Obituary for Dr. Lester Reynold Dragstedt Jr. at Overton Funeral Home (2024)

A sorrow for all who knew him, Dr. Lester Reynold Dragstedt, Junior, died on March 30, 2024, in Des Moines, Iowa. He was 95 years old.

Lester was born on October 20, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois to Lester Reynold Dragstedt, Senior (of Montana) and Gladys Gwendolyn Shoesmith (of Iowa). His happy childhood home was near the University of Chicago campus where his father was Chief of the Department of Surgery, University of Chicago Clinics. Previously, his mother had been a teacher of Latin and a school principal. Both parents were first generation Americans.

Les attended school K-8 at the University Laboratory School and went to high school at Hyde Park High. He left high school after his junior year and began studies at the U of Chicago. He expected to be drafted into the military on his 18th birthday, but World War II ended in August, 1945. He transferred to Haverford College, PA and, after finishing his junior year, was accepted into medical school at Northwestern University. Northwestern later awarded him a B.S. degree. Les graduated from Northwestern Medical School, Class of 1953 and proceeded to his internship at University of Chicago. The following year he began his surgical residency there.

Of special note in his surgical experience, in 1954 Lester assisted his father in an operation to separate conjoined twins. It was the very first successful separation of twins with significant connection, after which each child survived to grow up. Over the following years, Lester, Senior and Junior stayed in touch with the girls.

Les’ residency training was divided because he was called to military service in the US Air Force, 1955-1957. His first year he was assigned to USAF Base in Goose Bay, Labrador. At that time, the Air Force took care of servicemen serving in many small radar stations along the Arctic Circle, and that base also serviced and refueled military aircraft going to and from Europe.

His second year was served in Panama City, Florida at Tyndall Air Force Base.

All Les’ early summers were spent at his family’s much-loved summer cottage at Wabigama on Elk Lake, in northern Michigan. The memories of these years were among his life’s most treasured. The family and friends in the surrounding properties all remain close to each other to this very day. His life there had an enormous influence on the development of his character, values, and affections, as well as those of his future family. He was brother to Charlotte D. Jeffrey, Carol D. Stauffer, and Albert Dragstedt.

After Lester returned to Chicago and resumed his residency, he met and married Natalie Ann Richards of Louisville, Kentucky in 1958. This happy marriage lasted 65 years - the remainder of his life, he continued at Chicago as surgical instructor for one more year.

Upon finishing at Chicago, Les and Natalie and their first two daughters moved to Iowa where he began his surgical service at US Veterans Medical Center in Des Moines. These early years of work with our nation’s veterans were very satisfying to him. All his years at VA he continued to train resident surgeons. He was proud of these residents, and many of them became lifelong friends.

Les and Natalie became parents again, to a son and three more daughters.

Lester finished his last years at VA Central Iowa Health Care System as Chief of the Department of Surgery and Clinical Professor of Surgery at University of Iowa. He had been a member of several surgical societies and had held offices in some of them.

An inveterate correspondent, Lester kept a habit of daily letter writing to family, friends, former residents, and colleagues for all his life.

Les was also an athlete throughout his many years. He participated in a variety of sports in his life and played competitive tennis into his 90th year, remaining active and in excellent health until his last year.

Even in his final days, when he was weakest, Les wanted his friends and family around him; laughing, chatting, and relating old stories to comfort themselves and him. His family provided his greatest joy.

Lester is survived by his wife, Natalie, and his six children and their spouses. His children are: Lisa Rasmussen, Catherine Dragstedt, Lester Reynold Dragstedt III, Kristin Kemsley, Gail Fennelly, and Susannah Thompson. His 14 grandchildren are Jeffrey, Daniel, and Emily Rasmussen, Laura and Julia Dragstedt, Stephen and Victoria Dragstedt, Sean and Marie Kemsley, Nathan and Monica Fennelly, and Samuel, Madeline, and Charles Thompson. His great-grandchildren are Hazel Ashby, and Juniper and William Rasmussen.

Lester was laid to rest on April 9, 2024 in the Iowa Veterans Cemetery in Van Meter, Iowa, with full military honors and Christian prayers and blessings. A service of remembrance will take place at a later date.

The entire family is grateful to all physicians, nurses, therapists, and carers whose professionalism and kindness were felt by Lester, and who guided us during his last year. Our thanks, as well, to Overton Funeral Home.

Obituary for Dr. Lester Reynold Dragstedt Jr. at Overton Funeral Home (2024)


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