Calvin Z. Carstens
“Old pilots never die. They just fly higher.”
On Tuesday, June 22, 2021, First Lieutenant Calvin Z. Carstens completed his earthly mission and took flight into the heavens.
Cal was born on April 17, 1920, to the late William and Anna (Wicke) Carstens, Sr. in the family home in Rhodes, Michigan. Often referring to himself as an “old stump jumper,” Cal grew up loving the outdoors, its wildlife, and its many trails. As a boy, he helped with the family general store in Rhodes and would often pick wild huckleberries and cranberries that were sold at their store. Many years later, he would share his “secret” berry spots with his children, relatives, and good friends who, in turn, enjoyed huckleberry pies and cranberry relishes made by his wife Dottie.
Cal enjoyed hiking, hunting, fishing/boating, do-it-yourself projects, anything mechanical, photography, archery, flying, crossword puzzles (in ink) and reading. He was also a disciplined journal writer, recording events throughout his life beginning at age seventeen. In his late seventies, he turned his handwritten journals into a four-volume family history to share with his siblings and his children and, because he had earlier been a free-lance photographer, he incorporated hundreds of family photos throughout the volumes. Cal’s family history of the Estey/Rhodes/Pinconning areas was a true labor of love and a most treasured legacy, especially considering that Cal had to first teach himself how to use a keyboard, a computer, and a scanner.
Cal also enjoyed playing baseball and, like his father, was an excellent pitcher known for throwing hard and fast with great control. He was scouted by numerous professional baseball teams, including the Detroit Tigers, but it was the Cincinnati Reds who signed Cal to a minor league contract. However, his baseball career was cut short when he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps the summer before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He learned to fly and became a B-17 pilot. During his overseas duty (1943-44), Cal was credited with flying 51 missions, most with the same nine-member crew, returning them safely home, all recognized as war heroes for their contributions. Cal and his crew kept in close contact through the years, a true band of brothers.
When Cal returned to Michigan after the war, he settled in Pinconning with Dottie (who he had married on November 23, 1943) and, together with his father and brothers, he created Pinconning’s first airport, Sportsmen’s Field, near Saginaw Bay. He gave flying lessons, worked as a private pilot (twice rescuing stranded ice fishermen), as a crop duster, professional photographer (wedding, first communion, aerial), and school bus driver. Cal was called back into the military as a flight instructor on B-29’s (Randolph Field/Lackland AFB, San Antonio, TX) when the Korean War broke out.
Cal found post-war employment at Magline, Inc. in Pinconning, first as a shop foreman, then as head of purchasing. Retiring in 1985, he and Dottie traveled to England, Germany, Canada, and throughout the States. His love of all things nature continued, and he took pride in maintaining his fruit trees and vegetable garden, filling his pantry with row upon row of beautifully preserved goods for the winter months.
Cal worshiped with Dottie at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Pinconning for the majority of his adult life. When he relocated to Midland, he continued to be ministered by Pastor Jung whom he admired greatly and with whom he shared many WWII memories.
Survivors include his children: Kenneth of Murray, Kentucky, and Diane (Robert) Tomczak of Bay City, Michigan, grandchildren Lisa (Travis) Slater, Michael Carstens, Jason Carstens (Emily), and Jameson (Amber) Carstens, and great-grandchildren Alex, Nicholas, and Kamryn Slater, Brynn and Mia Carstens, and Lily and Liam Carstens. Predeceasing Cal were Dorothy (Dottie) his wife of 77 years, his parents, Anna and William, his elder son Michael Robert Carstens, brothers Bill and Jack, and sister Delores.
Cal’s military mementos are displayed at the Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes, Indiana, east of the former George Field where Cal learned to fly multi-engine aircraft and earned his wings. Cal’s handwritten journals and family histories will be archived at Central Michigan University’s Clarke Historical Library.
The family would like to thank Pastor Jung for being a faithful light in Dad’s life and the thoughtful staff of Cascades Senior Living and Cardinal Hospice for their care and compassion.
A memorial for Cal and Dottie will be held Saturday, August 7, 2021, at 11 am with Pastor David Jung presiding at St. John’s Lutheran Church with full Military Honors. Friends and family may call from 10 am until time of service. Burial has taken place. Those who so desire may make memorials to St. John’s Lutheran Church or their favorite charity.
Lee-Ramsay Funeral Home, Pinconning, MI, was in charge of arrangements.