Sky Scene 05

John F Rotter

June 15, 1926 ~ June 21, 2023 (age 97) 97 Years Old
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John Frank Rotter

June 15, 1926—June 21, 2023

John was born at home in Trenton, Nebraska, the first born of 3 boys and 1 girl. His father was a sharecropper, farming with horses, and at age 8, John is pictured—barefooted--plowing with a mule, alongside his dad. It was a hard life, but John had happy childhood memories. School was 1 room, for 6 grades, and he and his siblings either walked or doubled up on 2 ponies to get there.

John joked that the easiest decision he ever made in his life was to say "no" when his grade school education ended, and his dad tried to persuade him that "he'd had enough schooling, as much as his parents," so John could join his dad in farming, or move to town, live with grandma and continue schooling. He chose grandma and schooling! But he remained haunted for all of his life by the poverty that the family endured, vowing to never be that poor again.

WW2 changed their lives: John Sr. heard about shipyard welding for $10.00/hr., in Long Beach, CA., and made his way there. He saved enough to send money with a letter of directions to John to drive the family from Trenton to Long Beach. John was an unlicensed 15-year-old. Like the Joad’s of "Grapes of Wrath," the old farm truck was loaded with their belongings, and they landed in what they thought was paradise. His mother, Christine, found assembly line work in the Douglas Aircraft plant, and John worked part time at a gas station, while going to school.

Graduating at 16 from Long Beach High, he bought his first car, a 1929 Model A Ford, and joined his dad as a shipyard welder. Shortly after, he bought his first of 8 Harleys, the last being his Sportster, last ridden at age 95!

In 1943, aged 17, John applied to the U.S. Navy Air Corps, hoping to fly an F4U Corsair, but instead, the Navy sent John's class to the V-12 officer training program. At one point, John was at Carroll College, Montana, before being moved to the ROTC program at the University of Washington. He graduated first in his class, having the honor of an "unofficial" photo on the front page of the now defunct Seattle Post Intelligencer, kissing the lovely "presenter of the colors."

Then it was off to sea, as ensign of the destroyer Robert K. Huntington DD781. Before being dispatched to Japan, the ship witnessed the testing of the atom bomb near the Bikini Islands. The ship turned back home when Japan surrendered. John remained in the Naval Reserve until 1956.

Leaving active duty, John returned to Seattle, earned his private pilot license, acquired his real estate license, and continued his education at the University of Washington.

In 1948, John married, acquiring 2 young boys (both deceased), earned his Bachelor of Engineering, and was hired by Boeing. He added his Master of Mechanical Engineering in 1957 and his Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1966. In those days, there were no aeronautical engineering degrees: as John put it, "We learned by doing."

Most knew John for his passion and skill in flying, instructing, chartering, and aircraft repair. His thirst for knowledge, to go farther and do better, to be challenged, drew him to specialize in back-country flying and instructing, taking sportsmen to Alaska and B.C.--all while working full time for Boeing at various plants in the Seattle area.

However, John had a storied 47-year career at Boeing during its golden years, working on every airliner from B-29's to 767's: that superseded his passion for flying. His proudest moments were the recognition for leading the design team for the in-flight refueling boom, and later, for the space shuttle "piggy back," for which he received an American flag from the astronauts who took it to the moon. He never bragged about such honors, just quietly put them away in a drawer.

While flying into Twin Lakes Lodge in British Colombia, he met a gal by the name of Frances Piloto who worked at the lodge. They later married in December 18, 1982. But being quiet about such honors did not mean that he was anything but a demanding engineer/boss and flight instructor: he pushed himself and expected no less from his teams and students. As he said, there is no room for errors due to being lax or indifferent to detail.

To wrap up his career, John transferred to world-wide fleet support manager: keeping aging aircraft flying. He had been offered a vice-presidency, but—as a man who knew himself pretty well—he declined, knowing that the position would remove him from what he loved, engineering, to being tied to his desk. The fleet support job took him all over the world, to Central and South America, Chile, Thailand, Israel, Britain, and so on for 10 years. When he finally decided to retire, in 1995, his last trip was to Greece, to present a paper to a world forum on aviation. Then it was home, off with the suits and ties, and into his flannel shirts and jeans!

While serious and intense about his career and flying, John did love to play poker, drink cold beer and the occasional whiskey, hunt, fish, camp, and—until his triple bypass in 1996—smoke a good cigar or 2 daily.

John's stamina was a sight to behold, even into his 90's: one began to wonder if there really was a fountain of youth on earth that he alone had found! Few could keep up with his pace: when he retired, he started another phase, in Montana, of horseback riding, bulldozing, and—together—we managed an airport for 2 years. (My jobs were mowing the airstrip and surrounding grass, and painting the outhouses!).

The Montana snow caught up with us: having to use the D7 to push off snow got to be less exciting, so we moved to Grangeville, well known to John as a refueling spot before and after back-country flights.

John voluntarily hung up his wings 3 years ago: he recognized, finally, that he was not as sharp as he wanted or needed to be. But he refused to sell his Harley! Instead, we went 4-wheeling, our favorite places being Newsom Creek, Red River, and Elk City.    

John was the "last man standing" in his family, despite being the eldest. His youngest brother died at 21, racing cars on the Bonneville Flats; his sister, Donna, died at 38, leaving 6 children; and Bob died in 2017, at 90. Although he joked about making it to 100, John's March hospitalization for pneumonia and a heart attack left too much heart damage, and he declined. He enjoyed his June 15 birthday, with visitors, but 24 hours later, entered hospice, dying 5 days later, here at home.

John is survived at the family home by his wife of 40 years, Frances, and a sister-in-law and numerous nieces and nephews in California. There were no children.

Thank you for the many prayers and kindnesses from friends and neighbors since John's last illness and subsequent death: words fail me. God bless all of you.

A memorial mass will be held Thursday, July 6, 2023 at 10:00 am at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Grangeville.  Inurnment will follow at Prairie View Cemetery. Arrangements are under the direction of the Blackmer Funeral Home, Grangeville. Send condolences to the family at Remembrances could be directed to the Elks, Veterans Center, Syringa Hospice or Sts. Peter & Paul.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of John F Rotter, please visit our floral store.


Memorial Mass
July 6, 2023

10:00 AM
SPPS Catholic Church
318 South B Street
Grangeville, ID 83530

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In Loving Memory Of

John Rotter

June 15, 1926-June 21, 2023

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Online Memory & Photo Sharing Event
Online Event


In Loving Memory Of

John Rotter

June 15, 1926-June 21, 2023

Look inside to read what others have shared

Family and friends are coming together online to create a special keepsake. Every memory left on the online obituary will be automatically included in the book.   


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