To his wife he was “Honey,” to me and my sisters he was always “Dad,” and to his grandchildren “Papa.” But to his friends and family, he was always “Dick.” And Dick was someone who was quite a character long before his children, or even his wife, came into his life.
Growing up poor on a farm in Southern Minnesota would probably not be most people’s definition of riches. But Dick Koenecke started off with the wealth of a loving mother and father, and eleven brothers and sisters to make for an ideal childhood. They did not have running water, but that allowed Dick to reach a stick under the two-hole privy in the back yard to tickle his sisters when they least expected it. They did not have electricity for a dryer, but that allowed Dick to shoot holes in his sisters’ underwear hanging on the line. He claimed he was aiming for the clothes pins. Come to think of it, maybe his sisters’ childhood wasn’t all that idyllic after all. But his was.
He always said that he did not know what he wanted to do when he finished high school That is why he went into the Army after graduating and volunteered for Korea to qualify for the G.I. Bill. Of course, as soon as he arrived there he found the law had changed, and had not needed to go overseas after all. But, as always, he made the best of it: to hear him tell it he spent a quiet couple of years there operating a radio. But Dick never liked to talk much about himself, and when he did he liked to pretend like he was nothing special. He actually served with honor and distinction, when he wasn’t playing poker with his pals. He said they had nothing else to do with their pay, so he got pretty good. In fact, he once sent his mother back some $1,800 of winnings, which was a fair chunk of money in 1952, leading her to believe he was over there robbing banks. When his term was over, he said he knew pretty much what he wanted to do with his life.
So Dick enrolled in Gustavus Adolphus University in St. Peter, where he worked his way through school both as a bartender and as an electrician’s assistant. So he had keys to all the buildings. He knew every shortcut there was, except he did not know the schedules all that well. One day, off on a lightbulb replacing mission, he decided to cut through the girls’ locker room. Trouble was, he picked the wrong (or right) time: the room was full of naked coeds right in the middle of changing their clothes. Most other fellows would hide their eyes and beat a hasty retreat. Not Dick: he simply said “Close your eyes, girls, I’m coming through!” and went right on through. For months afterwards whenever he walked into the cafeteria he could tell which girls were in the locker room that day, just by counting the red faces.
But the prettiest girl in St. Peter was not on campus; she was a young lady named Mary Ann Bravo who actually went to the University of Minnesota. Her friends told Mary Ann about this “Adonis” who all the girls were crazy for. Typically, Dick had no idea; he was just getting his degree and enjoying spending time with his fraternity and veteran buddies. But when they met, in 1954, within a few months Mary Ann knew she would be spending the rest of her life with him. He even gave her a ring -- if cutting a bit of pipe off and putting it on her finger counts as a ring. But he kept on with his education. He knew he had a mind for figures, and a mind for logic, and he wanted to help people.
So he got a job with Professional Management, Midwest, married the woman he loved, and started on his career as trusted advisor and loving husband. Probably before he was ready, their first child came along, and he turned into Daddy, too. Betsy, and then the twins Katie and David, followed shortly after that. David only lived for one day. When they lost their son, that was the first time Mary Ann had ever seen him cry. Dick’s family was finally complete in 1970, when his youngest daughter showed up: she started off as “P.J.,” was later “Fred,” and finally just “Trish.” Sometimes we wondered if we had real names: I was “Charlie Brown” or “C.B.,” Katie was “Kat-cha,” and Betsy was “Peanuts.”
Dick had to travel some around central Minnesota, seeing clients in their offices. But he always was home for the weekends: that, and in fact all the time he was home, was the time for his family. The highlight of every day was when our Dad came home. We could hear him whistling his way up the walk. He was a great whistler, and loved tunes by Herb Alpert, Glenn Miller, and Al Hirt. There are tunes I have whistled since I was a kid that I only know because my Dad whistled them. When he came in the door, he was assaulted by a pack of children who knew the greatest man in the world happened to be their father. When coming back from a trip, he would say “check my pockets!” He always remembered something for his kids, no matter where he went.
We always had the most fun Dad anyone knew. He was never too busy for us: he would give his daughters rides on his shoes when he came home. He would chase us around the house, pretending to be a monster.
And Dad was strong. Dad took care of us and kept us safe. When you were in Dad’s lap nothing could ever hurt you. I remember sitting in his lap when I was very small. He was asleep, and I decided to change my breathing so that when he breathed in, I would breathe in, and when he breathed out, I would too. I wanted to do everything just like my Dad. My sisters adored him, as did his wife, who he often said was the best mother he could possibly have chosen.
He always had time for us: to show us things, to play catch, and particularly to play basketball. We did not know then that he had played some pretty high level basketball with the Comets, and even played against the Minneapolis Lakers one game. We just knew he could sink that two-handed set shot from anywhere.
Dick’s humor was best described as “playful.” He never had a bad word to say about anyone; but he liked playing with words, his friends, his wife, and his kids. Once he was just about to go off on a business trip to Las Vegas, and my friend Nick and I were playing pool in the basement. Nick was lining up an easy shot. Dad walked in to the room, dropped a $100 bill on the table, and said “Bet you can’t make that shot.” Of course Nick, being twelve years old, got all flustered and missed it by a mile.
In 1972 we moved all the way to Texas, where Dick had to start a new practice from scratch. Times were hard, and we had left all our friends behind, but Dick never lost hope, and always knew it would turn out for the best. And it did. As his children grew older, we learned more about the depth and integrity of Dick Koenecke. We knew that for any problem, if we just considered what Dad would do, that would be the right thing. Not only that, we knew that, for any person, we thought how Dad would treat him. And that would be the right way. Dick Koenecke was comfortable in any situation, from ordering wine at the fanciest restaurant in town to chewing the fat with guys working construction. Dick Koenecke was the epitome of class, and showed us what a man should be. When we grew up, he helped us to know what to look for in a spouse.
Dick and Mary Ann always loved entertaining, and having their friends over to their home. This really showed when their children got older, and all their friends wanted to hang out at their house. That was because Dick Koenecke was one of those rare people who made anyone feel welcome, comfortable, and at home the instant they set foot in his house. So Mom and Dad rarely needed to wonder where we were: because it was usually out back by the pool.
We used to play poker from time to time. Dick did not often lose. But when he did, you could ask him “So what’ve you got?” and he would reply “What the little bird left on the fencepost.” Or he would sometimes say, “I’ve got a hand like a foot!” Or if it were more than a couple of hands, “Sell the toilet, Mother, I’m losing my ass!”
When his children started having their own children, Dick was delighted to become “Papa,” who loved his grandkids more than anything in the world. He loved teaching them to play cards; it was a rite of passage when one of them finally beat Papa in a game of cribbage. But what he loved most were the smallest ones: Dick was his happiest and most content when holding a baby. They all knew what we knew as children: Papa loved them. Papa would protect them and keep them safe.
A character once died in a book, and the narrator
described him as “the best and wisest man I have ever
Koenecke was real, and he was the best and wisest man I have ever
known. Whenever I got too sad or discouraged, he would put his arm
around my shoulders and say “Come on, pal.” I can hear him
telling me, and all his family and friends, not to be sad, but to
celebrate his life. So we will try. But Lord, we will miss him so.
-- Mike Koenecke
Funeral, his eldest grandchild, Rose McKane, who is 12, said the
following. Her mother, Katie, claims Rose gets her spelling from
HI my name is Rosie McKane, my Papa was and still
is very important to me for many reasons. he was my best friend, my
grandfather, and just one of the best people that I know. One of
my clearest memories of him are the many times when I would bring
little plastic out and he would play with me. he would always say the
wrong noises for the wrong animals. Like one time I had a plastic toy
dog that he would always play with and instead of making the dog
noise he wound make him sound like a cat, it would always make me kind
of frustrated but it made me laugh every time. That was only one of my
memories of my Papa. He was the best guy you would ever meet. he is one
of a kind. When ever I would talk in public about him I would refer to
him as my “grandfather” or “Grandpa” or
something like that, but now i
will always refer to him as my one and only Papa no one elses. In
english I am writing about the sadest thing i ever saw, and at the end
my lesson learned was that even though you might think you dislike your
family sometimes, I bet you would couldn’t imagine what it would
like if you lost them. Well sadley enough that now I know how that
feels, but it depends on the indevidual, because many people I know
have only one grandma or grandpa, but I had two and I am very lucky.
Even though my other grandparents died when i was very young i still
have my Nonna and Papa. I don’t think that anybody else could
such great grandparents like i did and do. I think that my Nonna and
Papa are great exzamples because, they rarely yelled at each other,
they loved having people over, they loved all of us, and they just put
other people before themselves. i love y’all for that. Thankyou
giving me such a great expirience that will always stay with me.
And here is what Cary Venden, Dick’s Eldest In-Law, wanted to say:
I came to this family about 23 years ago when I
started dating Betsy. Ever since then I have been included literally as
part of the family. When I hear from other people throughout my life
speak of their in-laws in manners less than complimentary, I can
honestly say that I personally cannot relate to what they are talking
about. The man we honor here today is as generous, welcoming and kind
hearted as they come. The very definition of these words should include
the name Dick Koenecke. You know when you meet him that his sincerity
of welcoming you isn’t something he picked up over the years; it
his very soul. He was one of the most loved and respected men I have
ever known or heard of. I have never heard a single word other than
praise spoken about him.
He also is a towering rock of stability to everyone in the family, who worked with him, who knew him as a friend, or even just as an acquaintance. He was always there for any advice you might need, any kind of help that might be required, any issue that needed to be resolved. Incredibly intelligent, well rounded and superbly aware of the personalities he interacted with, he simply was one whom everyone else looked at as having it all together. He loved to laugh and have fun, and this quickly enabled everyone around him to enjoy themselves as well. You couldn’t help it. It was contagious. On top of all of this he was humble in his actions and opinions and placed all others ahead of himself.
Most of all though; this man loved his family. You could just see it. I would not ever have to tell you in words about this love for you to know about it, it was so obvious that you couldn’t possibly miss it. Nothing else meant anything to him, unless it was directly involved in the happiness and caring of his family members, and that included me in every respect. I completely felt like another son of his and Mary Ann. Having been blessed already with terrific parents of my own, I was blessed again by the great fortune of being a part of this man’s life, the one we all know as Poppa. I will sorely miss this great American, Father, and friend.