Keith Alden Sprague
Keith A. Sprague, a lifetime resident of Lindsay, Calif., passed away Feb. 18, 2019 just before his 97th birthday. Keith was the last family member of his generation. After patiently waiting with faith in God’s plan for him, he has joined his beloved wife Ellen who predeceased him.
Keith was born on March 2, 1922 in Lindsay on the Sprague Family Ranch in their home nestled among the orange trees. He was the second son born to Alden and Blanche Sprague. At a very early age his parents instilled in him a love for the outdoors and the magnificent mountains that provided a backdrop to Lindsay. Camping and hiking among the towering Sequoias were early pursuits. Keith was a second generation Lindsay High School graduate, Class of 1940. He participated in football, tennis, drama, class council, the California Scholarship Federation, Boys Service Club, Dob ’O Ink and as Comet photographer. He continued his education at Visalia Junior College (now College of Sequoias) where he also completed Civilian Pilot Training, graduating in 1942.
With the escalation of WWII he joined the Army Air Forces and received additional flight training in Santa Ana, Eagle Field Dos Palos, Merced Army Air Base, Williams Field Arizona and finally Boise Idaho. In September 1943 he was a 2nd Lieutenant co-pilot with the crew of a B-17 “Flying Fortress” in route to Thorpe Abbotts airfield, Norfolk, England. Keith was in the 8th Air Force, 100th Bomb Group, 350th Squadron.
The 100th Bomb Group was known as the Bloody 100th due to the devastating losses and low chances of survival. Keith completed his 25 missions becoming pilot on his 18th mission. Miraculously he and the crew sustained no casualties on their 25 missions together. Keith said he never really felt afraid. They had a job to complete and they relied on each other with total confidence and trust in one another. They felt remarkably blessed. All were astounding very young men. Keith was the last surviving member of his flight crew.
Upon completion of his 25th mission, he returned stateside to complete his term of service as a Captain and flight instructor. While stationed at Peterson Field in Colorado Springs he met the love of his life, Ellen Johnstone. This chance meeting took place at a Tea Dance while she was attending Colorado College as an art major. When Ellen graduated she returned to her parents’ home near Santa Fe, N.M. To further win Ellen over and impress her parents, Keith would fly over her home in a B-17. They were married in Santa Fe in November 1946.
Her love and devotion to Keith was stronger than her boundless love of New Mexico. They began their life together in Keith’s hometown, Lindsay. Keith put flying aside and became an electrical contractor to support his family. He owned Central Valley Electric for many years, retiring in 1996. He now donates the use of his shop building to house the Lindsay Fire Museum.
During these years Keith and Ellen started and raised their family, two sons and a daughter. Keith loved the Sierra Nevada Mountains and countless family camping trips were made to Balch Park. Morro Bay’s salty air, sandy beaches and fishing were also favorites. Go karts, remote control gliders, skiing, golfing and family camping trips to the West’s national parks and historic sites were memorable endeavors for his family.
After their children were raised, Keith and Ellen traveled. With trips to the Southwest, he supported Ellen’s love of painting, particularly the landscapes and blue skies of New Mexico. She in turn encouraged and supported his participation in 100th Bomb Group reunions across the United States and to Thorpe Abbotts England. They were always involved in the community and supporting organizations and to their surprise they were named the 1998 Lindsay Orange Blossom Honored Couple. Above all, they enjoyed life and cherished their family, grandchildren and great grandchildren and the countless friends made along the way.
Keith is survived by his sons Keith M. “Mac” Sprague of Visalia, Calif. and Jay M. Sprague of Eugene, Oregon; daughter Marcia Meyer of Auburn, Calif.; five grandchildren, eight great grandchildren, three nieces and two grand nephews. Keith was a hard-working, loving, devoted and patient husband and father. He will always be remembered as a gentleman and a gentle man. He was interested in and curious about people surrounding him. Respect, kindness and hospitality were extended to everyone he met. To those that knew him he was a shining example of all that is good in the human spirit. His presence, unconditional love and beaming smile will be missed. We love you Dad.
On April 25, 2019, a 9:30 a.m. graveside interment in the Lindsay-Strathmore Cemetery will be held for Keith and Ellen followed by an 11 a.m. memorial service for Keith at the First Presbyterian Church, 351 E. Hermosa St., Lindsay, Calif. A luncheon will be provided following the memorial service.