Obituary of Ivan Atwell Custer

Ivan Atwell Custer, a lifetime traveler of this world left Meridian, Idaho at the age of 94 for his final trip June 16th, 2019. Ivan’s parents, Charles Ivan Custer and Viola May Atwell welcomed baby Ivan in their farmhouse a few miles northwest of Pawnee Oklahoma on July 11th, 1924.  He grew up in Pawnee and for a short time in Independence, Missouri with his half- sisters Irene and Hazel and his brothers Leonard (Gayle) and Leroy. Later in life he learned he had another half-sister Audna who’s mother died in childbirth and who was raised by adoptive parents.


After graduating high school in 1941, Ivan enrolled as a pre-law student at Oklahoma State and Agriculture College in Stillwater, Oklahoma. On December 7th, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and Ivan embarked on his first trips overseas as an enlisted sailor. He really wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force but was too young at 17 so his mother convinced him the navy had more opportunities to learn a “good trade”. Little did she know how much her recommendation would change his life from being the son of a farmer from Pawnee, Oklahoma to a career as an executive in a major international construction company living abroad most of his working life.


As with most young men joining the military during World War II, the navy offered Ivan an opportunity to travel to new places and meet new people of different cultures, it also provided him with an opportunity to attend college. He was fortunate enough to be mentored by an education officer who encouraged him to apply for one of 30 scholarships to Harvard and out of 2,000 candidates he obtained the top scores and was awarded a full scholarship and graduated from Harvard in 1945. Had he not gone to college he was to be assigned to a ship going to Murmansk, Russia, a ship that was subsequently sunk by the Germans. His love of education came from his mother who was a college graduate, unusual for a woman during her youth. His mother encouraged all her sons to not only complete their formal education but to continue to always value self-education. Her sons were all college graduates and had successful careers.


During his years with the navy, Ivan travelled to San Diego, Virginia, Texas and abroad to Puerto Rico, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Australia and New Zealand. He resigned from the navy in 1946 and went to help his family move to a small farm they had purchased in Ontario, Oregon. After he helped his mother and father get settled, he went north to Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. He graduated in 1949 with a degree in agricultural engineering and a minor in water irrigation.


Ivan began his career with Morrison Knudsen Company working as an office engineer and surveyor on Lucky Peak dam, or as he said they all called it back then “Leaky Peak” dam. During this time, he lived in the north end of Boise, Idaho next door to a beautiful young woman, Jane Hogg and her five-year-old son Ricky. Ivan and Jane were married in 1953 and with little Ricky began their first overseas adventure when Ivan four months after the wedding was sent as an engineer with Morrison Knudsen, the sponsor of a joint venture to build three bomber bases, and one fighter base as part of the cold war with Russia, to Casablanca, Morocco. He initially went over single status to Morocco leaving his wife Jane and Ricky living with her mother in Kentucky. His mother-in-law thought he waited too long to send for Jane and contacted her state Senator to pressure Morrison Knudsen to send Jane to Morocco. His boss in Morocco told him to “get Jane over to Morocco not today but yesterday”!


Ivan’s long career took the family to nine countries including Morocco, Iran, Libya, Thailand, Australia, Tunisia, Algeria, The Netherlands and China. Although Ivan retired officially from Morrison Knudsen in 1989, he really wanted to continue travelling and working. Morrison Knudsen realized his ongoing potential as a consultant and Ivan found he and Jane 1991 in China where Ivan was contracted by the Chinese to oversee a billion plus hydro-electric project being built by a Japanese Construction company. He and Jane always said this was one of their favorite assignments. They enjoyed the country, the culture and most of all the people. They became impressed with two young men and helped sponsor them both to attend higher education in the United States.


Ivan also had the opportunity to work as a consultant in Nepal, Kurdistan and Indonesia. He so enjoyed watching the daily lives of people in all the countries he lived that he would often get up early and take a walk appreciating the locals as they got up and started their daily routines, including exercising, cooking and washing clothes. He particularly loved the children and always took little gifts and candies to give away.


Ivan spent ten years as a consultant then finally retired with Jane in Boise, Idaho. They continued their travels vacationing at least once if not more times to countries including Mexico, Italy, France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Romania, Spain and more. They always made a point to make friends with local people wherever they lived and died with a very long Christmas card list.


Ivan is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Liza and Mike Carberry, his brother Leonard  Custer and his family, his brother Leroy Custer and his family, Ivan’s grandchildren, Colleen Johnson and her family, Jennifer Carberry and Christine Culver and her family, four great-grandchildren, one, Carter born two weeks before his death and many nephews and nieces. He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife Jane Custer, all his sisters, his son Richard Custer and grandson Richard Custer Jr.


The family wishes to thank the very special attention provided to Ivan during his last days by the wonderful staff at Keystone Hospice. The family has only great memories and thanks to the outstanding staff and administration at Meadow Lake, Touchmark, in Meridian. They loved “Mr. Ivan” and were thoughtful, caring of not just Ivan but all his family.


Family and friends are invited to attend a ‘Celebration of Life’ for Ivan at the Hillcrest Country Club on Thursday July 11th, 2019 from 4 pm – 6 pm. In lieu of flowers, Ivan asked for any remembrances to be sent to charities of your choice.


Ivan travelled many places, often with his beloved wife Jane, met many people along the way, was a wonderful father and respected man. At the end he said he loved every moment of his long life and would not have changed a thing!



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Celebration of Life

4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Thursday, July 11, 2019
Hillcrest Country Club
4610 W Hillcrest Drive
Boise, Idaho, United States