Lester Raymond Shelden, 98, a Tacoma resident since 1994, went to be with the Lord on October 20, 2021. Lester was a committed Christian, a founding PCA elder, a WWII veteran, a structural engineer, and a beloved husband, father, and grandfather.
Lester was born on April 27, 1923, in Greenville, Michigan. He had two sisters, Frances and Ruth. They lived in a farmhouse with no indoor plumbing. His parents were Methodists, and he remembers earning a small Bible for memorizing the 23rd Psalm. He used to help at his father’s milk bottling company. He could go into the cooler and get a free bottle of chocolate milk when not many kids could do that – this was during the depression. He learned to drive in the milk delivery trucks.
Lester studied civil engineering at Michigan State University. In 1944, near the end of his senior year, he was drafted into the Navy. Because of his technical background, the Navy put him through electronics training. There he attended Moody Bible Church, realized that he was a Christian and that most other guys weren’t, and took to reading his New Testament. The week he graduated, Japan surrendered. Lester used to say, “Would you believe Japan heard I was graduating and would soon be heading there way? And they immediately surrendered!”
Despite the surrender, the Navy sent Lester overseas. His ship visited Okinawa, Shanghai, and the Philippines. His job was to maintain and operate the radar. One Sunday while in Japan, he was taken on a tour of the nearest town, Hiroshima, where he spent the afternoon walking around, only five months after the Bomb had been dropped.
He married Gloria in 1947 and they had three sons: Howard, Elliot, and David.
He did a second tour of duty in the navy in 1951 during the Korean War. He was assigned to maintain radios at Norfolk, and his wife and young son Howard lived with him, and Elliot was born there.
He worked as a structural engineer, first in Michigan and then in Florida, where he moved for the sunshine. He primarily designed high rises, but also designed many schools, houses, hospitals, a navy base airplane hangar, a jail, a courthouse, warehouses, and bridges. His niche became pre-stresses concrete design. His Miami Beach structures still stand. He delighted in adopting new technologies as they came along, moving from slide rule to calculators to mainframe computers to personal computers.
He and Gloria attended PCA churches. He was a deacon, elder, and clerk of the session at the Pinelands Presbyterian in Cutler Ridge, Fla. They supported the start of Westminster Christian School and sent their sons there.
After working 44 ½ years he retired in 1991 at age 68 and moved to Tacoma to be near family, who gained an incalculable blessing from having “the Grampa from Tampa” nearby. He babysat his grandkids countless hours, taught most of them to ride a two-wheel bike, played board games with them, and let them type on his typewriter. He kept the programs from all their recitals and other performances and organized these into binders for each child. He loved to do genealogy research and gardening.
Lester was characterized by gratitude; he was always eager to give credit and thanks to the Lord and to other people. He was a cheerful, gentle, loving man, always thinking of others. At banks, drug stores, and restaurants the employees greeted him by name and hurried to serve him because he had made friends with them.
He and Gloria were married for 74 years and were inseparable. He called her his “girlfriend.” People often commented on what a cute couple they were.
Lester is survived by his wife, Gloria; sons, Howard, Elliot, and Dave; eight grandchildren, Robert, Esther (Thomas), Rosemary (Lee), Nate, Emily (Trudeau), Nick, Noah, and Jed; and six great-grandchildren.
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