KNISELY (“K”) DREHER
Knisely (“K”) Dreher died peacefully at home on April 11, 2011, of natural causes. K was 84. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois and grew up in the suburbs of Chicago as the only child of a doting mother and a stern father. He lived through the tail end of the Great Depression, which left a lasting imprint on his life. K was a high-school football and track star and a ladies’ man. He played college football in the leather-helmet era with his high school friend, Abe Gibron, who later went on to play in the NFL and became head coach of the Chicago Bears.
K attended college at Purdue University, Wabash College and the University of Illinois as a member of the Navy’s prestigious V-12 Program. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 1948 with a degree in architectural engineering. He married his high school sweetheart, Nancy Sprague, in 1947 and they had their first son nine months later. A year later they had another son, and four years later a third son.
When K began his architecture practice in Olathe, Kansas, in 1950 he was the youngest person ever licensed as both an architect and engineer in the State of Kansas. After a frustrating few years in Kansas trying to build an architecture practice with a partner, K embarked on the first of his many overseas projects, moving to Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela to work on an oil pipeline project as an engineer for Bechtel Corporation. Nancy and the boys lived on the relatively close island of Barbados for the two years K worked in the jungles of Venzuela.
During his career of over 40 years as an engineer and project manager, K lived all over the United States and around the world, including California, New York, Toronto, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Saigon, Manila, London, Jakarta, Singapore, Jeddah, Hong Kong and Taipei. For many of those years he worked for Parsons, an international engineering, construction and management firm. K became legendary at Parsons for his ability to manage the most complex and difficult projects, including the planning and development of an entire city of 200,000 people and all of the related infrastructure – Yanbu, Saudi Arabia – one of the largest single projects ever developed anywhere in the world. K was a hard worker and he was also a great person to work for and with.
K spent more years living in Honolulu than anywhere else, including the last 20 years of his life, where he enjoyed boating, scuba diving and golfing until his last few years when arthritis slowed him down. He was a voracious reader and a master of the New York Times crosswords. He loved playing bridge and backgammon. He was a lifelong fan of his hometown teams, the Cubs and the Bears. He had all of his marbles and his wry sense of humor right up to the last day of his life.
K was a guy’s guy who was always great fun to hang out with. He also had beautiful manners, thanks to his mother, Sally, who was totally devoted to K but would not tolerate anything less than perfect behavior. Over the years K had many great pals, including Johnny Domaine, Bob Skinner, Charlie Dutton, Carl Fechtman, Jim Keith, Skip Howard, Mark Hannington, John Putman, Puna Chillingworth, Jim Kaplan, Arie Bos and hundreds more. He loved women too – many, many women – and they loved him, most notably among them his wife, Liz Howard, with whom he spent the last 17 years of his life here in Hawaii. K won Liz over when he said “I owned a bar in Singapore.” It was much later that she learned it was just a bar in his apartment, but by then it was too late for her. Liz helped K laugh at the many indignities of growing old while still letting him enjoy acting like a kid sometimes.
After surviving a bout with lung cancer in the early 90s, K became a devoted volunteer for the American Cancer Society, driving patients to and from their treatments in his Mazda Miata convertible. He also let himself be persuaded into serving as a member of the board, and then president, of the Koko Isle Association of Apartment Owners, an experience that led him to refer to it affectionately as “Cuckoo Isle.”
K loved life and lived it to the hilt. He did everything he ever wanted to. He traveled to every place on earth, from the Amazon rain forest to the Arabian desert and everywhere in between. He had a really interesting life, lots of fun and few regrets.
K received outstanding care and support at home during the last weeks of his life from St. Francis Hospice. He donated his well-used body to the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
K leaves behind his wife Liz, his sons, Chris (Susan), Nick (Koren) and Jeff (Susan) and his daughters Sarah and Jessica (Che), as well as 11 grandchildren, 6 great grandchildren and lots of wonderful memories. Observances are private and flowers are unnecessary.