Stephan Marius Bienz, age 56, of Saint Peters, Missouri passed away on Saturday, January 9, 2021. He was born in South Lake Tahoe, California on August 18, 1964 to Joseph and Rita Bienz (nee Straub).
Stephan is survived by his wife of 26-years, Kathleen (Kathy) Bienz; mother, Rita Bienz; brother, Thomas (Karen) Bienz; his nieces and nephew, Sierra Bienz, Celeste Bienz and Bryce Bienz. He will be deeply missed by many other family members and dear friends.
He was preceded in death by his father, Joseph Marius Bienz.
Stephan loved all the outdoor adventures Lake Tahoe had to offer, especially downhill skiing and sailing. He was a skilled “Black Diamond” skier and told stories of racing with Olympians who trained there and taking adventurous excursions off the marked expert runs - with the occasional excitement of outrunning the Ski Patrol!
Stephan and his brother loved sailing the family’s 23-foot sailboat when the winds were fiercest - and all other boats had long left the lake. He liked the boat at max heel with water washing up over the deck, and even sailing in an early- or late-season snowstorm and getting pelted by the snow.
At age 9 Stephan entered the cockpit of a large jet and from that moment knew he would be an airline pilot. He achieved his Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from Embry-Riddle University. He saw aviation providing the flexibility to support his dream of sailing the globe (over several years with the boat left at successive ports) and by flying to/from it after scheduling blocks of time off based on his seniority.
He worked hard for many years at multiple flying jobs in his pursuit of flying a widebody jet. He started as a flight instructor where he met Kathy who was working on her private license (and where he safely talked down another student pilot who got trapped above the clouds and was panicking).
He flew bank/financial cargo in small turboprops across California and Nevada (night flights with high-pressure deadlines). He flew cargo in C-130s in Alaska (in near whiteout and freezing conditions). He flew the Fire Boss who directed maneuvers of fire-fighter planes during massive California and Arizona wildfires (low-level flights in smoky, mountainous terrain).
He flew commuter jets for TWA Express (with turbulent flights from the typical strong seasonal storms that follow flight routes, which also make alternate airports not viable). One of his most memorable stories was about fighting turbulent weather that was so rough the instruments were a blur. Upon landing the passengers erupted in clapping and cheers and when departing thanked him for getting them down safely…and the cleaning staff later reported every single barf bag had to be resupplied.
He finally made the major airlines and flew the L-1011 (Lockheed’s version of the Boeing 747) for America Trans Air (ATA)! ATA did both regularly scheduled and charter business. Stephan flew domestic scheduled routes, international vacation charters, and international military charters. In the latter, for the landings they would turn off all interior/exterior lights and spiral steeply down at night to make a fast landing at undisclosed locations, all to reduce chances of being fired upon...not easy to do in a huge jet!
After 20+ years of hard work to finally attain his dream, he had to give up his aviation career due to health issues. Stephan then turned to his love of sailing when he and Kathy purchased a 30-foot fixer-upper sailboat in Florida. It had a great history of crossing the Atlantic four times with an earlier owner, however the last owner did some odd things to it, and Stephan worked hard to refurbish it with the dream of sailing a few years and then trading up to a larger boat for the crossing the oceans.
It was a long, hard and slow undertaking; however they had many adventures as they traversed the big St. John’s River from Green Cove Springs up to Jacksonville (where the tides can be ferociously fast!), the Intracoastal waterway down to southern Florida and headed out to sea for the Bahamas. Unfortunately, it was not to be because of continuing boat issues, however the return to home port took them out to sea sailing strongly up the coast of Florida.
To further open his horizons for being on the water, Stephan studied for his US Coast Guard Merchant Mariner License - which was issued on August 19, 2020 - what a wonderful belated birthday present! Due to when he was ready for the final tests and with COVID shutting down testing facilities, he had to take AND PASS 6 tests in one day (or else wait several months). He passed all 6 and the testing organization had never seen that done before! He could now captain commercial water vessels by being granted: 1) Master of Near-coastal vessels under 25 tons; 2) Master of Inland waters vessels under 50 tons; 3) Mate of Near-coastal vessels under 50 tons.
He achieved captain credentials for both Aviation and Marine operations - he was truly skilled in activities that simultaneously engaged all 3 spatial dimensions!
Stephan and Kathy’s main recreation here in Missouri for most of their years was sport bike riding where he clocked about 70,000 miles (across several bikes) by riding one day on virtually every weekend from Spring through Fall on the backroads of Missouri and Arkansas, and several times in the Deal’s Gap area in Tennessee and North Carolina. They also enjoyed doing several motorcycle track days at racetracks in multiple states.
While they had no children, Stephan and Kathy had pets their entire 32 years together and loved like children their two German Shepherds (deceased), miniature beagle (deceased) he rescued in Weldon Springs during a sub-freezing winter hike, and their present Schipperke (along with all the pets his parents and brother’s family has had over his lifetime).
Registration will be required to attend one of the in-person memorial services via: HTTP://STEPHAN.GATEWAYCITYCHURCH.INFO
Memorial services will take place on Saturday, January 16, 2021 at Gateway City Church, 9330 Stansberry Ave, St. Louis, MO 63134. The first service is between 10:00 am and 11:30 am, and the second service between 2:00 pm and 3:30 pm. For the safety of the Bienz family and their guests, temperatures will be taken at the door, masks are required, along with social distancing.
A private burial service will take place at Mt Zion Cemetery in O'Fallon, MO on Sunday, January 17, 2021.
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