By William Smith
A multi-tasker with an eternal head (and heart) for business, Ken Schwenker often worked with a phone cradled beneath each ear.
Sometimes, when business at Standard of Beaverdale was really booming, he would attempt a third simultaneous conversation with the customer in front of him. As a prank, Ken’s younger brother Greg once handed him a third phone, even though there was no one on the other end.
“He just busted out laughing,” Greg said, sharing a favorite memory of his older brother.
Ken Schwenker was smart enough to get the joke, genial enough to chuckle, and ambitious enough to get right back to work.
" 'No’ was not in his vocabulary, whatever you asked of him,” Greg said. “And I’ve asked a lot.”
Ken Schwenker died unexpectedly of heart failure Wednesday at Great River Medical Center in West Burlington. His family business continues to chug on, manned by relatives working through their grief, just like Ken would have.
“Ken just reveled in being here,” said his sister, Brenda Carson, who works at the store. “This is where he was his best.”
By that measure, Ken Schwenker was at his best most hours of the day. Just like his four siblings, Ken was born into the hardware business his father started.
Ken was the oldest sibling and showed the greatest aptitude for the business. Family members that didn’t move elsewhere usually ended up working alongside him.
“He was the leader. He had to be the role model,” his sister, Sharon Schwenker, said.
Ken has two children; when they were old enough, they too went to work for him.
“We all had an official job until we were 16,” Ken’s daughter, Kathy Schwenker, said.
Schwenker was one of the first in the industry to implement a computerized inventory management system and helped young business owners find their feet in the industry. He took joy in donating to area organizations and projects, often underwriting promotional advertising for community events.
“If people want to see their area improve, then they need to do something because it won’t just happen by itself,” Schwenker said in 2015 when he was honored as a Southeastern Community College Distinguished Alumnus.
Humble to his Iowa core, Schwenker didn’t put on airs. He smoked a pipe and always carried a red handkerchief in his pocket, even when the pocket was on the breast of a suit jacket.
“Not a conceited bone in his body,” Sharon Schwenker said.
When he wasn’t talking business, Schwenker spoke about his travels and his family. Vacations were usually a combination of all three.
“We had a lot of family vacations centered around Ace Hardware conventions, but then we would take another week off,” Kathy Schwenker said.
Unbeknownst to most people, Ken was also a skilled baker. In fact, Ken baked more delectable sweets than his trim figure suggested and consumed far more of his creations than seems possible. Sherry still can’t believe how much he could eat without gaining weight.
“I was jealous. He always stayed skinny,” Sherry said, her voice choked with mirth.
About a month before Ken died, Kathy came back to work for her father. She didn’t take the job to keep an eye on him, though. At age 66, Ken seemed to be in fine health.
“We didn’t see it coming at all. It was a shock to everyone. I thought I was going to have another couple of decades with him,” Kathy said.
She got a handful of weeks instead, blessedly unaware of how it would end. Kathy got to know her father a little better in those weeks.
“I had a desk right behind his, and usually I would stay a couple of minutes after everyone left,” she said.
But it’s her childhood memories of Ken that have crystallized in her heart.
“He loved us. He was a great dad. He would take us out to Bees games and picnics in the park. He tried to teach us to fish, and we couldn’t find bait so he used hot dogs. I remember finding that pretty funny,” she said.
Obituary for Kenneth “Kenny” Lee Schwenker (As posted by Lunning Chapel)
Kenneth “Kenny” Lee Schwenker, 66, of West Burlington died suddenly of heart failure Wednesday, April 1, 2020, at the Great River Medical Center Emergency Department in West Burlington.
Ken was a graduate of Burlington High School 1971 and attended SCC and was later honored as a distinguished alumnus. He then backpacked through Europe before returning to the family business.
Ken was the current president and owner of Standard of Beaverdale, his family business and worked there for his entire lifetime.
He was a member of St. Luke United Church of Christ.
Kenny enjoyed spending time with family, baking and eating sweets and woodworking. He had a very positive attitude for his community and was very involved in and supported many community events.
He loved SCC basketball and fireworks.
Survivors include his wife Diane of Burlington; two children, Katherine A. Schwenker of Burlington and David R. (Barbara Becker) Schwenker of Clive, Iowa; step-children Ben (Diana) Dobson of West Burlington, Sarah Krabill of Ozark, MO, Kyle (Nicole) Dobson of Burlington, Rachel (Matt) Vandervoort of Ozark, MO and Mallory (Justin) Jennings of Burlington; eight grandchildren; two brothers, Dan (Debra) Schwenker of Burlington, Greg (Brenda Smith) Schwenker; two sisters, Brenda Carson and Sharon (Tony) Ashby of West Burlington and by a large extended family.
He was preceded in death by his wife Elizabeth, his parents and one grandson.
The private graveside committal service for Ken will be Tuesday, April 7, 2020.
Due to state and federal guidance on gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the family will not be having a public memorial at this time. A celebration of life will be at a later date.
A memorial has been established for the Hospice House and Greater Burlington Sports Foundation for the Future Gymnasium Project. Online condolences may be sent by visiting www.lunningfuneralchapel.com/