This past Friday's Patriot Day ceremony at the Prescott Valley Civic Center had a pair of conspicuous absences - VFW and American Legion members Keith and Carm Staker. Instead, Carm sat by the bedside of her husband of nearly 62 years as he prepared to "go see friends," he told his wife.With his children and wife present, Keith quietly passed away Saturday morning.
Growing up as an Iowa farm boy, Keith probably never planned to see military service in Japan or rebuild churches in Mexico. Yet those constitute a small portion of his contributions to the country and community.
A life member of both the American Legion Gary Streeter Post 108, which he helped charter, and the VFW Mingus Mountain Post 10227, the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame Keith inducted him along with 19 others on Oct. 26, 2008. The inductees are those who "have honorably served their country through military service and who have continued to serve and inspire their fellow man with deeds and accomplishments throughout their lifetimes," according to a press release from the non-profit Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame.
Born William Keith Staker in Woodward, Iowa, in 1923, he entered the U.S. Navy in 1944 and served on a mine sweeper. His service included sweeping Nagasaki Harbor after the atom bomb detonation.
Keith returned to Iowa in 1946 to farm and became active in the local American Legion, as well as the Rural Water District and the Guthrie County Rural Electric Cooperative, for which he served as a director.
He also was active in 4-H and church youth groups. While the Stakers were foster parents to three troubled teens (one at a time) after their own three children - two daughters and a son - were in college.
"Being foster parents was an eye-opening experience," he said, during an interview this past fall. "One was a wonderful success."
After the Stakers retired from farming and moved to Prescott Valley in 1979, the foster experience later prompted them to give another young girl a place in their home when she wanted to graduate from Bradshaw Mountain High School.
The Stakers immersed themselves in their adopted state, becoming charter members of the American Legion and the Prescott Valley United Methodist Church.
The rapidly growing community presented plenty of opportunities for Keith Staker to volunteer. He organized a bicycle rodeo through the police department, acted as mentor for a young man working toward his Eagle Scout award, gave some 1,500 hours of volunteer time to the Bob Stump VA Medical Center and nearly 2,800 hours to Yavapai Regional Medical Center. He also provided support for Carm as she served two years as a council member for the Town of Prescott Valley, and another two years as its mayor.
"It's all gone pretty fast," Keith said in the same fall interview. "You don't really think about doing those things, you just did them and enjoyed doing them. I enjoyed working with youth the most."
His duties with the American Legion included stints as area chaplain, commander, and Chef De Gare of Voiture 555 (president) of the 40&8, an elite, invitation-only group of America Legion members whose main focus is helping people get into the nursing field.
Staker served "one year, 11 months and 12 days in the Navy" on minesweepers around Korea, China and Japan. His crew swept near Iwojima seven days before the Marines landed and Okinawa 10 days ahead of the Marines.
But his family's military background dates back to the Revolutionary War.
In the fall of 2008, as he and fellow veterans sought help to place flags on Highway 69 for Veterans Day, Keith said, "I'm proud to be a member of the military. It bothers me a lot to see how little respect the flag receives. How many still stand up and salute the flag when it goes by?"
The practice of placing 150 American flags along Highway 69 through Prescott Valley 10 times each year began years ago when Keith Staker, Jack Juhl and the late Ralph Untz solicited Prescott Valley businesses for donations to buy flags and poles. Those flags flew proudly again on Friday - Patriot Day.
Bill and Yvonne Lee have served the VFW with the Stakers since they moved to Prescott Valley in 2002.
"I think if there was anything that could be done by a human being for the town of Prescott Valley, Keith would be there," said Yvonne, a past Auxiliary president for 5 years and a 33-year member of the VFW. You couldn't meet a nicer, more gentle person. I think the world of both him and Carm."
Bill, who served two years as post commander, said, "He was quite a guy - a life member of the VFW and American Legion and a good leader for the Legion. I enjoyed working with him and I'm sorry he's gone. He left a big hole to fill."
Current Mingus Mountain Post Commander Chuck Abraham agreed that Keith will be sorely missed. "I can't say enough good things about him, but I know he was instrumental in a lot of things going on with the American Legion and VFW," Abraham said. "He was well thought of by everybody. He was always a guy who could be counted on - one of the best of the best."
Services for Keith Staker will be at 2 p.m. today at the Prescott Valley United Methodist Church, 8944 E. Sommer Drive.