- Deceased's name: Kenneth Gerhard Wilkens
- Age: 91
- Date: Dec. 14, 2012
Kenneth Gerhard Wilkens was born January 17, 1921 in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, the third child of Walter and Julianna Wilkens. He grew up with five sisters on a farm just outside Grand Rapids, MN. After attending Itasca State Junior College, he graduated from Moorhead State Teacher’s College in 1942. He joined the Army Air Force and served as an instructor in celestial navigation until mustering out in 1945.
After a term teaching in Moorhead, Ken joined the Speech Department at St. Olaf College in 1947, focusing on public speaking and debate. He completed an MA and PhD degrees at Northwestern University near Chicago by 1954. He left St. Olaf in 1956 and taught for 2 years at the University of Texas at Austin, but returned to St. Olaf for good in 1958. For nearly 40 years, teaching was his passion and he left an impressive legacy of thousands of grateful students.
Ken met Aurelia Zahn at a club for young faculty members and they were married in 1948. After Texas, Ken and Rae settled on West Second Street in Northfield among a group of young families, and raised three children: Jane (1952), Jim (1954), and Julie (1956). The family enjoyed summers on the Wilkens farm and took other trips together including a sabbatical leave to Oregon in 1966-7. To our great sorrow, Rae fell ill in the late 1970s and died in 1978.
Ken enjoyed many pursuits. Fishing was a lifelong passion that started on Pokegama Lake in Grand Rapids. He taught all the children in the extended family to enjoy the sport. He also enjoyed hunting, highlighted by a moose hunt with Jim in Alaska in his 70s. An interest in golf began early. This led to a Bridge Club that played after golf games every Tuesday and met regularly for over 60 years! He joined the Lions Club in 1962 and participated in many of their service activities. More recently he enjoyed Tuesday morning breakfast with a group of college retirees solving the problems of the world.
Ken married Lois Geistfeld in 1981 and her four children joined the family. Retiring from St. Olaf in 1986, Ken and Lois enjoyed spending time with family and at their cabin near Hayworth, WI. Later they sold the cabin and purchased a small home in the Dallas area.
Ken fell ill in the spring of 2012 and passed on December 14, 2012. He is survived by his wife, Lois; three sisters, Mildred Bernard, Eunice Cochran, and Patricia Pulling; three children, Jane Rae Wilkens, Jim Wilkens, and Julie Wilkens-Gaardsmoe; four stepchildren, Shari Geistfeld, Mark Geistfeld, Steve Geistfeld and Ann Clasby; three grandchildren, Amanda Sejna, Jake Wilkens, and Sophie Gaardsmoe; and two great grandchildren Owen and Quinn Sejna. He will be missed by all his extended family and the many students, colleagues, and friends whose lives he touched over his 92 years.
Services will held at 2 PM on Friday, December 21 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Northfield with Rev. John Quam officiating. Music will be provided by Daniel Fenn. Interment with military honors will be at Oaklawn Cemetery. Visitation will be 4-7PM Thursday, December 20, 2012, at the Benson & Langehough Funeral Home. Visitation will continue at the church on Friday one hour prior to the service.
For those who wish, the family suggests memorials to the Kenneth Wilkens Fund at St. Olaf College, St. John’s Lutheran Church or the Northfield Retirement Community.
Arrangements are with the Benson & Langehough Funeral Home. www.northfieldfuneral.com