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Obituary: Charles John Koester, 91

 Charles John Koester, of Glen Rock, NJ, known to many as ‘Chuck’, passed away quietly on April 18, 2020, in his home with his loving wife Mildred (Millie) at his side, after a brave battle with Alzheimer’s. Charles was born in Niagara Falls, NY on January 26, 1929, to Carl John and Helen Hogan Koester. After graduating from Fostoria High School in 1946, he received a B.S. in physics from Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1950 and his Ph.D. in physics and optics from the University of Rochester in 1955.  He married Mildred Ruby Thompson of Wilmerding, PA on July 18, 1953.

Professionally, Dr. Koester is known for his work as an optical physicist and inventor. In 1955, he began work for American Optical (AO) Corporation in Southbridge, MA, where he led the team that built the first laser instrument to be used in human medical treatment. He also collaborated with colleagues from the University of Denver in developing the Denver Universal Microspectrophotometer used for studying blood cells. He worked on laser configuration and laser structure and collaborated with computer systems pioneer Herbert M. Teager to design a ‘time-controlled-output laser structure’. At Columbia University, as an assistant professor of Biophysical Ophthalmology, his research and design efforts included the control and use of polarized light, fiber optics and lasers, lens design, and specialized microscopes, especially for medical treatments for the eye. 

He served on the Board of Directors of the Optical Society of America (1974-76) and was a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry. He had over 60 patents to his name, and a career of developing laser applications, microscopes, lenses, and ophthalmic instruments, and in 1996 he received the Ernst Abbe Memorial Award from the New York Microscopical Society “For Outstanding Contributions to the Science of Microscopy”.

During his years at AO, Chuck and Millie raised their family of four children in Woodstock, CT. His career journey then led them to live in Sudbury, MA, Clarence, NY, and then Glen Rock, NJ. 

Chuck was devoted to his church and his faith played an important role in his life. He and his wife sang in the choir at The First Congregational Church of Woodstock, CT, and he became a Deacon at the United Methodist Church in Sudbury, MA. He acted as director of Habitat for Humanity at West Side Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood, NJ.

Music was ever-present in Chuck’s life.  His talents included playing a variety of wind instruments including the clarinet and saxophone, and later in life, he took up the bassoon. He enjoyed playing in many community musicals, in the Doctors Orchestra in New York, and the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra. Chuck was passionate about giving back to the community and coordinated the work for the Paterson Habitat for Humanity in Paterson, NJ. He tutored high school students to help them with math and engaged in numerous community projects with the Hobbyists, a community service club in Ridgewood, NJ.

He and his family enjoyed vacations visiting parents’ homes, lake cottages in New England, and skiing in winter.

Chuck is survived by the love of his life and wife of 67 years, Millie, their children: Nancy (companion, Barry Wiesenfeld) of Warwick, NY, David (wife, Claire Alix) of Fairbanks, AK and Paris, France, James (companion Elizabeth Pasquale) of Ossining, NY, and Jeffrey (wife, Michele Bianco) of Scotia, NY; their grandchildren, Erin, Jared, Alexander, Michael, and Nicholas; and his brother, Robert (wife Elaine) of Grantham, NH.

The family would like to express heartfelt thanks to Valley Hospice of Ridgewood, NJ for their compassionate care.

Due to the guidelines regarding the current health crisis, there will be no visitation and a memorial service will be arranged in accordance with health guidelines.

In memoriam, please consider donating to Valley Hospice of Ridgewood, NJ. or Habitat for Humanity, Chuck coordinated efforts with the Paterson Habitat for Humanity in Paterson, NJ. 


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