Joe Nowak of Pilsen grew up in Wisconsin and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in January 1953 during the Korean War.
He was not involved in combat but, after six months of training, served as a mechanic for an air-refueling squadron of 21 propeller airplanes. They supported a bombing wing made up of B47s.
The Cold War was on and the Armed Forces were kept combat-ready at all times.
Nowak’s unit was based at Salina, giving him his first taste of Kansas. His job was to inspect and service planes on the ground.
Three months of every year were spent abroad in places such as Newfoundland, England, and Greenland.
While in England, Nowak’s squadron flew on missions to North Africa, Italy, and Norway.
After Nowak was honorably discharged in January 1957, he remained in Kansas, getting a job at Boeing of Wichita.
He met his future wife, JoAnn Svoboda, at a dance in Pilsen. They were married Aug. 20 that same year.
Nowak had several other jobs before becoming an independent contractor in 1964, doing soil conservation work.
With the assistance of his two oldest sons, Joe Jr. and John, he began setting up tanks and running lines for oilmen. They called their company Nowak Construction.
Nowak also had a radiator repair business.
In the late 1980s, Joe Jr. and John decided to begin an auxiliary business in Wichita, providing utility work for new housing developments.
When Joe Sr. retired at age 66, he sold his share of the business to Joe Jr. and John.
“I get a check every week,” he said.
Joe and JoAnn have been married for 51 years and have seven children — Joe, John, Jerry, Judy, Jacque, Jan, and Jennifer. They also have 38 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. Children living in the area include Judy Steinborn, Marion, and Jan and her husband, Jayson Hanschu, Hillsboro.
Nowak is a member of Tampa American Legion Post #372.