Here's to Charlie

Dad passed away unexpectedly yesterday. He was a thoughtful, funny, healthy, and active 97 years young. We loved him so much. The last thing he said on the phone that evening to Jeff was that he was so incredibly lucky to have us kids. He always said that he was damn lucky.

We were the lucky ones. And fortunately, we let each other know every day. Dad never went a day without talking to his kids. I called him every morning and night, and usually a few times times during the day to check in and laugh and love.

We weren't done with him yet. We figured he'd make it well into his 100s.



When he didn't answer my usual 8:30 am call, I called Courtney and Susie. They both arrived 40 minutes later and together found him, already gone, in his bedroom. In the kitchen, a bucket of fresh-cut potatoes and scraps for the chickens was prepped to take to the farm. He left his truck running in the garage overnight and carbon monoxide seeped into his bathroom next to his bedroom. 

This is so so so hard. My brain can't make sense of it yet. 

I don't know who I'm going to call several times a day when I can't call him. My siblings have the same problem. Hopefully we'll have more calls with each other.

If you don't have a carbon monoxide detector, get one.

Dad is at peace now, and we're the ones who need to work through it and come to accept it. Dad would want us to remember and smile about our times together. Over the years, I've written down a few of the funny things he's said that made us bend over in laughter. Some samples are below, along with his obituary and an autobiography that I edited.

Dad's Jokes and Sayings


Dad was such a quick wit. He loved to tease me about my slow driving. Sometimes I'd drive slow just so he'd come up with more one-liners. When I was driving us back to our condo in Jackson Hole after a short trip to Yellowstone,  he'd pipe up with a new line every minute or so. Our sides ached after the drive!


"Jeff, we don't have to worry about hitting elk, we have to worry about elk hitting us."
"Jeff, is that the sun coming up in the east?"
"Jeff, are we gonna catch our plane?"
"Jeff, am I gonna make the Texas Tech game?"
"Jeff, I'd go to sleep but I only need 8 hours."
"Jeff, see that guy we're catching up to? He's parked."
"Jeff, let me out so I can run along side."
"Jeff, that 55 sign, that's not the temperature."
"Jeff, buffalo run at 35 mph. We could saddle one up and ride."

Later, Jeff and Dad and I are driving around in the country. Dad says, "If Patti drives us up to Mt. Rushmore this summer, there's a good possibility by the time we get there Obama's head will be there. He'll be out of office, perhaps retired in Chicago for a while... We can see all 5 of them."

A couple years ago, Dad went to the doctor after cracking a rib from a fall on the ice. As a young nurse walks him across the street to get an x-ray, holding his arm tightly because it’s icy, Dad turns to her and says, “We should do this more often”.


June 2016, after gay marriage was legalized, and Obama gave his Charleston Eulogy, Dad says "You haven't heard the best of it. He SANG. I love that little motherfucker. And I'm not gay, either."

He went to the fitness center most weekdays to walk or ride the exercise bike -- and loved that there was always lots of space. So he wrote this "Ode to the Fitness Center":
It’s cool and beautiful
And I really love the place
I get to walk around
Without having to elbow anyone out of the way
And it’s only 75 cents a day
Thank you for staying away

And one of my favorites: Dad's answer when I asked him back in 2016 for his 3 wishes for himself, someone else, and the world:
For myself: Keep my health as good as possible.
For family: Health and happiness for my family.
For the world: I’d like to see a world where they melt all guns. Charge your enemy with pillows, and bags and bags of marshmallows.


Obituary


Charles Edward “Charlie” Schank, 97, of Central City, died at his home on Thursday, March 4. A private graveside service was held Wednesday, March 10, with family friend Cliff Mesner officiating. A service to celebrate Charlie’s life will be announced at a later date. Condolences may be sent to the family at www.soltwagnerfuneral.com

Charlie was born in Clarks on October 25, 1923 to Raymond Schank and Esther Nelson. One of his early jobs was feeding and watering the chickens, which was part of his folks' income. He began trapping on his own at twelve, and his big year in trapping was in 1947 when he trapped enough minks to buy a yellow convertible. It was no surprise that in his mid 20s, while he was selling insurance in Iowa and saw rows of pens in a yard, he stopped, learned that it was a mink ranch, and talked to rancher all day. He could hardly sleep because he knew that was what he wanted to do the rest of his life.

Shortly after that, he met Lois in Omaha, where they often danced to big bands. Charlie and Lois married on September 6, 1951. Together, they moved back to Central City, where he built his first line of pens on his father’s farm. Charlie and Lois had four children together: Jeff Schank, Suzanne Schank, Sandra Schank, and Patricia Schank. Over the next 50 years, Charlie built two mink ranches and purchased other farms to raise cattle and crops. When he and Lois divorced after 20 years, he gave his brother Jim his mink ranch and moved to Lincoln. There he bought and rented several houses, and met Barbara at a dance; they were married for 4 years. He then started a second mink ranch near Lincoln, and met Gwen at a dance; they were married for 5 years. Charlie then sold his ranch in Lincoln and returned to Central City where he planned to retire and fish. Instead, when his brother Jim needed help, he ended up taking over the mink ranch again, running it until he sort of retired in 2004. To keep busy, he raised chickens, trapped moles for neighbors, bought houses in Grand Island to rent out, and always planned to start another mink ranch. He will be remembered for his quick wit and concern for others. 

Charlie is survived by his four children, granddaughter Chelsey Cameron, and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by wives Lois and Barbara, his parents, and his two brothers, Raymond Schank, Jr. and James Schank.

A Swedish Family History: Asa to Lone Tree

Our cousin Roger Mattson is finishing up a book about our family history. The book will be published soon, hopefully in time for the celebration of Dad's life. I interviewed Dad for the book, and he and I are secondary authors together. I wish he would have lived to see it. From the back cover:

"This is a family history of Swedish immigrants to the United States in the mid 19th century. It chronicles their lives in Nebraska where they settled and the lives of the families they left behind. They farmed the land, weathered changing and challenging times, and nurtured their progeny. A century and a half after the first arrivals of these families in America, some of their descendants collaborated in writing this book. Family members on both sides of the Atlantic provided stories and facts based on historical records, family legends, and genealogical research.


Charlie also wrote his own autobiography a few years ago at my prompting; that is available below. So Dad's interesting history will live on in his and our family stories.


Autobiography - by Charlie


(This personal history was written by Charlie, with some edits and additions by Patti.)


I was born west of Clarks Nebr. On October 25, 1923 to Raymond Schank and Esther Nelson. I don't remember much until I was 7 or eight years old. Life was tough in the early thirties, everything dried up by the middle of July and it was hot. I remember we slept outside because the house was too hot.

One of my early jobs was feeding and watering the chickens. Part of the income my folks had was from selling eggs and chickens. We went to Central City on Saturdays with the eggs and chickens, then to the grocery store for food, etc. If you sold 15 dollars worth that was about it.

Around 1940 my dad put in the first irrigation well that changed everything because you could raise some corn after that. We picked the corn by hand and scooped it in a crib after you came in. I remember my brother Raymond was good at that job and after doing ours he helped the neighbors.


     

Charlie (left) and brother Ray Jr.                                    Charlie's high school photo


In the wintertime my dad and I would set traps for mostly skunks and once in a while a badger. We set traps around building but mostly up on a big hill north of the house. Skunks brought from two to three dollars each, which at that time was a lot of money.


I began trapping on my own at about twelve or so. I started around Nov 15 each year and trapped until the snows came and it got too cold. I caught my first mink at that age; it was west of the house on the Metzel farm. I remember it will as I ran my traps early in the morning before school started. On that day when I saw what I had, I ran all the way home excited as I could be.


I got better and better at catching mink, each year I would catch more and more. Then the big year came in 1947 I had bought an old model T pickup truck and made my trap line over 60 miles long. I set traps under ridges along Prairie Creek from Archer to Silver Creek. I started early in the morning and went until late at night.


The one year of 1947 I caught a total of 60 mink. One trap caught a mink every night for a week. Also I caught several coon and at least 50 muskrat. When the weather began to get bad in Dec. of that year I decided to sell my catch. I called a man by the name of Jackobson in St. Paul and he came to see me the next day. My catch was around $1500, which was a lot of money in those days.


After trapping season I decided I needed a car so I went to Grand Island and bought a new 1948 Buick Convertible for $2400. I financed 800 and paid for the rest. This car was yellow and a real beute to see.


Shortly after that I got a job on a rock crew with the Union Pacific railroad. I was stationed in Valley, Neb. and worked between Omaha and Grand Island. I only weighed 140 lbs and it was hard work, but I worked there for almost 4 months before I had a chance to be a timekeeper, which I gladly took.


Most of the people hired for this rock crew were Indians out of the southwest U.S.A. They were good workers until they got drunk, then you better watch out. I had a good friend from Central City named Dwain Mantkes who worked with me for several months and we had some good times together. He later quit and went to work for Conoco.


Charlie (front right) at a big-band dance at Peony Park with Lois (our mom, 2nd from right), and roommate (and Camel cigarette salesman) Donald "Jack" Armstrong (far left) in Omaha.


Later in 1949 I moved to Omaha with another friend named Don Hayes from Clarks. I sold insurance for a short time and then got a job selling roofing and siding in South Omaha. I worked eastern Nebr. and western Iowa. I worked at that business about a year when I had a strange thing happened to me. I was working in Iowa when I drove in a man's yard that had several rows of pens by his house. I asked him what was there and he told me mink. My jaw dropped and I talked to him almost all that day before driving back to Omaha.


I could hardly sleep that night because I knew that was what I wanted to do the rest of my life. Shortly after that I met my wife-to-be Lois Spellman. I only stayed in Omaha a short time longer and then I moved back to Central City and made my plans to raise mink.


I didn't have much money so I caught 4 wild mink and put them in pens I bought from Gerald Mattson my cousin. That was in March and low and behold in April one of them had 4 kids and I was off to the races.


I found out about another man with mink in St. Paul named Ernie Peterson and we soon became good friends. I was at his place at least 3 or 4 times a week talking about raising mink. He helped me a great deal with pens and a few more mink. By 1951 I had about 20 mink and was learning a lot day by day.


I worked for Lyle Ferris for 2 years off and on. The pay went up to $1 per hour so it was tough times.


I got married on Sept 6, 1951 to Lois and we got an apartment in one of Eddie Saylor's houses for several years. It was later I was grinding rabbits and got my finger taken off. The doctors were not as good in those days and I got infection and it took several months to get well. 


Slowly each year for 3 or 4 years I bought more and saved more until in about 1955 I had over 100 females and was running out of space. At that time I made a deal with Raymond and started building my first mink sheds across the road. My son Jeff and daughters Sandy and Susie were born in these years.


I doubled the herd until in 1962 I had 1200 females and 8 or 19 new sheds. About this time I needed a hired man so I hired Leo Brandenberg.


Charlie at the mink ranch in Archer.


I finally had to borrow some money from Cicel Tooley in Central City, around 60 thousand I believe. I remember he was somewhat reluctant but my dad had a good reputation and so he said O.K. In the spring of 1963 I sold 5000 pelts for over $100,000 and paid off my loan to Mr. Tooley, and he smiled and said "wow." That was a lot of money in those days.


A farm was selling called the Bader farm, east of the mink ranch. I went to the sale and bought it for $43,000. It had 3 wells and was a good farm. There was a family living on the farm named Christensen and they stayed a year or so and left.


Then I bought the Alfred Kohtz farm in 1963. His son Lowell and I had been friends for years. Lowell came by one night and said it was for sale. I bought it next day, 80 acres and 10 bred sows for $40,000. The house was real small. The first thing we did was get John Sanderson to build two bedrooms on the west end. We moved in and some months later my daughter Patti was born.


A few years later my neighbor Earl Cavender came by and asked if I wanted to buy his place. He wanted $40,000 for almost 100 acres. First I said I'll think about it. He came back later and said Elsmer Kuskie wants it but I think you should have it, it wraps around your farm. I said OK! Good land brought about $400 an acre in those days. Shortly after that I bought 160 acres pasture west of Fullerton that I put cattle on in the summer to eat the grass.


Mink prices stayed low in the sixties but we continued to work. Jackrabbits were a big part of the minks diet. One year we bought and processed 25,000. I had a new freezer built in the mid 60's and we froze them all winter long, sending the rabbit pelts to New York all in one big load.


Some of the rabbits came from Wyoming where I had a buyer. I sent a truck out at least two times for loads. The town I worked out of was called Douglas. It was the same place a year later they caught Charles Starkweather.


"Best Mink of Show" in Fur News 1965. Charlie and Lois are top left.


Mink shows were lots of fun after a busy summer of work. The big one was in Sioux City, Iowa and it was held the middle of November each year. I started taking mink there about 1962 and continued till 1970. There would be around 600 mink there and I would take about 10. I usually would win 4 or 5 trophies each year. I always won the sapphire class, especially the B.O.S. sapphire.


Nebraska started having mink shows at that time, but it was smaller, a good show at that. My brother Jim came back from the army in the early 60's and helped raise a lot of mink.


One of the best memories I have is in the 60s, with my flying instruction. I flew a Cherokee 160. Johnny Hruban was my flight instructor. One thing that sticks out was when he said, "Charlie, pull over and go make some touch and gos". I'll never forget what it was like to look over at that empty seat before I took off. After I had flown for a couple of months, one time I flew to Iowa with a couple of guys and got some mink. We circled the mink ranch and they came out with a pickup. I thought I could land in their pasture, but they motioned for me to go to town. So I made another circle and went in and landed at Cherokee. But that wasn't too smart. I had great big guys with me, they were a lot of weight. Then we got at least two cages full of mink and flew back to Central City. I can't believe I did some of the things I did.


Prices for grain and livestock were poor in the 60s & 70s. The farmers would take their pigs to a big landfill and shoot them because they weren't worth much. I joined the National Farmers Organization (NFO) and became the president of the local chapter in the early 70s. We'd have meetings once a month, 15-20 guys would show up, and you'd have a speaker about what we could do. But there wasn't much we could do. We started our own hog-buying station, I ran that out at the community sale. I picked out the pigs to buy, put them in a pens, and semi would come and pick them up. I bought around 140 once a week, usually on Thursdays.


In the early seventies after Lois and I had some problems that led to divorce, I gave Jim 700 mink and turned the ranch over to him, then I moved on first to Central City and then to Lincoln. I bought a home on Capital Beach in Lincoln around 1974. It was a nice place and I enjoyed living there. Jeff moved in with me and stayed for two years or so.


I had a herd of cattle in Central City plus I rented my farms to my nephew Richard at that time. I would usually drive back and forth once a week or so. That way I had a fair income and could keep busy.


Charlie and Jon at mink ranch near Lincoln.


In 1976 I met Barbara at a dance in Lincoln. She was a doll and we got married after a short fling. We decided to build a house on my farm and we did just that. It took from March till December and I did a lot of the work myself. Barbara said goodbye in 1980 and I settled down to raising cattle and taking care of my farmland.


In the spring of 1981 a friend of mine from Lincoln named Jon Schuller came to see me with an idea to start a mink ranch near Lincoln. After much talk and thought, I decided to give it a go.


Jon located acreage near Eagle and we bought it in February of 1981. We bought 200 mink from Jim and began to build sheds and all it took to make a mink ranch.


In 1982 my daughter Sandy and her husband Dave moved in and Dave went to work for me. He stayed until I sold out in 1990. Dave was good help and I liked him a lot.


I was living in Trenridge Apts in Lincoln at the time and I later bought a house at 707 S. 56 St. where I lived until 1990. It was a nice house but I had to cut out some of the trees and do some work in the kitchen.


In 1984 I met Gwen and we were married in the following February.


The mink ranch was lots of work and we built 20 sheds the first 5 years and raised about 5000 kits per year. I was even on Channel 10 news one night with my good friend Mel Mains.


I took mink to shows in Minnesota and even the international mink show in Wisconsin. I placed 1st and 2nd in Minnesota and 2nd at the international, which is pretty good for an old farm kid from Nebraska.



The mink ranch was sold in 1990, and Gwen and I said goodbye but stayed friends. I moved back to Central City where I planned to retire and fish a lot. The fishing lasted a total of 3 years when I was faced with another problem in the family. Jim had gone bankrupt and the bank wanted me to buy him out, which I did in March of 1993. A total of 1200 mink were bred in just a few days.


Production was poor the first year, but got better as time went along.


We had all kinds of laborers but we got lucky the last two years when I hired little Joe and Ramon. They were good help and made things a lot better.


We built the herd up to 2500 females by 1997 and we produced about 8500 pelts per year.


In 2003, Jim had a stroke in August and I decided shortly after that I would retire and move to Central City. I sold my home and the farm and bought a home in Central City in May of 2004.


That's where I am now and that's where I'll stay. It's been a good time and I enjoyed most of it. I was damn good at mink ranching and always made money.


Adios,


Charlie

(August, 2004)



October 2018 Update:


I've lived in Central City for 15 years. In 2013 when Lois died, Patti and Jeff wanted to keep the farm so I loaned them money to buy their sisters out. I started raising rhode island reds in the barn and sell eggs to good customers like Jewell Deichmann, my dentist, my barber, and Lukey Lyle. I mow the lawn and take care of the place. I'm proud of how nice it looks.


One day I was talking to Elton Erickson and asked him who farmed his land. His crops always looked great. He said he rented to Larry Bankson so I got his phone number. Larry and his boy Keith have been farming for us since 2015 and are really good farmers.


In 2016, I started buying houses in Grand Island to rent out. I have 4 of them now and my daughter Susie helps me manage them. I have good friends like Ed Ritta and Bill Mack who work for me when we need to fix things.


I had a great 95th birthday with my kids. Patti and Jeff come back to visit a lot. We still go fishing in Minnesota and are planning a trip for next summer. It's shit like this that makes you live to 100.



A Few Remembrances from the Service

Cliff Mesner (officiant):

If you haven't read Charlie's autobiography, it's kind of worth the read. When I started reading it,  I noticed he jumps right into work. You can't escape that with him. It's just where he starts. "I was 7 or 8 when I first remembered anything. The first job I had was getting the eggs and taking care of the chickens." It's kind of who he was. And when I read that the first time, you know this image of this little kid sitting on the sofa and his mom dragging him out to go take care of the chickens... I started to laugh. I said that isn't what happened. That isn't what happened at all. First of all, no kids sat on the sofa those days because there wasn't a TV, there wasn't an Xbox, and so there was no reason to be sitting there. And secondly, that wasn't Charlie. I'm sure it went quite the opposite. I'm sure Charlie was out there saying "Mom, don't you have anything for me to do? Mom, can we go to town? Mom, don't we need to do something?" I'm sure his mother sent him out to get the eggs out of self defense, to give him something to do. And I instantly had this vision of this young boy, not having to go to the gym, but a young kid walking off purposefully to take care of the chickens. Because it was something he wanted to do. 

And he not only went out and got the eggs, he knew that they were going to town, they were going to be sold, they were part of the family income, and that he was part of that. And when I read it, I was struck with the words of American novelist Pearl Buck when she said, "To find joy in work is to discover the fountain of youth." And that was the story and I would start to read. 

By the time Charlie was 12, he was trapping on his own. When he was 24, he bought an old Model T pickup and set up a trap line, it was 60 miles long. And he would start setting up and he would go until dark. He did it all day, every day. And at the end of that year, he sold the old Model T pickup, bought a brand new yellow convertible. And that was Charlie, too. 

He ended up then going to Omaha for a couple years, trying some other things. That was a good thing, that's where he met Lois. That's why we have a family. He tried selling insurance, and selling roofing. But nothing was really Charlie. Then one day, he found somebody who was actually raising mink. And that would be life changing for him. He spent some time talking to the guy about it, and knew that's what he wanted to do. 

He came back, and he couldn't buy a mink farm. They really didn't exist. He had to create it. So he went out, trapped some mink, put them together and let them breed. He got 20 mink. And from there, it all kind of expanded. By 1955, he had 100. And by 1963, he had 1200. In 1963, he bought 2 farms, and bought a third one shortly thereafter. He not only enjoyed his work, he was pretty damn good at it. And he enjoyed you knowing that he was good at it. 

This was about the first time that I met Charlie; this is the first time that he came to my mind. We were out hunting jackrabbits, and when we were done, somebody said, "Hey, if we take these over, Charlie will pay us 25 cents a rabbit." We threw them all in the back of the truck. I wasn't old enough to drive. We went over to Charlie's. And I think at this point, he was doing something like 20,000 rabbits a year that he needed to keep the mink farm going. So the 8 or 9 rabbits we had in the back of the truck didn't mean anything. But Charlie came out, and he said, "Hey guys, what cha doing? Oh, where were you hunting? Who shot the most? Who had the best shot?" We were just a bunch of young ragtag kids, but all of a sudden we felt like we were part of something. And that's kind of the way Charlie was. He had a way to create some enthusiasm over the little things and make people feel better about themselves. 

I of course would see Charlie a lot after that. I didn't spend a lot of time with him, but he was always with my dad because they were active in the National Farmers Organization (NFO). There were only seven democrats in the county -- four Mesners, two Schanks, and my future mother-in-law, so whenever Democrats got together, we saw each other.

The one thing that Charlie wasn't good at was retiring. He tried retiring in 1980, and moved to Lincoln. That lasted about three years and then he decided to start another mink farm. He sold that, tried to retire a second time, and then Jim needed some help back here. So he came back and started helping Jim, and took over the mink farm, and eventually tried retiring again in 2004.

A few years ago, the family were talking about whether it was time for Charlie to go to Cottonwood. Charlie was thinking about that and trying to work his way through it. I said something to Kathy and Kathy said, "Oh my God, that's gonna be hard on Charlie." A couple months later, she said, "Did Charlie decide to move in to Cottonwood?" I said, "No. Apparently he bought a new pickup and some chickens." Kathy laughed and said, well, that's more like Charlie."

If you find joy in your work, you find the fountain of youth. The day before he died, Charlie had been out feeding the chickens. I don't mean he went out and dumped a bag of Purina on the ground; he conned Suzie into bringing him bags of apples and potatoes and he chopped them up into little pieces and took them out to feed the chickens. Did he need chickens? No. Did the chickens need to be fed? No, somebody had already taken care of that. Why did he do it? Because it gave him joy. It's what made him feel good.

You know, Charlie, I think at the end, was as happy as I ever saw him. He had something to do every day. And he had kids that were calling him every day, coming out to visit, and talking about football games and planning fishing trips. He had the great joys of his life right up until the very end.

And that was the Charlie I knew.

Patti:

I just want to say that I talked to dad every day. Every morning and evening. Sometimes we'd talk 10 minutes, sometimes half an hour. He said a few months ago, maybe a year ago, he said, "Call me before I go to bed to say good night." So I called him again at 9 pm. I got a lot of stories about a lot of you guys. He loved you all and I really appreciate you being here.

He was a great dad. I loved coming back and going to the coffee shop [Bill & Jim], and out to the farm [Courtney & Brock]. And I'd be sitting on the couch with him and Gwen would call, or Chris would call, and I'd be there. Oh, and Keith, he really loved what you did with the farm. He'd adopted you if he could.

But yeah, he always had to be busy. I have to admit that when I edited his autobiography, he forgot to mention his kids. [Laughter] That's what I added. [Laughter]. Of course, you know, that was just an oversight. He was the best dad. He always made me laugh.

Jeff:

Well, let's see, I'll add something that you don't know: that he was never happy about when he retired at 80 and stopped raising mink. We had hundreds of conversations about starting another mink ranch. He figured he could do it if he could get a foreman to help him run it. He had picked out the land he was going to buy. And I was really worried that he was going to do it. [Laughter]

But fortunately, he decided not to. And then the mink market crashed. So he was really happy. [Laughter]. And when he'd drive by where he was going to buy it, he'd say "I'm so happy I didn't buy that and build a mink ranch, or you'd find me hanging from the rafters." [Laughter]