Walter Koerschner

Walter KoerschnerAfter a lifetime of creativity, former China Laker Walter Koerschner died in Cottage Grove, Ore., on Oct. 15, 2017. He was nearly 93.

Walt was born on Nov. 4, 1924, and grew up in Akron, Ohio, where he started art lessons at the age of 5 and became as a Boy Scout so interested in the wild blue yonder that he was able to hitch rides on both a dirigible and a biplane.

He was attending college in Akron when World War II broke out. He joined the Army, where he served in the Battle of the Bulge in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. He returned to college after the war and earned a B.S. in psychology.

Diploma in hand, he decided it was time for adventure, so he and a fraternity brother went skin diving in Guatamala, then purchased a sailboat and sailed it back to New Orleans. His artistic bent then took control, and he attended the Cleveland (Ohio) School of Art and the Art Center College of Design, then in Los Angeles.

After graduating from the Art Center, he spent the next nine years designing matchbooks, then worked on animation in the aircraft industry and filled in with late-night freelance work. He and his first wife, Charlotte, divorced during this time, but remained lifelong friends.

Walt moved to Ridgecrest in 1964 to work as an illustrator for Genge Industries, then was hired by the Navy at China Lake in 1970. During his career as a technical illustrator, he created many program logos and VIP oil portraits, as well as skilled artwork for brochures and technical reports.

Between 1983 and 1991 he created a painting a year for the Air Force Art Program. That was a labor of love, with a medal and dinner in Washington, D.C., his only reward. He resumed that participation in retirement, enjoying the satisfaction of knowing that his works were being placed in the permanent collections of the Pentagon and the Air Force Academy.

In his personal life, Walt enjoyed contributing his talent to the community. When the Desert Division of Bakersfield College (Community Light Opera and Theatre Association forerunner) staged Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid,” he had the title role, while Suzanne Larsen appeared as his (very opinionated) maid. Soon the two began dating, and by 1968 they were married.

They worked on many plays together, with Suzanne ruling the stage in numerous productions, while Walt added his special artistic touch to the scenery and props, even designing CLOTA’s logo.

His contributions to the Cerro Coso drama program included more than 100 unique, colorful masks for the chorus of the musical fable, “Celebration.”

In one of the Koerschners’ most noted productions, Suzanne directed “Gigi,” with Walt appearing as Honore, Ridgecrest’s version of Maurice Chevalier. Walt also earned much praise for his role as The Common Man in “Man for All Seasons.”

Both Koerschners earned CLOTA’s highest honor, the Jane Bugay Award.

In his very full life, Walt also enjoyed scuba diving and motorcycle riding.

He retired as a visual information specialist in China Lake’s Technical Information Department in 1991, and soon the couple moved to Kalispell, Mont. During the years there, they contributed significantly to the Bigfork Playhouse, even appearing onstage together in “Where’s Henry” and “Love Letters.”

They lived happily there until 2008, when they moved to Eugene, Ore.,where the lower altitude was better for Suzanne’s health.

Walt created vibrant depictions of scenery and people wherever he lived, and his artwork continues to live on people’s walls in fond memory of him.

After an extended illness, during which Walt tenderly cared for her, Suzanne died in Eugene in 2010 at age 76. Walt continued living in Eugene until 2016, when neighbors helped him move to an assisted-living center in Cottage Grove. There he enjoyed visiting with friends and recounting his adventures until nearly the end.

Walter is survived by many friends, notably longtime Eugene neighbors George and Helen Wylam.

Anyone who wishes to remember him with a donation may send a check to CLOTA, P.O. Pox 957, Ridgecrest, CA 93556.

— Submitted by the family of Walter Koerschner

Story First Published: 2017-10-20