December 14, 1928 - May 28, 2023
Rich Kohlhaas, 94, died on Sunday evening, May 28, 2023, at the Good Samaritan Society care center in Algona. Mass of Christian Burial was held at 10:30 a.m. Monday, June 5, at St. Joseph Catholic Church, St. Joe, with Fr. Matthew Solyntjes, Fr. John Thomas, Fr. Merle Kollasch and Deacon Bill Black officiating. Burial was in St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery.
Richard Nicholas Kohlhaas was a remarkable man who led an amazing life. Born to Connie (C.K.) and Susie Altman Kohlhaas on Dec. 14, 1928, in the farmhouse bedroom of what is now his century old farm, he was a man of many talents and great intelligence with a curious mind and far reaching memory. Rich became the caretaker of family history, the keeper of memories, relationships and traditions as well as connections among friends and neighbors. He was a wealth of information, always interesting to listen to – and interested in – what others had to say.
He attended St. Joseph School in Bode, graduating in 1947. He had an adventuresome spirit and flying was his true passion. The entire school got out to watch him solo at the age of 16. From making balsa wood planes as a kid to earning his private pilot’s license his senior year, Rich flew 49 different airplanes, flying coast to coast and border to border. He was an aerial applicator for many years in his beloved Piper Super Cub and Piper Brave.
In 1998, he was a passenger on board the Concorde Supersonic Airliner at Oshkosh, Wis., flying to Canada and back, breaking the sound barrier. At the age of 87, he was the oldest pilot ever to fly an EXTRA 300 aerobatic plane in an Air Combat Mission, dog fighting with son, Jerome, in the skies over Mesa. After seeing how well these two seasoned pilots could fly, the instructors (one a former astronaut) let them loose to put on their own show.
Rich planned and orchestrated an incredible trip to Alaska in 1986 with sons Jeff and Jim. They did most of the flying except when Rich took over to get “up close and personal” with the Athabasca Glacier in British Columbia. That fantastic photo still hangs in the farmhouse. The Arctic Circle’s midnight light, camping by the plane near Mt. McKinley and a Denali National Park sighting of a mama grizzly and her two cubs made for treasured memories.
An adventure in Hawaii found Rich, Jerome, Jeff and Jim island-hopping by plane (commercial puddle jumpers). The rain forest of Kauai, one of the wettest spots on earth; the Green Sand Beach on Hawaii; watching lava flow into the sea in bursts of steam; the bamboo forest and discovering where some of Jurassic Park was filmed, they ventured out over rugged terrain by jeep with a penchant for places marked DO NOT ENTER…
Rich’s daughters, too, shared in his generosity and sense of adventure. Yvonne, Sandy, Karen and Kim joined their dad for an awe-inspiring trip in the Canadian Rockies. By bus (backing UP the mountain at one point!), panoramic train and tram, they experienced the majesty of the mountains, the turquoise colored, peaceful waters of Lake Louise, cascading waterfalls, icebergs and grand glaciers. But, what trumped it all was time spent with their dad.
Rich’s most heartfelt, generous gift was when he treated his entire family, 47 of his kids, grandkids and great-grandkids, to a trip to Kettle Falls, Minn. for a week of fishing, food and all-around fun in 2017. “What a bunch of RIGAMAROLE” he would say in the midst of the hubbub of family gatherings. It was one of his favorite sayings and an often true reflection of the Kohlhaas clan.
Rich dreamed of heading out West to be a cowboy when he graduated from high school, but a pretty girl from Whittemore caught his eye; Irene Youngwirth, the youngest of the five Youngwirth sisters. Rich and Irene dated, sometimes dancing at the Plantation, and eventually held their wedding dance there when they married on Feb. 7, 1950. They made a life on the farm near Livermore, raising livestock, growing crops and welcoming four children into their lives; Yvonne, Jerome, Sandy and Karen. But, seven year later at the age of 28, Irene died of Leukemia. It was a very sad time. Rich’s parents, Susie and Connie, moved in with him to help raise the kids.
Rich continued to farm and fly. While taking the children to their dental appointments in Algona, he met and got to know the new girl in town, Dottie Mehlisch from Baltimore, fresh out of college working as a dental hygienist for Dr. Harris. Dark haired and friendly with a great smile, farmer Kohlhaas took a chance and asked her out. She accepted, and so began a courtship that ended in marriage on Feb. 23, 1963. Together they, too, made a life in the country, welcoming three more children: Jeff, Kim and Jim. They were busy farming and spraying (he the fields; Dottie the lawn) and raising kids, yet they found time to travel to National Parks in their GMC motor home, visit family and friends and play cards. Lots of cards. Euchre. 500. But, after 31 years of marriage, Dottie passed away on Nov. 25, 1994, at the age of 56. There was heartache on the farm once again.
Then, in 2000, Rich married Mary Jo Dugan Mikelson. They enjoyed spending winters in Mesa, Ariz., sightseeing, visiting and playing cards with friends. Mary Jo passed away from cancer on Dec. 10, 2014.
Rich often said that he had yet another wife…she was a beauty and very high maintenance, taking 12 long years to restore her to her glory. She became his pride and joy – his 1937 Stinson Gullwing. Black and sleek with gold detailing, she would thunder overhead, a sight to behold. In 1998 he flew her to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual air show in Oshkosh, Wis., the “greatest air show on earth.”
Rich was hard working and instilled a strong work ethic in his kids. He loved to sing and dance especially to big band music and was known to entertain guests at grandkids’ wedding receptions with a song or two. A new tradition was born when his 12 granddaughters honored him with his very own song – “I’m Too Sexy” – as they surrounded him on the dance floor.
Not to be outdone, his grandsons tell tales of helping their grandpa douse telephone poles that caught fire when he insisted on burning ditches; of him being told “grandpa, there’s a hole in the Gullwing”, while flying back from Oshkosh, only to discover that the “hole” was a 5-foot tear through the skin of the plane; of him being called “big dicky” by “little dicky” when his grandson, Daniel RICHARD, learned in the 6th grade that the nickname for Richard was Dick; of one mad grandpa and a flipped four wheeler; of bib overalls, belly laughs and Crown Royal.
Rich had a good sense of humor and was a bit of a trickster. Newcomers into the family were offered (unbeknownst to them) a glass that dribbled every time they took a drink – to their chagrin and Rich and Dottie’s amusement along with the other “outlaws” who’d been previously hoodwinked. Welcome to the family!
Rich was a strong Catholic who often led the rosary when he lived at Huskamp Assisted Living and was active in the Knights of Columbus. He was a founding member of the Algona Flying Club that grew to 125 members and five airplanes, a member of the AOPA and many local Co-ops. He was an avid reader and found great joy in the beauty of flowers. He also tackled one of the more frustrating of modern inventions, the SMARTPHONE, and grew to enjoy the world brought to his doorstep via his iPad.
In 2021, Rich became a resident of the Good Samaritan Society care center in Algona. He was a favorite of the staff and when asked how he was would reply, “not perfect” which always got a smile. Every afternoon around 3 p.m. was “toddy time” (for medicinal purposes only, of course) when son Jerome liked to time his visits and friends would often gather for good conversation. There was much to learn from this rugged farmer with a lifetime of experiences and knowledge.
Richard Nicholas Kohlhaas’ spirit took its final flight on May 28, 2023. “Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…” He lived a long, good life and left a legacy of wonderful, kind and caring children as well as his devotion to flying. “I would say one of the greatest joys of flying all these years has been sharing my love of aviation with others. One of the most satisfying things for me has been when someone I have introduced to flying takes an interest in it as well.”
Rich was well respected and greatly loved. He is survived by his seven children; Yvonne Kenne of Mason City; Jerome (Joan) Kohlhaas of Hardy; Sandy (Don) Berte of Raleigh, N.C.; Karen Minaie of Tampa, Fla.; Jeff (Diane) Kohlhaas of Costa Mesa, Calif.; Kim Lex of Omaha, Neb.; and Jim (Cyndi) Kohlhaas of Algona; 21 grandchildren; and 25 great-grandchildren (with two more on the way). He is also survived by sisters-in-law, Marian Youngwirth of Sherburn, Minn.; Diane Methner of Lee’s Summit, Mo.; and Dottie Rusher of Humboldt; brothers-in-law, David (Jacqueline) Mehlisch of Ft. Myers, Fla.; and Donald (Polly) Mehlisch of San Antonio, Texas; and many nieces, nephews, cousins and extended family.
He was preceded in death by his parents; his spouses, Irene Youngwirth, Dottie “Dorothy” Mehlisch, and Mary Jo Dugan; a granddaughter, Sarah Kramer; sons-in-law, Francis Kenne and Michael Lex; brothers, Donald Kohlhaas and Arthur (Eleanor) Kohlhaas; sisters, Mary Evelyn Kohlhaas and Darlene (Dave) Bernhard; seven sisters-in-law; and six brothers-in-law.
Oakcrest Funeral Services of Algona in charge of arrangements. Online condolences may be made to www.oakcrestfuneralservices.com.