OBITUARY: Jack Andy Unruh

Harvey County Now

Jack Andy Unruh was born on March 7, 1924, in Newton. He was the fourth child of Harvey and Ruth Unruh and the only son. His older sisters were Helen, Dorris and Maurine. They lived in Newton, where Harve had a hardware store, and later worked for the county.

When Jack was a month old, he had whooping cough. There was nothing the doctor could do and sent him home to die. Ruth nursed him back to health, and he later attended 12 years of school without missing a single day. This must be where the Unruhs got their strong constitution.

Jack had an adventurous childhood and often told of going down to the railroad tracks and eating with the bums. The bums would catch fish in Sand Creek and cook them in a coffee can. In later years, although Jack was an avid fisherman, he hated eating fish and refused to do so until the day he died.

Jack was inducted into the Army in 1943, just four days shy of his 20th birthday. He trained at Camp Atterbury in Indiana. He was a member of the 106th Infantry Division at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He received advanced airborne training and was a test jumper with the 542nd Parachute Infantry Battalion at Camp McCall, North Carolina. This was a lot of traveling for someone who had never been out of Newton or even been in an airplane!

A prime example of Jack’s sense of humor can be seen in a photo he had hanging in the basement. The sky is filled with parachutes. Jack wrote the caption, “My 10th jump. I’m the one with the smile.” He was involved in securing Luzon in the Philippines. The 11th Airborne Division was then airlifted to Okinawa. For weeks, they stood ready to invade or occupy the enemy’s homeland. This 21-year-old paratrooper sergeant was one of the first Americans to set foot in Japan after they surrendered. He said one of the scariest days of his life was when he and his buddy had to march down the hill into a village of Japanese and not know if they were aware the war was over and how they would be received. Luckily for all of us, they were welcomed and traded chocolate bars and little tokens.

Jack was discharged from service in Colorado on Feb.14, 1946. While being transported back to Kansas by train, he was looking out of the train, watching the scenery, and saw a car on the highway with a bunch of kids hanging out the windows, waving. He told himself that it had to be “those Wilson kids waving. Who else would have so many kids?” (They had four children at the time.) Sure enough, it was his sister, Dorris Wilson, and her family, and they were all thrilled to spot their beloved Uncle Jack coming home from the war. He got off at the next stop, and they met up for a joyous reunion, driving together to LaJunta, Colorado, to stay with sister Maurine.

After returning to Newton, Jack worked at the Montgomery Ward department store. This is where he met his future bride, Donna Schuessler, who worked at the store as a stock person/clerk. Jack definitely got Donna’s attention when he picked her up and threw her in a big bedspread box in the warehouse upstairs. The sparks flew over the next few months with their frequent rides up and down the freight elevator and going on dates to the picture show and partaking in the world’s best coneys at the Dode Young’s Cafeteria. Donna took Jack to meet her folks, and with their approval, Jack gave Donna her diamond ring for Christmas in 1947. They were married on May 2, 1948, and enjoyed a spring honeymoon in Manitou Springs, Colorado

Jack was welcomed by the Schuessler family as one of their own. After all, Donna’s sister Joyce was only 2 years old at the time Jack and Donna were married. Many wonderful memories were created with the family fishing on Diamond Creek, hunting the land, making homemade ice cream for family meals, singing “Alfalfa Hay” and debating politics. We always knew we were almost to Grandma and Grandpa’s house when Jack would break into “Holy Smokes – The Church is on Fire!” when we turned at their corner where the small church that once stood had burned to the ground.

Donna joined Jack’s church, the First Methodist Church, where they both were active members for many years. Jack served God and the church in many ways over the years, including serving on the Board of Trustees. However, he is also remembered for being a joker and taking the opportunity to preach to entire herds of cattle when fishing at farm ponds. Donna joyfully volunteered at the church, helping with communion, serving many dinners with the women’s group and visiting shut-ins. Jack would walk in the back door after work and see the freshly baked pie on the counter. He would state “Oh, boy, pie! What’s going on at the church?”

Following their time at Montgomery Ward, Jack worked as a salesman at the Trading Post and Furniture Exchange and Donna at the Midland National Bank. They lived in a three-bedroom house at 1108 N. Pine. Donna retired from the bank when she found out that she was pregnant with their first child, Cheryl, who was born in July 1950. Steve followed in 1954. There was a big disappointment in 1958 with the loss of Douglas at birth. Gary was born in early 1960, completing the Unruh family.

Jack changed jobs and went to work at the newly formed Marshall Furniture. With the growing family, the Unruhs took the plunge in 1964 and moved into their first house with back-breaking payments of $90 a month. They remained in this house for the remainder of their marriage and Jack until the end of his time on Earth. In 1980, Jack, Donna and son Steve purchased Marshall Furniture from Charlie Marshall. Donna became the bookkeeper until her retirement in 2018. Jack continued working well into his 90s and still enjoyed dropping by the store whenever possible to keep his finger on the pulse of the business.

In 1978, Jack and Donna became grandparents for the first time. Their grandchildren are Cheryl’s children, Sam, Megan and Sarah, and Gary’s children, Erin, Morgan and Kyle. From these grandchildren, they now have 10 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren and one on the way. Jack and Donna established and held to family traditions and took part in many activities for the sake of sharing family time—activities such as fishing, playing cards and attending the school activities of all the kids. Jack also enjoyed gardening, hunting and fishing and singing silly songs. He was an exemplary role model who consistently exhibited his work ethic and devotion to his family. He was responsible and level-headed and fun to be around. Jack and Donna enjoyed square dancing, fishing, and puzzle solving and were avid card players and regularly played pinochle with friends. They vowed that when they were all gone, they would play cards together in heaven. The last one to die is to take the playing cards to heaven with them. For this reason, Jack was buried with two decks of pinochle cards to fulfill their promise.

In their later years, Jack and Donna complemented each other well. Donna’s declining health made it more difficult to be involved in activities, but Donna’s mind and spirit were good, and she was as sharp as a tack. Jack took on many household and caregiving tasks under her guidance, which enabled them to stay in their home together until nearly the end.

Jack passed away peacefully on March 22, 2023, having celebrated his 99th birthday just two weeks earlier.

He was preceded in death by Donna, his wife of 73 years who passed away June 27, 2021; his parents, Harve and Ruth Unruh; infant son, Douglas Alan; sisters, Helen Lehmann, Dorris Wilson and Maurine Hayes; son-in-law, Jack Smith; and son-in-law, Chuck Willhoite.

He is survived by his children, Cheryl (Robert) Ferris, Steven (LaNae) Unruh, and Gary (Suzanne) Unruh; and his grandchildren.

Jack was laid to rest with military honors on Thursday, March 30, at Greenwood Cemetery in a private family service officiated by Pastor Albert Schuessler, Jack’s brother-in-law. A memorial service and celebration of life will be at 11 a.m. Friday, May 12, at First United Methodist Church in Newton, with Pastor Kim Andrews and Pastor Albert Schuessler presiding.

The family would like to thank you for helping us celebrate Jack’s life. Special thanks to Uncle Albert for co-officiating the memorial service along with Pastor Kim Andrews. Special thanks also to caregiver Kelly Goss, who became Jack’s good friend and enabled him to remain in his home until just a few weeks before his passing.

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