Road. He managed to keep this orchard a viable commercial operation, and even expand it, under intermittent challenges ranging from spring frosts, to summer hail-storms, to extended droughts, to simply bad markets. Later in life he transferred this land to his sons. The family orchard is now owned by two of his grandsons, Donny and Mike. In addition, Don was an original shareholder and longtime board member of Highland Fruit Company.
Don was good-natured and took pleasure in his many and varied friendships. During his active years, he participated in community clubs, such as West Valley Kiwanis and the Yakima Elks, as well as the Masons, Shrine, and the Royal Order of Jesters. As befitting a fruit grower, he also was fond of other forms of gambling, whether on thoroughbreds at the racetrack or with a deck of cards on a green-felt table. In addition, Don enjoyed many journeys with Betty over the years, especially ones to Europe and Hawaii.
Predeceasing Don Schlect were his parents, siblings, wife, and youngest son, Kurt. He is survived by his sons Steve (Terri), Neal (Mary), Christian (Janet), and daughter-in-law Sally Schlect; as well as his companion of his later years, Rosemary Alloway. Don was proud of his nine grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren; descendants who now may be found not only in the Yakima Valley but also—having scattered like wind-driven apple blossoms—in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and St. Louis.
While the family will gather together at a later time, no formal funeral service will be held. Remembrances may be made to the “Kurt Schlect Memorial Scholarship” in care of the Yakima Valley Community Foundation (www.yakimavalleycf.org) or the charity of your choice.
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