Dana Wilder King, 1927-2021

Dana Wilder King of Visalia, Calif., passed away on Feb. 7, 2021 with his family by his side. He was 94 years old. Dana lived a highly active, unconventional life right up to the very end.

Dana Wilder King

Dana was born Jan. 15, 1927 to Paul H. and Grace J. (Wilder) King in Exeter, Calif., at the old hospital on the SW corner of Crespi and Buena Vista. He attended Exeter schools and stood out for many special talents, including being a brilliant young classical pianist winning highest honors at National tournaments beginning at age 9, and holding a pilot’s license at 16. Following his graduation from Exeter Union High School in 1945, Dana was drafted into the Army Air Corps during WWII to train as a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot. After the war, Dana’s love of flying never left him. Following his discharge, Dana attended College of the Sequoias in Visalia and went on to graduate from UC Berkeley (Theta Delta Chi) with multiple degrees. He returned home to Exeter to manage the family fruit and citrus ranches with his father.

Dana first met his future wife Donna Stover as the tag-along kid cousin of his friend Richard Adams, who lived across the street on Portola. After waiting for that younger kid to “grow up,” a romance blossomed and they married September 8, 1953 in Visalia. He purchased a ranch and home in the Lindcove area, where they started their family of four children. They later moved into the iconic King family home south of Exeter.

Although Dana was a modest, kind, carefree and quiet man, he was also very unconventional with a thirst for thrills and adventure. He was especially obsessed with engaging in anything that went up in the air, including airplanes, stunt flying, 2 home-built gyrocopters and helicopters, rocketry, RC helicopters, and lastly drones. With an innate sense of ingenuity, Dana built everything from motorized playground rides, go-carts and houseboats for the joy of his kids, to home-built experimental helicopters from scratch, machining all the parts himself. Imagine watching him teach himself how to fly an Evinrude powered helicopter on the front lawn, at times under the watchful eye of his brother Skip.

Dana also had a need for speed. Whether he was flying, driving his series of Z-cars, ski boating or snow skiing, it had to be fast! And what could be faster than to routinely meet up with the coffee klatch in the mornings by flying his helicopter from his front lawn straight over the RR tracks to land at Pine Street in Exeter, then casually walk in the door at Carl’s a few yards away. Or flying Santa Claus to the Exeter Christmas parade touching down at his same favorite landing spot. He fully participated in life and was always looking for his next adventure, whether it was a grand trip or an everyday errand.

In 1985 Dana and Donna turned their dreams into reality once again when they sold the family home and citrus ranches and began the adventure of living full-time aboard the “Daonna,” a 48-foot sailing cutter customized for extended cruising from the Ventura Harbor. Accomplished boaters and scuba divers, the Kings cruised the waters of the Pacific and Sea of Cortez living life far removed from farming. Sadly, Donna’s untimely death in 1989 took the wind out of Dana’s sails and he eventually left the sea life and moved to Visalia in 2004 to be closer to family and friends.

Dana was fortunate to meet Chris Divine while enjoying their mutual love of music and dancing after settling into his life in Visalia. They shared a very special relationship until his passing.

He was a ham radio operator (WA6RLW) and founding member of the Central Valley Sideband Assoc. He was also a former member of Exeter Masonic Lodge, the Fresno Scottish Rite, Tehran Temple Shrine, Elks Lodge and several flying clubs.

Dana was preceded in death by his wife Donna D. King; parents, Paul H. King and Grace J. (Wilder) King; sisters, Dolly Lee Smith and Ivaughna Pogue; brother, Paul H. “Skip” King Jr.; and son-in-law, Frederick J. Hesse.

Dana is survived by daughter Paula D. Hesse of Exeter; son, Dr. Richard B. King (Geri) of Fresno, Calif.; daughters, Cheryl L. Lewis (Michael) of Vancouver, Wash., and Terri S. King of Visalia. Also surviving are grandchildren Erica Crowell, Ryan Hesse, Marilyn King, Dawna Lewski, Lauren King, and Kellyn Lewis; and six great-grandchildren. “Rest in peace Dad, your presence and stories will be missed, but not forgotten.”

Services to be determined later due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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