Michael (Mike) John Ilsemann, 80, passed away on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, in Virginia Beach, where he had been residing since January 2011. He was a beloved father, grandfather and friend who leaves behind a legacy of faith, scholarship, service and love of family.
Mike was born on Oct. 13, 1935, in Tsingtao, China, where his father was stationed as an officer in the U.S. Navy. He was the second of four children of Frederick and Eleanor Ilsemann. The family lived in China, the Philippines, Hawaii and Guam before settling stateside in Philadelphia. A high-performing student and competitive swimmer with a bit of a “wild streak,” Mike loved and admired his siblings (Frederick, Eleanor and Mary), whom he considered to be the “best” and “brightest” people he ever knew.
Continuing the family tradition of military service, Mike graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1957, launching a 21-year career with the Army. He retired in 1978 as a lieutenant colonel, after receiving numerous military honors, most notably: Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and Purple Heart, earned for his combat and leadership roles in Vietnam. His second career was as a strategic planning executive with SAIC, a large defense contractor in northern Virginia, where he lived for 40 years. He also launched several small business ventures in his later years.
Throughout his life, Mike studied and took guidance from the teachings of his Roman Catholic faith. He prayed, studied and reflected daily, always striving for self-improvement. He pursued scholarly studies in theology, philosophy, education and leadership theory. Influenced by the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas, Mike dedicated years of independent study to the scholar’s work on moral and intellectual virtues. Many who knew Mike were inspired by his clarity, wisdom and conviction, even when they held different beliefs. Affectionately called “Professor Mike” by some, he will be remembered for his keen intellect and disciplined deliberation.
Service was a hallmark of Mike’s life. He honorably served his country as a soldier, and he served his fellow man through charitable work with the Knights of Columbus and as a longtime coach and sponsor to others in pursuit of self-improvement. An avid traveler, he enjoyed many trips throughout Asia, Europe and North America. An avid sports fan, he enthusiastically followed ice hockey and baseball. In his later years, despite the health challenges of cardiovascular and heart disease, Mike remained independent, self-directed and fully engaged, which he and his family considered a great blessing.
Above all, Mike loved and prioritized his children (Michael Ilsemann of Tampa, Kristen Fenty of Virginia Beach and Kathryn Bower of Alexandria, and grandchildren (Jamie, 18; Nicholas, 15; Grace, 15; and Lauren, 10). His family cherishes many fond memories, especially those of “Grandfather” enjoying life on the Chesapeake Bay, where he found peace and solace from his daily view of sunsets and the reflection of the moon on the water. Just two weeks before passing, Mike fulfilled a longtime wish of hosting all his children and grandchildren for a week together in Cancun, one of his favorite travel destinations – a generous gift of love before his final journey.
A funeral mass will be held at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Alexandria, Va. at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016. A burial with full military honors will take place at a future date at Arlington National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the American Heart Association by clicking here.