Pulaski presents veteran with honorary diploma

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Family surprises Kaster at School Board meeting

Special to the Times Herald

Pulaski Community School District Board of Education president Michael Voelker presented an honorary PHS diploma Dec. 19 to Stephen Kaster at the start of the board meeting. Kaster had attended PHS for six weeks in 1947 before he was pulled out of school to farm. When he turned 17, Kaster joined the U.S. Marines, eventually becoming a highly decorated officer. (Pulaski News photo)

Stephan Kaster has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Omaha. He has a chest full of military medals that include three good conduct medals earned as an enlisted soldier, and others received when he was an officer, among them a Purple Heart and an occupation medal for service in 1949 in North Africa, his favorite.

What he didn’t have was a high school diploma. That, however, was remedied Dec. 19 when the Pulaski Community Board of Education approved an honorary Pulaski High School diploma, which was conferred by Superintendent Bec Kurzynske and principal Jeremy Pach at the start of the School Board’s monthly business meeting.

“We are grateful for Mr. Kaster’s service to our country as a member of our armed forces, and we are humbled by the opportunity to present an honorary Pulaski High School diploma to him,” Kurzynske said. “Mr. Kaster’s service embodies our motto as a district, founded on tradition and pride, focused on excellence.”

Pach added, “As a veteran myself, I know how hard Mr. Kaster had to work to get his college degree and commission in the Marines. He is the embodiment of perseverance and I am proud to issue him an honorary diploma. His waiting 69.5 years since his entrance into the military to get his diploma gives a new meaning to the military term, ‘hurry up and wait.’”

Kaster graduated eighth grade at Assumption Blessed Virgin Mary School in Pulaski in 1945. He took a year off from school. In 1947, he attended Pulaski High School for six weeks. After his father caught wind that he signed up for the PHS football team, he pulled him out of school.

“If you have time to play,” Kaster quoted his father as saying, “you can work.”

At the time, his father was a sharecropper – a tenant farmers who gave a part of each crop as rent – who had lost the family farm in the Great Depression in 1929. The family, which consisted of 13 children, 10 of them boys, farmed land in local communities. Two brothers and a sister are still alive.

In December 1948, at age 17, he joined the U.S. Marines and never had the chance to go back and complete his high school education. Kaster and each of his brothers served in the U.S. Armed Forces from World War II, to the Korean and Vietnam wars. In 1952, he said, the Green Bay Press-Gazette published an article on the family, which, at that time, had nine members serving in the military

While they knew the importance of service to their country, they also learned firsthand of the high sacrifice soldiers make, as one brother was killed in action and another died of cancer while serving. Kaster was assigned to escort his body home for burial.

While in the service, he met his future wife, Elizabeth, then a Dominican College student in Racine, who convinced a school official to allow him to take nine college credits in an effort to strengthen his resume to be made an officer. After 11 years as an enlisted man, he was promoted to gunnery sergeant. He climbed the ranks until he retired from active military service in 1973 as a major.

Continuing his education, he received a bachelor’s degree with double majors in business and military science from the University of Omaha.

Kaster married Elizabeth in 1957. On Nov. 30, they celebrated their 61-year anniversary. They have four sons, two of whom served in the military. They also have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, as well as spouses of family members.

At age 87, Kaster loves to golf. He regularly plays 18 holes and still carries his clubs. He likes to read. Kaster and his wife also enjoy spending as much time as possible with family.

After military service, he operated Province, a Green Bay-based real estate and land development company, for 20 years with two of his brothers.

Earlier this fall, Kaster’s family approached Pach to see if giving an honorary degree was an option. Pach worked with the family and the PCSD Board of Education to get the necessary policy changes so, under certain criteria, honorary diplomas could be conferred.

It took a little white lie from his granddaughter, Mallory, to get him to the meeting without suspecting that he would be honored. She told him she was speaking at an event and asked if he would come in full military dress to support her.

But when he realized that, in fact, he was there to be honored, it touched his emotions.

“I would never admit to this, but I teared up,” he said, especially when he realized the extent his family worked to get him his high school diploma. And at the board meeting, his entire family was there to see him graduate from high school.

When it was noted that it is rare to have an entire family see someone graduate from high school, Kaster laughed, noting that he received a card from his family saying, “We’re happy to be at your graduation. What took you so long?”