Will Franklin Leister
Will Franklin Leister
  • January 17, 1924 - June 10, 2017
  • Merritt Island, Florida

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Listed on his birth certificate as Williard Franklin Leister, Will was born on January 17, 1924, in East Greenville, PA to a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, Willard Earl (B 3/21/1897 in Hoppenville, PA) and Martha Olivia (Taylor) Leister (B 7/21/1895 in Masontown, WV). The attending physician was J. A. Klotz. Will was the third born of 4 children. First was a boy who died in infancy of pneumonia, one older sister Louise (Lou), one younger sister Delores (Dee) and a 12 years older step sister Genevieve (Gene). Will died almost 6 months after his 93rd birthday, at 4:35pm on June 6, 2017, in Shands Hospital, University of Florida, in Gainesville, FL.

In an autobiography he wrote in 1969 as a term paper for a Psychology 303 Psychology of Adjustment class given by Rollins College at Patrick Air Force Base, he gave some further details around his birth, writing, "I have the distinct pleasure of being the first of their children to be born at their home, East Greenville, Pennsylvania, on the kitchen table. Perhaps that accounts for the fact that I still find it difficult to leave the table at meal times." He also explained his name change, writing "At the time of birth I was not able to represent myself and my mother was not prepared to name me so the kind obstetrician gave me his name- Jerimiah Archibald. When I later began to cry my mother realized my dilemma and changed my first name to Willard, hoping I would grow up to be another Jesse Willard [then a world heavy weight boxing champion]. Several years later Benjamin Franklin and I were celebrating the 17th of January, our birth dates, and without his knowledge I took his last name as my middle name. That probably sounds like a story but since this is my autobiography, I must tell the truth." Footnote: he signed an affidavit to the Army Air Corps on 7/22/1943 swearing that his birth certificate name was incorrect and that he always went by "Willard".

He attended elementary school in Forgedale, PA with 12 students TOTAL; he was the only student in 1st & 2nd grades. Most of the students spoke Pennsylvania Dutch outside the school and were learning English in the school. He graduated from Pennsburg, PA High School on 6/31/1941, last in the class of 23, and wrote in his autobiography, "I thought we had a high percentage of outstanding students at the time. Had it not been of the tutoring and encouragement I got from my step-sister, Genevieve, I doubt if I would have completed sixth grade." He spent his youth working at home and on the dairy farm.
Will served in the Army Air Force for 1-1/2 years between 3/23/1943 and 9/23/1944, starting with basic training in Miami, FL, followed by Charleston, SC and finally was trained as a navigator-bombardier for B-17s and B-24s at Gowen Field, Army Corps Base in Boise, ID. He never served abroad and was honorably discharged.

While in Charleston, he met his future wife Marie Pauline Jones from Wagener, SC. They married at Gowen Field in Boise ID on 7/10/1945. After leaving the military, they moved to Philadelphia where he worked as a draftsman for the Bud Corporation, designing under carriages for railroad cars. They had their only child, Dennis Earl on 8/18/1946, and shortly thereafter moved to North Wales, then later to Lansdale, PA. He was inducted into the Masons (Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite) on 5/11/1954, a member of the Consistory in the Valley of Allentown, PA and became 32nd degree, Sublime Prince in 1956. In June 2017, Shiloh Lodge No. 558 in Green Lane, PA celebrated 63 years of his service to Freemasonry.

After the war, he worked for 8 years as a Design Engineer for the Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville, PA supervising aeronautical draftsmen and engineers. Then he worked for 2 years as General Manager for Schlosser Fabricators in Hatfield, PA.

He moved his family to Florida and on 12/12/1955, starting started as Assistant Superintendent of Range Operations for Pan American Airways System, Guided Missiles Range Division. He was responsible for insuring that all the downrange telemetry stations were fully operational, and flew downrange many time for on-site inspections.

In 1961, he moved to Lockheed Aircraft Corporation Missiles and Space Division as Missile Test Engineer and later secured a position at the new Eastern Test Range at Cape Canaveral, FL He worked for Lockheed for over 16 years.

In May 2015, he wrote a short essay about his most rewarding masonic experience, as quoted below:
"My day's work was done at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and I was on my way home in central Merritt Island. I passed through the south security gates and as I approached the hairpin curve that swings along the west side of Port Canaveral, I saw about twenty cars zipping across the highway, some rolling over, some hitting other cars and some running along the sandy shore of Banana River stirring up huge clouds of dust - I was approaching a terrible accident. I stopped and checked one car that was badly damaged and decided I could be of no help there. The next car was upside down, its roof crushed in, people inside were screaming for help. A nurse was trying to get in the car to assist the victims but she was not able to enter the car. I told her to get back and I would roll the car over on its wheels using a heavy winch that I had mounted on the front of my old '58 Chevy truck. I went to the high side of the bank, threw the steel cable and hook over the car, went around and laced it through the front and rear windows and pulled it taut. Got in the truck and rolled the car upright onto its wheels. I ran around to the passenger side where a young man was struggling