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Lester V. Molenaar, inventor and renowned Willmar businessman, dies after long illness

WILLMAR -- Peter Molenaar hoped his son, Lester V. Molenaar, would become a good farmer. Although the younger Molenaar farmed for 19 years, his real interest was in business and inventions.

"He always had an ambition to be in manufacturing,'' says Lester's son Steve, of Willmar. "His father got him started in farming, but he felt he never was a very good farmer, and he was inventing things back on the farm.''

Lester Molenaar, who started a toy manufacturing and specialty advertising business in Willmar in the 60s, died Nov. 15 at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar after an extended illness. He was 91.

The service will be at 11 a.m. Dec. 3 at United Methodist Church in Willmar. Peterson Brothers Funeral Home of Willmar is handling arrangements.

He was born April 15, 1918, to Josephine (Bosch) and Peter Molenaar. He at-tended country school to the ninth grade, attended part of one year in high school and one year at Hamline University.

His early interests were varied, including electricity and astronomy.

He built a 600-watt amateur radio station, held a first-class commercial radio license and a pilot's license. During World War II, he helped run KWLM in Willmar in addition to farm work. He farmed 400 acres two miles east of Blomkest from 1937 to 1955, then came to Willmar and operated a John Deere implement dealership from 1956 to 1963.

His last venture, Molenaar Inc., a toy manufacturing and advertising specialties business, was his most successful and developed into a national sales company with more than 130 employees.

The company was sold in 2007 but continues to operate as Molenaar LLC.

Although Steve Molenaar was young when his father started the business, he remembers it was a break-even operation and may have been on the verge of failure.

"But we just made it through those hard times and it developed into the promotional products business that still exists there,'' said Molenaar, company finance manager.

Lester had a photographic mind for mechanical things and built a plastics-injection molding press after touring a plastics company. As an inventor, he built a corn dryer and Dynamatic, a device to measure the horsepower of tractors from the power-takeoff.

Also, he did electrical wiring on the farm, at his business and at several houses he built.

He continued his interest in cosmology and gravity. Steve said his father had some ideas on the causes of gravity and tried to conduct some experiments to verify his thinking.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150