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The Fremont area said goodbye to some familiar faces in 2018.

Those leaving loved ones behind included a U.S. Marine who became a florist, a mild-mannered music professor and 104-year-old Husker fan.

Charles Wilhite

He climbed the highest mountain in the Rockies and crossed the Arctic Circle in a Norwegian ship.

But most people knew retired music professor Charles Wilhite for the scores of music students he taught at Midland University in Fremont.

Wilhite, whose career at Midland spanned more than 40 years, died Feb. 2. He was 88.

“He’s impacted so many lives,” said Ann Wilhite, his wife of 50 years. “Students of his are playing the organ and directing choirs at area churches and teaching in area schools.”

One of his students, Nancy Schroeder, a church musician and retired music educator, appreciated her former professor’s professionalism.

Schroeder described Wilhite as “a true musicologist, who taught all us music majors a deep love of music history, composers, the great hymns of the church and how to play them on the pipe organ.”

Charles Folsom

Retired Major Charles Folsom, who served three tours of duty in Vietnam, would become a public servant in his hometown of Fremont where he ran the family farm.

Folsom died Aug. 22. He was 90.

Described as a “Marine’s Marine” by longtime friend Rick Myers, Folsom served in different capacities in the Masonic organization.

Folsom also is credited with helping save Fremonters millions of dollars in flood damages.

John Miyoshi, a retired general manager of the Lower Platte Natural Resources District, cited Folsom’s work in helping to make sure the Rawhide Creek flood damage reduction project was completed in 1993.

The project intercepts the Rawhide Creek, letting only a small amount of water come through town. Miyoshi said three storms that occurred since 1993 were in excess of a 25-year storm event – yet it hasn’t flooded in Fremont.

“In each of those three events, there would have been millions of dollars of damage in the city of Fremont without that project,” Miyoshi said.

Evelyn Farris

At 104 years young, Evelyn Farris was no Monday morning quarterback.

But she was a huge Husker fan.

And the local woman was thrilled when Husker Cole Conrad, a starting center for the Nebraska football team, came into see her at Nye Legacy in Fremont in July.

“Oh goodness sake. I’m maybe gonna have a heart attack now,” Farris said with a big smile.

Farris shared a few stories of her earlier days as a Husker fan, dressing in red slack suits and tailgating with friends. Farris complimented the young athlete, who posed for a photo with her as staffers and residents applauded what had to be the biggest win of the day.

The local woman died Dec. 3, perhaps leaving her own legacy of a loyal and very longtime fan.

Mel Schwanke

A man known for his signature green jacket and red carnation, Mel Schwanke was a U.S. Marine who became a florist and an active community volunteer.

Schwanke was severely wounded on Okinawa during World War II when a grenade exploded and he was hit with shrapnel. As a civilian, he planned to become a funeral director, but that changed when he married JoEllen “Joey” Green in 1948.

He joined Greens Greenhouse, Inc., which he co-owned with his wife for 65 years. Schwanke would become nationally known as a florist and is in the Society of American Florists Hall of Fame.

The Schwankes would be in the spotlight for their matching outfits – his tie and handkerchief always matched his wife’s attire. Their story would be told on the Today Show and in Readers’ Digest and Redbook magazine in 2014. They’d celebrate 70 years of marriage.

Schwanke was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church for 83 years and had perfect attendance at the Kiwanis Club meetings for 57 years.

The man, whose life could have ended when that grenade exploded in 1945, was a great-grandfather when he died on Dec. 17 – at age 92.

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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