World War II veteran Harry Kasitz died May 16 after a life of service. He was 99 years old.
He was an avid gardener, and his booth will be notably absent from the Harvey County Farmers Market this weekend.
The family hosted a small visitation this week and private graveside services at Highland Cemetery in rural Newton. A memorial service is planned for a later time.
His grave, however, is ready to welcome flags for Memorial Day. The Hesston Veteran’s Memorial Committee announced Thursday there will not be a ceremony at the cemetery for Memorial Day this year because of group size limitations under executive order of Gov. Laura Kelly to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Kasitz was born Nov. 2, 1920, at the Axtell Hospital in Newton, the son of William F. and Elsie Gut Kasitz. Harry was raised in the Elbing, Newton and Walton areas, graduating from Newton High School. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Force.
His service records show he was a member of the Army Air Force as the Air Force was not a standalone service at the time.
In 1947, President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act, which established this new defense organization, and along with it the creation of the U.S. Air Force as an independent service equal to the U.S. Army and Navy. The official birthday of the U.S. Air Force is Sept. 18, 1947.
Harry married Grace Mable Bestvater on Nov. 4, 1945. They lived in Newton for a while, then moved to Wichita, where Harry worked at Cessna Aircraft for 24 years. In the early 1950s, Harry and Grace were founding members of the Faith Evangelical and Reformed Church in Wichita.
In the 1960s, the family moved to White Memorial Camp in rural Council Grove. During the 18 years they lived there, Harry was the camp host.
In the 1980s, Harry and Grace returned to Newton. Harry went to work in the maintenance department of the Bethel Clinic for 10 years and at Brenneman Body Shop for 10 years. He then was a greeter at Walmart for 10 years, finally retiring at the age of 90.
Harry enjoyed spending time in his garden, growing flowers and vegetables and selling them at the farmers market. He gardened, and sold what he grew, well into his 90s.
At age 95, he won seven blue ribbons at the Harvey County Fair.
In 2016, Kasitz said gardens were a necessity of life for immigrants like his parents, who tended them in order to help feed their families. Kasitz’s mother was from Switzerland and his father was from Germany. His mother had him help in her garden, while his father taught him to butcher hogs.
He recalled coming to Newton in his family’s spring wagon every Sunday for church and wanting to earn pennies for an ice cream cone. One way he earned money was by setting traps.
“We used to go out and do a little trapping for skins,” Kasitz said. “We’d skin them and sell the pelts. Rabbits we’d sell to Dillons for 5 cents apiece. We was desperate to (even) get that skunk, so we’d carry him home, too. Then when we went to school that morning, the teacher says, ‘I think you Kasitz boys better go back home. Come back tomorrow.’ ”
At age 97, he was still attending dinners at the American Legion, also attending a ceremony honoring members and volunteers on Patriots Day at the Wayne G. Austin American Legion Post No. 2 of Newton in 2017.
On that day, he swapped stories of military service with great-niece Rebecca Burton, who was serving in the U.S. Army Reserves.