Born into an Army Air Force family at West Point on March 10th, 1948, Lyle Herman Van Horn, got to fly away like he’d always wanted—suddenly, on May 8th, 2023. He was 75. He died at home, with his wife and family, in Wilmore, Kentucky after a quiet evening on the patio listening to rain fall and watching the embers of a fire with a close friend of nearly 30 years.
A childhood survivor of the polio epidemic of the early 1950’s, his life was marked by his struggle against the disease’s neurological and physical harms. His right leg was two inches shorter than his left and he underwent a hip fusion in his early teens. Over the decades, he had a series of hip and knee surgeries that left deeply painful scar tissue. His limp and gait strained and pained back muscles. His fondest desire when he got to heaven was to run down streets of gold with no pain.
His parents, John and Sally Van Horn, did not let polio become debilitating and Lyle learned a lot about grit from them. In response to polio, his father and mother cultivated a love of the outdoors in Lyle. He joined the Boy Scouts and achieved the rank of Life Scout, being prevented from Eagle Scout because the Boy Scouts did not accommodate physical disability at the time. He did a lot of camping with his own family. Mark, Andrew, and Daniel have great memories of putting canoes into lakes and rivers and fishing. He took each boy on a hunting trip but since he wasn’t physically capable of sitting in a tree stand for hours, he outsourced that part of parenting to a close family friend and pastor. When camping got too painful, they went to cottages across Kentucky, in the Smokey Mountains, and Michigan.
Lyle’s love of the outdoors had its fullest expression when he lived in Alaska. Besides Wilmore, Kentucky, his most favorite place in all the world was Juneau. He lived his most physically active life there. He hiked. He fished for salmon and arctic char in the sparkling bays and streams. He caught stories he’d release over and over again to his boys. When he wasn’t fishing, he worked as an air traffic controller. And when he wasn’t working or fishing, he was a faithful congregant at church.
It was at a church Bible study that he heard about this cute redhead who was looking for a husband at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. And that is how he met Marilyn, his wife of 44 years, in Juneau and fell in love for the first time. He always told us boys that he spent every dime he made courting Mom. But we don’t think it was all the nice meals and eating out that really made Mom fall for Dad. It wasn’t until we travelled to Juneau for a family reunion and saw that Dad had to limp a mile and a half around Echo Bay, along a rocky shore, to get to Echo Ranch Bible Camp, and then after spending time with Marilyn, limp back the same treacherous path in the dark, that we understood it was really that hike which did it. His willingness to persevere, to grit teeth, and to suffer for someone else, to suffer for love.
Lyle loved to dabble, to explore novel things and collect hobbies, to pick up something new, put it down and come back to it years later like a pack rat. Around his home and his easy chair there are many such piles of interests: a standing bench for bullet reloading in the laundry room that Marilyn can’t wait to give to one of the boys, dozens of rainbow post-it noted books on chess tactics and opening moves, at least six different chess boards within arm’s reach, piles of wood in a heap in the basement because he was going to get around to finishing carving those chess pieces, sketch pads, paint brushes and water colors, fly tying equipment, Avalon Hill wargames, model train sets and engines, he wrote one book about faith and science for his sons, and always stacks of books: thrillers about spies, history books about wars and airplanes, theology books, books about science, and of course books that he’d read many times but couldn’t remember reading. He was not the kind of person who worried about whether or not he was good at the hobby but rather if he enjoyed doing it.
His peripatetic working and education were the same: pipefitter, National Park Service employee, anthropology student, archeological photographer, air traffic controller, FAA security specialist and logistician, software tech support, Bible student, seminary student, and his most important professional work—planting and pastoring a Pentecostal church in a tough working-class mill town in central Maine. He taught Sunday school and hosted Bible studies. When he was a student at Asbury Theological Seminary, he befriended professors and fellow students and helped them understand new tools like personal computers. Bob Bickert, a missionary and student at the seminary, brought Dad a carved eagle back from the Philippines in appreciation for his support helping with his dissertation. Lyle felt called to Africa but since his body prevented him from going there, he felt it was God who brought Africa to Wilmore and he spent time with African seminary students polishing theology papers.
He prayed for his family and his community and he meditated on the things of God. He was a kind man.
He is survived by his wife, Marilyn Van Horn, his sister Kathleen and Don Huggins, his brother Craig and Pat, his three sons and their wives: Mark and Anna (Underwood), Andrew and Karin (Thompson), and Daniel and Alleena (Koss), and seven grandchildren: Wesley, David Henry, Marianne, Sophia, Alex, Emmit, and Emmery.
Services will be Saturday, May 13 at 11:00 at the Wilmore Free Methodist Church. Visitation starts at 10:00.
Flowers are appreciated and donations in lieu of flowers can be sent to:
Echo Ranch Bible Camp, 12000 Glacier Highway, Juneau, Alaska 99801 or
Praise Assembly of God, 89 Congress St, Rumford, Maine 04276
This obituary was lovingly submitted by Lyle's family. Hager & Cundiff values nothing more than the trust placed in us to care for the Van Horn Family.
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