West Side Stories

A Tosa resident for almost 20 years, Karen is a mom and freelance writer, addicted to playing tennis. When not on the tennis court, she spends the fall and winter in the stands at Green Bay Packer and Marquette basketball games.

Karen is the author of “Grab a Bite,” a dining out column and the former community columnist for the Wauwatosa NOW newspaper.

Farewell Dad - Goodnight My Angel

Elder Care, Family, Personal, Reminiscing

On January 8th, my father passed away at the age of 83. It's pretty hard to summarize him, his life and our relationship. So, I'll just share my eulogy with you. Rest in peace Dad. 

"A while ago, someone asked me what was the best advice my father ever gave me. I thought a minute, and then said: “Quit your bellyaching.” Although he gave advice, most of it was by example. He was a soft-spoken man who had lots of interests and a LOT of opinions. But he believed, very strongly, that no matter what life dishes out, there was no need to whine about it.

I was blessed with a Dad, who, although quiet, was larger than life to me. He loved nothing better than sharing the next big thing, or, as he called it, “the hot set-up,” with people he loved. When he found a new hobby or interest, he was passionate about it.

If he liked you, he’d call you about random things. Sometimes it was the Grammy Awards, sometimes it was a book he had read, sometimes it was to ask you to Google something for him.

I particularly loved when I would get an envelope in the mail with his familiar boxy/artist handwriting. There would be something in there – an article, something torn out of a magazine – something that made him think of me. And that was it. No mushy note wishing me well. I knew he did, all the time.

When I was in college, at Marquette, Dad would call me up and tell me to come home and visit, and so I would. The minute I walked in the door he would leave. At first I was offended, but then I eventually realized that nothing made him happier than having his family, tucked safely at home. Until the day he died, he was reminding us to get on the road, get home and then check to make sure all the doors were locked.

To say Dad was a creature of habit would be an understatement. When he found something he liked, or that worked, he did it to death. He loved certain foods, consumed at certain times and in certain ways. For example, He once gave me a tutorial on how to “properly” eat Rice Krispies. My family might remember when Dad declared he was going on “The Soup Diet.”

Every day, when he wasn’t at work, he’d wear the same “uniform” – jeans, loafers, scratchy wool socks (that he ordered from Wisconsin) and a sweatshirt. He rocked sweatshirts like nobody’s business – winter, spring, fall and summer. They suited his personality – comfortable, functional and available in so many colors.

Dad and I were always the early risers in the family. On Saturday mornings, the two of us would often venture out to hardware and auto supply stores far and wide. If I was lucky, our errand runs would end with a trip to a tamale stand by O’Hare, or, better yet, Superdawg. Hands-down, those are some of my favorite memories.

Growing up in Edgebrook, I had one of the coolest Dads in the neighborhood. Our garage door was always open, and there was usually a racecar raised up on jacks. There would either be a TV blaring or classical music playing. On the workbench, you’d often find a tumbler full of Scotch and perhaps a box of Wheat Thins nearby. From time to time, he’d start up the race car, which would sometimes attract the neighborhood boys. I wish I could say it helped my dating life, but alas, it did not. And yet, I was the only girl in the neighborhood who could work the pits and knew the intracies of replacing SCCA points. (Trust me, it’s complicated.) He also taught me how to perfect my jump shot and throw an awesome football spiral.

Dad provided well for us and, although he wasn’t a religious man, he was incredibly proud that he sent all of his kids to Catholic grade schools and high schools, a promise made on the altar, the day he and Mom married, 61 years ago.

He took us on lots of vacations, but not like other families. Our vacations were generally within distance of the nearest road racing course – in Wisconsin, northern Illinois, Michigan, Indianapolis or Ohio. My siblings and I spent summers as racing brats, helping to prep the race car for another race. A good day was when the engine was running well and we could go back to the hotel early to go swimming.

As a commercial artist, Dad had the ability to draw anything and everything. Family dinners at restaurants often ended with Dad flipping over the placemat and using it to illustrate a corner on a racetrack, an engine part or, later, silly and sometimes gory cartoons for the Grandkids. His sense of humor ran dark and twisted. He was witty, but to quote Dad: “Witty, yes. But the man who wrote Snow Bound was Whittier.” Look it up. It’s an actual book. These are the pieces of “mental lumber” that I carry around, thanks to Dad.

I always looked upon Dad as my career mentor. Since we both worked in marketing and advertising, I could call him anytime and ask for advice, or, better yet, the name of a supplier who could help me out and make me look like I actually knew what I was doing. When things weren’t going well at work, I could always count on Dad to give me his opinion – sometimes whether I liked it or not. He taught me, through example, that I should always be the first person in the office and, if possible, the last one to leave.

In our family, Dad was legendary for having little patience. He loved being early for everything (a trait which I inherited) but that also meant he liked being the first person to leave. At family gatherings, you knew things were winding down when you’d hear Dad utter his first “Let’s go” to Mom. It’s not that he didn’t want to be there, but he was always thinking ahead.

On one of my Dad’s birthdays, when my sister was about 5 years old, Dad decided that he wanted his gift to be taking my sister to the circus. My mom and I happily went along for the trip. It was all great until Dad figured out how long a circus lasts. The day ended with us convincing Jodi that intermission was actually the end of the circus. Poor Jodi. I hope one day she gets to see an entire circus. Dad also wanted to leave my daughter’s high school musical at intermission but I forced him to stay since her big song was in the second act.

Growing up, Dad always told me that our last name, Glasener, meant Dumpling Maker in German. He said that our name had been changed from the word “Gloersen.” When CB radios were big, his handle was Dumpling Maker and mine was Baby Dumpling. Then one day I was in Germany on a business trip. Over dinner with clients, I told them about my maiden name, to which one of them exclaimed: “Oh! Your maiden name is Knudel!” They told me they were not familiar with the “Gloersen” word. When I returned home, I called Dad out on his fabrication and he calmly responded: “It was a good story though wasn’t it?”

A year or so ago, I took Dad for a doctor’s appointment. The nurse was asking him some standard questions and then said: "I'm required to ask, do you have any history of abusing drugs?" Dad responded with: "Nope....except for the heroin."

In nicer weather, Dad loved sitting in back of his house across the street from here, reading books. But Dad was very private. So he made a fence – a 6’ tall wooden fence on wheels, that he could roll out and sit behind, thereby giving him a cozy retreat. Although he ended up breaking it down and throwing it out, he often joked about wanting to set it on fire and roll it down the street in flames.

The older grandkids have great memories of Grandpa Ken as well. Maria remembers when she broke her wrist, on her cast Dad wrote ""okular einzelnen steeling" which, in German, means individual eye focusing or eyepiece adjustment. We have no idea why.

Dan remembers doing a school report on Dad inventing Scrubbing Bubbles or when Dad drew him a picture of one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – his favorite characters. It looked perfect, but he drew Leonardo with his arm lopped off, standing in a pool of his own blood.

Cullen remembered when Dad taught him archery in the backyard and created a target out of a cardboard box. Mom was mad because they kept shooting arrows at the fence around her garden.

In 2012, we were blessed to have Mom and Dad come to Wisconsin to live with us. Although it was an adjustment – probably more for Mom and Dad than anyone else - it was a time when Dad would share stories with us over dinner. He’d tell us about being in the rodeo as a teenager, the various horses he owned, being in the Army, hitching a ride with a newly married Mexican bride and groom and closing the car door on the wedding gown. I once asked Dad why he was stationed in Germany during the Korean war, to which he replied: "I'm no dummy. They were shooting people in Korea."

After these dinners at our house, while Dad was bargaining for seconds of one of Maria’s decadent desserts, Mom and I would be doing dishes and she’d turn to me and say: “That’s why I married him – because he was so interesting!”

I agree, Mom. Dad was a true renaissance man. He discovered Elvis Costello and Evita before they became pop culture standards. Although he never attended traditional college, he never stopped educating himself.

The fact that Dad was such an amazing father, husband and grandpa, despite the fact that his own father died when Dad was only five makes me even more proud of him. Mom recently told me that Dad wanted he and Mom to renew their wedding vows, but they never got around to it. Mom, I’m going to say that you renewed your vows every time you sat next to Dad’s bedside. It was the perfect demonstration of “for better for worse, in sickness and in health.” Thank you for that.

And thanks Dad, for everything."

At the end of the service, our daughter sang this song, accompanied by our son. It was the perfect send-off. 


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