When I met Lester Winterberg, his sense of humor was immediately apparent when I asked his last name and he responded with, “Summerbottom.”
I joined Lester and his son Dwayne at Grace Adult Day Services–Altoona, the place where Lester spends his days while his family is at work. The tenderness in the father-son relationship was as apparent as Lester’s sense of humor.
Lester moved to Eau Claire two-and-a-half years ago when he could no longer stay alone at the homestead where he and his wife, Bessie, lived until her passing. Now, he lives with Dwayne’s family.
I asked Lester about his years serving in the 104th “Timberwolf” Division of the Infantry from 1944 to 1945, and he told his story of travels in Europe from France to Germany. As we talked, Lester and Dwayne artfully tag-teamed the storytelling.
Whenever Lester’s memory clouded, Dwayne picked up with his own recollection of the stories his dad had told over the years. We talked about Lester’s nearly losing his feet from trenchfoot and the letters he wrote home to Bessie.
“They met the week before he went into training and then he came back on leave and they actually got engaged,” Dwayne said. “The second time he came back they got married.”
“Have I still got her?” Lester looked to Dwayne.
“No she passed away three years ago.”
“Yeah, but I did have her up…” Lester searched for words.
“Yeah, 68 years.” Both smiled.
Lester talked about his time serving as first scout in the 104th Infantry Division. “When we got to where we was going we would have a role call. And you know I was lucky enough to have all my men there.” Lester choked up as he spoke.
He told of close calls with trip lines and enemy booby traps. “And I’m still here. You know why? I had a mom and dad praying for me. ” Once again, Lester’s voice was thick with emotion.
A lot has changed since Lester served in World War II. He progressed from turkey farmer to crop farmer, then to dairy farmer to beef farmer and in the later years to an operator of excavation equipment.
The relationship between Lester and Dwayne has also progressed over the years. Where once they had a 40-year tradition of an annual fishing trip to Canada, now they have new traditions. Lester spends days at Grace Adult Day Services going fishing, playing Bingo, going bowling, taking walks outside, and playing mind-stimulating games while Dwayne is at work.
When both return home at the end of the day, they bond over Wheel of Fortune and recorded episodes of other favorite shows.
“He loves Price is Right,” said Dwayne. He said he also loves fried chicken. “He’s a fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy guy.”
“You want some?” asked Lester.
I know he meant it. After 30 minutes with Lester and Dwayne, I saw legacy of generosity and kindness demonstrated in both father and son.
by staff writer for Grace Lutheran Foundation