Donovan “Van” Ketzler has made his final ride.
Ketzler, 89, a horseback rider who trained others how to ride during World War II, died Thursday of an apparent heart attack in his Omaha apartment.
He had been president of the Dehner Boot Co. in Omaha until semi-retiring about 24 years ago. But he continued going to work as chairman emeritus to the end, his children said Saturday.
Ketzler also helped create the Omaha Police Department mounted patrol. And he helped found the North Hills Hunt, a group that relishes the riding and camaraderie more than it cares about hunting foxes, said son Jeff Ketzler of Omaha.
The Dehner Boot Co. makes equestrian and military boots and boots for law enforcement. President Ronald Reagan enjoyed wearing the boots. So did Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The company's roots are in Kansas, but it was moved to Omaha in the early 1930s.
Ketzler began riding horses as a boy at Fort Omaha and became an excellent rider, competing for a time. He understood horses and had a rapport with them, said son Jon Ketzler of Madison, Wis.
“He taught me how to fall before he taught me how to ride,” he said. “Dad said you had to fall off a horse 75 times before you could call yourself a horseman.”
Friend Vicki Krecek said Ketzler rode his horse Snowy just a week ago in the Valley, Neb., area. Three weeks ago he rode for two hours.
“The horse was exhausted,” said Krecek, an avid rider herself.
He was a tough guy who didn't mind getting banged up a bit.
Krecek said if he suffered a scrape or worse — he broke his leg while getting used to Snowy 17 years ago — he liked to say: “Well, it's a long way from my heart.”
Donovan Ketzler graduated from Central High School and enlisted during World War II. He served as a riding and weaponry instructor at Fort Riley, Kan.
He was shipped to India, Burma and China during the war and retired from the Army Reserve as a major in the early 1970s, his children said. He flew the American flag from his apartment balcony.
Ketzler told a World-Herald reporter in the spring: “I was a cavalryman, I am a cavalryman and I'll die a cavalryman.”
He and his wife, Bette, were married for 62 years and loved to travel. Bette Ketzler died in 2009.
His dog, a Jack Russell terrier named Poteen, was his close companion in his final years.
Jeff Ketzler said then-Mayor P.J. Morgan asked Ketzler in the 1980s if it might be possible to start a mounted patrol in Omaha.
“That was the wrong thing to say to my dad, because with him, everything was possible,” Jeff Ketzler said. The patrol now has a strong presence here.
Besides Jon and Jeff, he is survived by son Donovan Jr. of Omaha and daughter Lynn Lucas of Loveland, Colo.; 11 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Brookside Church, 11607 M Circle in Omaha.