Kenneth Schonebaum


Kenneth Schonebaum, 97, of Mitchell, SD, died Thursday, September 24, 2020 at Avera Brady Health and Rehab in Mitchell. Funeral services will be 10:30 AM Wednesday, September 30, 2020 at Bittner Funeral Chapel. Burial will be in Graceland Cemetery in Mitchell. A visitation will be from 5-7:00 PM on Tuesday at Bittner Funeral Chapel.

Kenneth Gene Schonebaum was born January 25, 1923 at the hospital in Lynch, NE, and came home to the family farm near Bonesteel, SD. His folks were August M. and Ella M. (Woerpel) Schonebaum. He was baptized and confirmed in the Congregational Church in Fairfax.

He attended Pleasant Valley Rural School and then Bonesteel High School, graduating in 1941. He attended Mitchell Business College during the winter months to receive his degree in Business Administration.

He was a 4H club member for 10 years and a 4H club leader for 2 years. He and his brother Walter showed 4H Livestock at the South Dakota State Fair, and with their father showed livestock in the open class many years.

In 1948 Ken met the love of his life, and on October 21, 1948 he and Mary Joyce McManus of Fulton were married at the Congregational Church in Mitchell. They made their home in Mitchell, and in time their family consisted of Kyna Joy, Pamela Gaye, and Mark Kenneth.

Ken was involved in farming and raising Purebred Sheep and Purebred Hereford cattle with his father and rother, and even only part time until finally selling his interest in 2009.

He did accounting with an insurance company and an auto dealership before joining Ross Accounting in 1949. In 1951 he started his own carpet and upholstery cleaning business as he remained part time with Ross Accounting. In all, Ken spent 62 years as a Franchisee of Duraclean International whose special Patented Cleaning Services were recommended around the world by carpet and furniture manufacturers and retailers. He did carpet inspections for carpet manufacturers in a 3 state area for 25 years. He also helped train new men in the business over a 4 state area. He retired at age 90.

Music always took Ken’s first attention. The only formal music lessons Ken had were violin lessons with a German man in Lynch, NE who only spoke German. His mother would drive him down there and translate for them. His mother would accompany him on the piano. They did play in church. His career with the saxophone started in 1937 when his father August (Gus) traded a heifer to the neighbor for a saxophone. Ken then became a member of the Bonesteel High School’s first band.

His first public performance (other than playing with the HS Band or at his church) was at a church with his brother Walter and 3 friends.

During his junior year in high school he was picked to represent Bonesteel High School in the State Music contest. The judge gave him a superior rating but criticized that he was playing like Guy Lambardo. Of course Ken took that as a complement.

As a junior in high school he began playing for dances with 5 classmates. He used sheet music to arrange music for the various instruments. He played the trumpet, trombone, clarinet or drums if one was needed for the band. After high school, he bought a car so they could travel out several miles to play for dances on Saturday nights. He always had a dance band consisting of 6 high school students from Bonesteel and Fairfax; one of them being his cousin Harlan Woerpel.

After graduation, he was in the Bonesteel area for a couple years. While his high school band teacher went off to war Ken kept the HS Band going. He taught for a couple years. Later, he also substituted for the Band Director at Fulton High School.

During College he became acquainted with Big Band Music, and for several years played in a 10 piece traveling orchestra that returned to home base each morning. He could sleep on the bus, and be able to work during the day.

When the Big Bands became out of date Ken played with 3 to 6 piece dance bands. Then in 1993 Ken organized the Mitchell Big Band, a 13 piece Orchestra with all local musicians that evolved into the CJ RusKen Orchestra that played within a radius of 120 miles.

Ken was a member of the American Federation of Musicians for 58 years. He was the treasurer for many of those years. Ken was a member of his church choir from high school days at the Fairfax Congregational Church then into many years at the Mitchell Congregational UCC. He was also a member of the Mitchell Barbershop Chorus for 5 years; until arthritis wouldn’t allow him to climb on stage and stand. He was also a member of the Mitchell Municipal Band for 63 years under the direction of 3 different Band Directors.

A few years after the death of his wife he got reacquainted with a college classmate, Cleopha Schempf Dirks from Sioux Falls. For several years he would travel back and forth to Sioux Falls on the weekends so they could spend time together enjoying each other’s company until her death in 2017.

He leaves behind his daughters, Kyna (Dale) Letcher and Pamela (Gerald) Jonason of Mitchell; son, Mark (Terry) Schonebaum of Longmont, CO; grandchildren, Kimberly (Lee) Bruguier, Jennifer (John) Dorn, Timothy Letcher, Jeffrey Letcher, Matthew Schonebaum, Sarah Merriman, and Amanda (Chuck) Hatman; 4 great-grandchildren, Madelyn and Amelia Bruguier, and John and Jose Dorn; sister, Donna (Alvin) Bendig; and 2 sisters-in-law, Phyllis Schonebaum and Carol McManus.

ALS claimed the life of his wife Mary Joyce in 1993. Ken is also preceded in death by his parents; brother, Walter; sister-in-law and brothers-in-law, Arthur and Frances Meinen, Chet McManus, and Patrick McManus.

He’s the original “KENNY G”

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