Kenneth Conrad Kvam was born in Watertown, NY on 31 March 1942 and went to be with the Lord on 7 December 2023. He is survived by his wife Karen, daughter Kirsten, and son Kris (partner Marcie Cook). His career as an Army Officer and nuclear engineer took him and his family around the world. He loved to travel, run, hike, and SCUBA-dive. Music was a big part of his life and he enjoyed singing bass, notably as a member of the West Point Glee Club and later in the New MexiChords barbershop chorus. He was known for his dumb dad jokes and dedication to proper grammar and pronunciation. A mentor to many, he enjoyed being a Boy Scout backpacking leader and tutor in Math and Science at La Cueva High School even after his children graduated. More than anything else, he loved the people in his life, and he will be missed by his family and friends.
Ken is survived by his stepmother Barbara; siblings Katherine, Bruce (wife Michelle and children Jackson and Bennett), Karla, and Kevin; cousins John Loomis (partner Mark Barres), Janet Dawson, and Karen (Dawson) Wrang (husband Jason and children Jonah and Nora); and brother-in-law Tom Mosely (son Madison). He was preceded in death by his parents and siblings Keith, Karen, and Kaycee. He will also be remembered by the extended Hergesheimer family that he was lucky enough to marry into.
Travel was a consistent theme of Ken’s life. Born to an Army dentist during World War II, his family moved several times internationally and domestically before settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. His early Army career took him to Korea and Vietnam, and married life brought tours in Korea and the Netherlands before landing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As many weekends and school breaks as possible were spent exploring the nearby areas and flying Military Space-Available lead to many last minute, unexpected adventures. Living in New Mexico encouraged skiing, hiking, and backpacking, and opportunities with friends allowed for travel to Africa, Fiji and other far-off ports of call.
After becoming empty-nesters, Ken and Karen were able to travel even more than before, including backpacking in the West and SCUBA-diving throughout the Caribbean and Pacific. The primary driver for Ken’s retirement from Sandia National Laboratories was his diagnosis of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), which took a tremendous toll on his time and health. Although he characterized the last 12 years of his life since his diagnosis as his “era of being a professional, full-time patient,” he didn’t let his physical struggles and regular medical attention keep him from enjoying his life. He and Karen switched from diving to going on cruises in Europe and the Galapagos. The family went on land trips in Africa and a memorable cruise of the Alaskan inside passage. Last March brought a tour of Israel and Jordan with family and friends. Eating Viennese cake and pastries at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem was an extraordinary way to mark Ken’s 80th birthday.
Ken spent the last 8 months of his life in home hospice. Confined to a bed, he decided to write his own obituary, which became an autobiography. Below is a slightly edited excerpt:
“Everything started about 7PM, 31 March 1942 at Mercy Hospital in Watertown, NY where I was born to my father, Conrad Kvam and mother, Charlotte (Loomis) Kvam. It was my Dad’s second assignment as an Army dentist. His first was in Hawaii where he met and married my mother, Charlotte Loomis, who was there enjoying her first teaching job. They were reassigned prior to 7 December 1941 to Pine Camp, now Fort Drum, in Watertown.
After two moves from Watertown, we ended up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts where my sister, Karen, was born. When my Dad deployed to Europe from Ft. Hamilton, New York, the family moved to my mother’s home in Delta, Colorado. V-E Day (8 May 1945) occurred shortly after my Dad arrived in Germany. He was reassigned to the European Army of Occupation and stationed in Bremerhaven, Germany where the family joined him. My sister, Katherine, was born there.
After our return to the US we got into the “Army cycle” of 3-year moves, starting in Arlington, Virginia. Then Ft Sill, Oklahoma, where my brother Keith and sister Kaye (twins) were born; Ft Brooke, Puerto Rico; then the Presidio of San Francisco where I graduated from Lowell High school in 1960. I then transitioned into Phase 2 of my life when I left my home and joined the West Point Corps of Cadets as a plebe in Beast Barracks. Early in my West Point tenure I lost my mother to cancer. My Dad’s second marriage was to Barbara (Sunny)(Adams) Kvam (6 September 1963), a marriage that resulted in three children: Bruce, Karla and Kevin.
After my West Point graduation in 1964 I entered the Corps of Engineers and attended the Ranger, then Airborne, schools at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Then it was off to a 13-month hardship tour in Korea with the 13th Engineer Battalion of the 7th Division at Tong-du-chon. From Korea I volunteered for Vietnam, so my 2nd Army assignment was with the 8th Combat Engineer Battalion of the 1st Division (Airmobile), in Ahn Khe. For the 15 months with this battalion I was first the executive officer of Headquarters Company and then the Commander of A Company.
After returning from RVN I attended the Engineer Advanced Course at Ft. Belvoir and then moved to Boston, Massachusetts to earn Masters Degrees in Civil Engineering and Nuclear Engineering at MIT. Then it was back to Vietnam for a year, where I commanded C Company, 46th Engineer Construction Battalion at Gia Ray, building a major, asphalt road to Xuan Loc.
My next assignment was as a Military Research Associate at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, California. In San Francisco I met my best friend and precious wife, Karen Helen (Hergesheimer) Kvam, who I married in October of 1973 at the Chapel on the Presidio. From Livermore we went to Leavenworth, Kansas, for Command and General Staff College. My wonderful daughter Kirsten was born there.
From CGSC we drove west to Colorado Springs for my next assignment at the Air Force Academy where I taught Physics to the cadets. My stalwart son Kristofer was born at the Academy Hospital.
When I didn’t make the Battalion Command List, the family decided to go to Korea on an accompanied two-year tour. We lived in quarters on South Post Yongsan. My job was with the Yongsan Facility Engineers. We traveled to the Philippines twice and Japan once for family enjoyment.
From Korea it was an intertheater move to the Netherlands. I became the Head of the Northern Area Engineer Office of the Europe Engineer Division. We lived in Hoensbroek, South Limburg Province. As a family we traveled throughout Europe, to include Scandinavia, and even to Turkey and Egypt.
I was then assigned to Field Command of the Defense Nuclear Agency at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In October of 1989 I turned my uniform in and began wearing comfortable civvies in my new position with Sandia National Laboratories. I was an engineer with Military Liaison Department until my retirement in October of 2012. We wrote the maintenance manuals, taught the maintenance classes, and even did maintenance procedures for the nuclear munitions owned by the military.”
Here’s a link to the November 10, 1963, performance of the West Point Glee Club on the Ed Sullivan Show. A young Ken can be seen in one of the first close-ups, in the front row.
The family would also like to thank the staff of Hospice de la Luz, whose dedicated nursing and care made the last eight months of his life so much better than expected.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, January 13 at 11AM at Sandia Presbyterian Church. His ashes will be interred at the Santa Fe National Cemetery on a previous date. In lieu of flowers, Ken asked for donations to be made to Tunnel to Towers, a non-profit foundation that supports Gold Star and fallen first responder families.