Donald Frederick Thielke December 19, 1930-July 9, 2020
Born on December 19, 1930 during the Great Depression in North Tonawanda, NY, Don was
raised in a faithful Lutheran family. His childhood was spent in simple pursuits playing in empty
lots, building snow forts, lake swims and taffy pulls.
Always a tinkerer, he worked as a mechanic in his youth. A 1949 graduate of North Tonawanda
HS, Don enlisted in the Air Force, was sent to (Harlingen, TX) and later sunny, dry Sacramento
at Mather AFB, rising from airplane mechanic to plane owner. This sealed his fate for a future
Upon return to NY, Don was finally able to secure a blind date with the ever social Phyllis (née
Huk) Thielke to Niagara Falls. Theirs was a love story for the books and they married on
October 27, 1956 sharing nearly 63 years until her passing in 2018. Whether in Buffalo,
Chicago, Alameda or Lafayette, “Don & Phyllis” will long be remembered for their mutual care
giving for one another’s health, hearts and dreams. After 15 years of marriage, a miracle baby
(Kathy) brought them joy and the opportunity to become “parents” to countless of friends in her
growing up years. He knew the value of being a loving and generous Dad.
After attending Spartan College of Aviation and Technology in Tulsa, Don flew with a variety of
carriers in the advent of the jet age including United and Overseas National. He served
American Airlines as a flight engineer for 37 years and in executive roles within the Flight
Engineers International Association. Other union affiliations included UAW, IAM and IFEO.
Don’s base assignments included MDW, ORD, LGA, LAX, BUF and SFO. Concurrent with the
bases Don flew the DC6, DC7, L188, 707 and DC10. His final decade with AAL focused almost
exclusively on the SFO- HNL route aside from a few months SFO-NRT. He cared deeply about
flight safety and trained in accident investigations at USC. These roles led him to world travel,
though his favorite became Kaanapali beach in Maui with his family and friends.
A Lafayette resident and member of Trinity Lutheran church for 52 years, Don held every role
imaginable. His easy going style and can do spirit were felt by neighbors too, where he served
the Happy Valley Highlands HOA for decades. Don was the master of ceremonies, who could
tell a joke or story that would keep you on the edge of your seat. A friend to many, he never
stopped reaching into new social circles as the years went on with YoungLife, cardiac inmates,
men’s fellowship breakfasts, fishing buddies in Alaska, Jazz circles, Lutheran Golfers, the Grey
Eagles,.... His dry wit and sly grin were his trademark, as much as his warm smile and knowing
He was happiest in his own “back-forty” maintaining the yard, fending off poison oak, taking in a
swim with family and tackling the next project with a dog at his side. Or perhaps it was surf-side
at Half Moon Bay with old friends, crab, chowder, a good sourdough and cold beer. Most likely it
was sharing one of his “9 lives” stories with granddaughters and eating fudgesicles.
He is survived by beloved daughter, Kathy; son-in-law, Pete; grandchildren Leilani, Kalea and
Malia; nephews, Alan, Mike and Chuck; nieces Elaine, Phyllis, Laura, Anne, Cindy and Linda.
Knowing that “he had some projects to do” heavenward, Don passed peacefully at home. He
lived a blessed life knowing Jesus. May he dwell in the house of the Lord forever.