FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – He flew 30 missions in World War 2 and served the Fort Wayne community for decades. Now, family and friends are celebrating the life and legacy of Stephen DeWald He died June 19th at the age of 93.
Veteran, successful businessman, community leader, husband, and father are all titles DeWald proudly held throughout his life. It’s a life his family said focused entirely on giving back to others.
“All that he was, he trained to be the best that he could be,” son David DeWald said.
It’s a life of excellence that started nearly a century ago.
“We’re celebrating his life. 93 years of life,” grandson Nathan Graeser said.
A Fort Wayne native, DeWald joined the Army Air Corps in the 1940’s. By the time he turned 22, he’d already worked his way up to captain and squadron leader.
“That was something at 22 to be able to lead 36 B-17s across the English Channel, Europe, and into Germany and back, many times 12-13 hour flights,” David said. “He tells the story that the war times were one of the most peaceful of his life because he felt like that was the thing to do, to fight for freedom, what he believed in. He believed that evil was in the world and had to be confronted and stopped.”
After the war, DeWald married his neighbor and childhood sweetheart, Ruthanne.
“My mother was just really his whole purpose for being,” daughter Denise Corbett said.
The two celebrated almost 70 years of marriage together. They have seven children and 19 grandchildren.
“Being around Papa, it gave you a sense of what a true family man is supposed to be like and it has given me an example of what to follow for the rest of my life, and just he’ll be with me as long as I’m here,” grandson Nick DeWald said. “It’s just amazing, so many people that he had an effect on. People all around him and people I didn’t even know he had an effect on- people I’ve never seen in my life. It’s incredible what he’s done in the community.”
“Happy Hour in our family is actually happy. We have a happy hour where we celebrate, and Papa was a huge fan of the happy hour,” Nathan said.
DeWald served as president of Fort Wayne Builders Supply and then started DeReo Manufacturing with one of his best friends.
“If you wanted to spend time with dad, you better get involved in a project he was working on. He always had a project,” son Joseph DeWald said.
DeWald retired at 57 only to start an even busier stage of life through his community service. He served on many boards at his church as well as the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese.
“He would say the most important thing is that you’re able to contribute to your community and make it a better place,” Joseph said. “He always had the rose-colored glasses on, never had anything bad to say about anyone. He was just amazing.”
His family said his passion for his country stayed with him throughout his life.
“He was a die-hard patriot. In very subtle ways, he was not a flashy man who wanted to have the limelight. He was very quiet about what he did, but he was very passionate,” Joe said.
“We had a lot of conversations about what it looks like to be a person of peace and also a person who protects the peace,” Nathan said.
DeWald’s children also talked about how much he and his wife, Ruthanne, loved their friends. They even started a “Friday Night Group” of friends who would go to church and dinner once a week.
“The group started out with 25-26 people, a big crowd, so you know they’d overwhelm a place when they’d come in. Over this time of 20 plus years, they got down to five people left,” Joe said.
When they started making funeral arrangements, Joe realized that the majority of the members from the group had burial plots right next to each other at St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery.
“They pulled out this big plot and looked at this, and I immediately looked an all in this one corner were the Friday night group,” Joe said.
DeWald is an American hero whose life created an unforgettable legacy.
“His sense of wonder and joy for the world around him- that, I think, is his biggest legacy,” Denise said.
“He say a depth to life that was bigger than what most people think is right or wrong. It wasn’t the politics. It wasn’t a particular party or so dogmatic that this is my way or the highway. He thought what was right was loving people,” David said.
“He was all the things that you’d love to have as a part of your life, and I was fortunate enough to have him as a father,” Joseph said.
DeWald’s funeral is on Thursday, June 25th. Full military honors are planned for the burial at St.Vincent de Paul Cemetery.