CIRCLEVILLE— For one Circleville veteran, volunteering is his way of life, both in the service and out.
Dennis Lester was born in West Virginia and lived there for most of his youth before spending a couple of years in California and then later following his parents to Cleveland before moving to central Ohio.
Lester joined the Army at the age of 17. His basic training was in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He would later be transferred to Korea in 1956 and 1957. That journey took more than two weeks.
“It was 16 days each way on a troop ship,” he said. “They didn’t fly us back then.”
Lester spent most of his time in the Army shuttling others around. He was a driver for important dignitaries and generals.
“When I got to Korea, they put me in a transportation outfit, which is staff cars,” he said. “There were about 90 of us in the company. We all drove staff cars for the 8th Army Headquarters. It was stationed in Seoul. They were loaded with Brass. They had a four-star general, a couple one or two star generals a lot of captains and a lot of officers from the different branches of service.”
Lester said at that time Korea was like a third-world country. He said everything was “still shot up” even a couple years after the war ended.
“When I was there the roads were dirt and the buildings were shot down and there weren’t any two or three-story buildings. They were all one-story where they had been hit with shells,” he said.
Lester recalled a story a time he was transporting a general who wanted to go golfing. Lester took that general to the driving range, having to ask for directions, since he’d never played before.
“He asked me if I wanted a bucket of balls and I thought ‘Why not’,” he said. “He was hitting the ball 200 to 250 yards, and I was maybe hitting it eight feet.”
After his time in the military, Lester worked several different jobs around Columbus, but spent the most time (25 years) at KalKan Foods in Columbus.
It was during this time that he and his wife, Diane, decided they wanted to settle down in a small town, and they found Circleville. Dennis and Diane were married when he was 20 and she was 16,just after Dennis left the service.
“We started looking for a house and we found one in Circleville,” he said. “It was 1966 and we’ve been there for 50 plus years. Our kids have been active in the schools, and I try to stay active in the community.”
Lester retired from Kalkan Food in 1997 and took to being a grandfather, taking his granddaughter to school every day in addition to his volunteer work.
“Every day from Kindergarten until she started driving, I took her to school,” he said. “Every day.”
Among the organizations that make up his active community life, Lester is a Life Member of VFW, member of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, past president of the Pickaway County Soldiers Monumental Association and past post commander at AMVETS.
Lester was proud of his service to the community in civic organizations.
“We get the speakers for the schools if they ask, and we give tours of our military museum by appointment,” Lester said of the Soldier’s monumental Association. “We also take care of the veterans in the cemeteries. I’ve been active in AMVETS for about 20 years and held every office there is. I enjoy working in the community with people that live in the community in the different volunteer jobs. I enjoy working with the community and getting to know people. We just love Circleville.”
“He loves doing it,” Diane said. “Even when he’s sick and down, I have to bug him not to go.”
Lester noted that he’s been active post-retirement in military information.
“If people have a question, they usually call me, and if I don’t know it I’ll find the answer for them,” he said.
Lester said his immediate family has a total of 92 years of service in the military since WWII, noting that his son joined the Marine Corps and served for six years and his granddaughter is thinking of joining the Air Force.
“Maybe a little bit of me rubbed off on her,” he said with a smile.
Lester, however, was diagnosed last March with inoperable liver cancer, which is terminal.
“We’re just living every day as it comes,” Diane said. “We’re doing whatever he wants to do, if he can do it.”
“All they can do is give me treatments, and it’s holding pretty good right now,” Dennis said. “I really thank everyone for their prayers. I don’t now how long I’ll be here, but I’ll be volunteering until I die.”