Kenneth Thomas Ziehlke, age 94, passed away, on March 12, 2022. There was once a beautiful farm in the rural Wisconsin community of Little Black, with dairy cows, pigs, chickens, and horses. This is where Kenneth Thomas Ziehlke began his life in 1928. For his early education, he walked to a one-room schoolhouse which was heated by a wood stove. His parents, Joseph Ziehlke and Martha Hirt, a farmer and a nurse, were first-generation Americans who honored their German traditions and passed them along to their children. When Ken graduated high school at the age of 17, he volunteered to serve his country during the final year of WWII. He was a proud veteran of the United States Navy. Once home, he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin as a student of Metallurgical and Materials Science Engineering. Upon graduation in 1950, he accepted a job at the Union Carbide Corporation’s Gaseous Diffusion Plant, K-25. Ken was enchanted by life in Tennessee, its people, Southern food, and the Great Smokey Mountains.
A friend at work offered to arrange a date for Ken, as he was new in town. The girl who was the intended date had to cancel at the last minute, so she called her friend and fellow K-25 employee, Eva Thomas, to go instead. This was apparently meant to be, as Ken fell in love with Eva, as well as her family, to whom he remained devoted until the end. In 1951, Ken and Eva exchanged wedding vows at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, of which he was a founding member. Their marriage lasted 60 years. Ken was an avid reader, intellect, scientist, accomplished wildflower gardener, expert auto mechanic, and Catholic scholar. As a master woodworker, Ken made both table and grandfather clocks of his own design. He made inlaid wood crosses as well, donating these, clocks, and handmade terrariums to the St. Mary’s Fall Festival for many years.
His God and Church were foremost in the way that he lived his life and he never wavered in his beliefs. To stay fit, both mentally and physically, Ken had a life-long practice of walking outdoors. He walked five to seven miles a day until the age of 91 when he was forced to use a walker due to a severe knee injury. Undeterred, he continued his daily walks, even though they had become shorter. Ken was an inspiration in the obvious grace he displayed in the face of adversity. He took these challenges and setbacks in stride, persevering with courage and an exemplary attitude. He was able to find humor in his situation, up until the end of his life. His family were privileged to be the beneficiaries of his tutelage; as a member of The Greatest Generation, he passed along his strong worth ethic, as well as instilling values of thrift. Because of him, his family are all better stewards of time, talents, and money. Although his mind remained quick-witted, intact, and focused, his body gave up in the early morning hours of March 12, 2022. It is with heavy hearts that his loved ones say goodbye to him.
Ken lived long enough to be preceded in death by more loved ones than he ended up leaving behind. Those who went on to their reward before him are his parents; wife, Eva Thomas Ziehlke; mother-in-law, Mary Ellen Freeman Thomas; brother, Robert Ziehlke & wife, Marian; sister, Mary Ziehlke; daughter, Catherine Gengozian; son, Greg Ziehlke; sister-in-law, Adrian Brown Ziehlke; brother-in-law and his wife, David & Kate Wilder Thomas; sister-in-law and her husband, Beverly Thomas & Dr. William Bost; and nephew, Doug Bost.
He is survived by daughters, Judith Mallory (Don Daugherty) and Barbara Philpot (Halen); brother, Jerry Ziehlke (who entertained Ken with his stories); sister, Barbara Ziehlke (who thought he was a ‘great brother’); special nieces, Lisa Ziehlke and Robin Bost Parkison (Jeff); special nephew, Michael David Thomas; grandchildren, Dana Rose (Ted), Lauren Gengozian (Jacob Hamby), Max Mallory, and Carmen and Merritt Philpot; and great-grandchildren, Casey Rose, Stella, Hank, and Emmett Gengozian.
The family extends sincere thanks to the compassionate and professional staff at The Courtyards Assisted Living Facility, who administered loving care to their dad for the past two years. To honor his memory and spirit the family requests you to go take a walk outdoors, do a kind deed, or say a prayer for someone who needs it.
Family & friends will meet at 3 pm Thursday, March 17, 2022, at Anderson Memorial Gardens for graveside services with full military honors. Online condolences may be left at weatherfordmortuary.com.