Friday, January 3, 2014

Harry K

My Dad, Harold William Knust, died today and we wrote an obituary that was a fine tribute to a truly great man. But in many respects, it was incomplete. I'm not sure you can tell the story of any person in 500-600 words, but I know you cannot tell my Dad's story.

Dad grew up in a very stoic, German family. He was the fourth of sixth children growing up on a farm outside Howells, NE. Dad was a typical "middle child", fighting for attention growing up. In some ways, his fight lasted throughout his life. He used that as a strength in his professional life.

His childhood, with five siblings, taught him to be competitive. Whether he was golfing, playing cards, playing boards games with the family, watching his grandchildren compete or selling soft drinks, beer or cars, Dad wanted to, no, he had to win. We heard many stories of competition as he grew up.

Dad used that competitive spirit to make the Howells high school varsity basketball team as a freshman. That was certainly an achievement but even more so considering that he was the shortest guy on the team. By all accounts, he was no superstar, but he was competitive and gritty and did what he had to do to help his team win. It instilled in him a love for the game of basketball which he later passed on to and shared with me and my son.

He picked up his nickname while in high school as trumpet player. Though he wasn't a great trumpet player, he drew the first name of the great trumpet player at the time, Harry James, as a nickname. Harold became "Harry" while at Howells High. It is worthwhile to note, however, I never heard Grandma call Dad "Harry". That was not the name she had given him!

Dad went to the University of Nebraska. He earned his bachelor's degree in Business Administration. He worked his way through college selling furniture. I always felt like he really appreciated his education because there were no scholarships nor help. He bought his education with his own hard earned money.

Dad liked to party. He did his share of drinking at school. My Mom thinks he ruined his health in school. Between his eating and drinking habits, Mom thinks he set the table for the disease, diabetes, that caused him so many problems later in life.

Dad and Mom met at the Rose Bowl, a bowling facility that was on Saddle Creek Road in Omaha. Mom was attending Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in midtown Omaha. Now a high school, Duchesne

was a college in the 1950's.

I've not heard that many stories of my parents' courtship but I know they were married in October of 1959, shortly after Dad's graduation from UNL. Dad took a job with Pillsbury in Mason City, IA, where I was born and then they moved on to Grand Island, NE, where my sister, Christy, was born.

Dad did well with Pillsbury but my Mom's father, Frank Wurning, a beer distributor in Winner, SD, saw the "salesman" in Dad. He offered to help Dad get into business and so, in 1963, Dad and Mom moved to Chamberlain where they had my other sister, Lisa, and Dad and Granpa Frank started Chamberlain Bottling Company. They started bottling Nesbitt products but eventually bottled Pepsi-Cola.

Long before Pepsi was a household name, entrepreneurs like Harry Knust, were bottling and selling it. It was Dad and guys like him that made Pepsi the great brand that it is today. Dad was affiliated with Pepsi in some way until 1994, when the reality of how the distribution network had changed caused him to sell.

I think one of the reasons he loved the soft drink business was because his best customers were kids. Dad was always a big kid and the soft drink business allowed him to function in his element. He was a great supporter of all youth activities. He thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of that business.

He had a run as a beer wholesaler when my Grandpa passed away. Dad bought the Schlitz distributorship from my Grandma in 1971 and held that business until 1978. Dad saw that the Schlitz brand had peaked and sold that business while there was still value. The Schlitz brand died shortly thereafter.

In 1980, Dad bought Cle-Kal Chevrolet-Oldsmobile in Chamberlain and named it Harry K Chevrolet. From then on he became known as "Harry K". He later added the Buick and Pontiac franchises. He bought the Ford, Mercury and Lincoln store and NAPA store in Winner in 1987.

He was born to be a car dealer. He had vision, was creative, he always thought big and he loved people. He soon became "Harry K" which was almost like a stage name for him. He loved being "Harry K". It is ironic that name came up when he was visiting me at college. One of my friends suggested it. It was perfect because the "K" rhymed with Chevrolet and no one could pronounce our last name anyway.

The ads below tell the story of Harry K better than I can. He had fun being a car dealer.

Dad looked at all of his customers as friends and treated them as such. There was nothing he wouldn't do for someone who had bought a car from him. He was a customer service genius.

He was my business partner and my mentor. There were many times I was frustrated with that that but now, looking back, I realize how fortunate I was. Dad was a great businessman and though sometimes not the best teacher, he was ALWAYS the best cheerleader.

Dad was civic minded. He started the Chamberlain Chamber of Commerce in 1963. Dad realized the importance of the community working together. He served on the city commission for nine years. He organized the school's athletic banquet for many years. He showed me how to serve others long before the Jesuits ever got a hold of me.

Cartoon by Sheree Hickey - 1990
Dad did not have many hobbies but he loved to golf. He started dragging me to the course when I was 6 years old. He had a standing game every Saturday morning. He had a terrible swing (legs too far apart and back swung too far) but his competitive spirit inspired him to excel at the short game so he could win his share of bets on Saturday mornings. Later in life when his body started to fail him, he lost his ability to play the game and found himself with only cards to fill that competitive drive.

Though Dad was a proud South Dakotan, he always loved the Nebraska Cornhuskers. We always kidded that he was the inspiration for "Husker Harry", the mascot before the current "Herbie Husker". As far back as I can remember, Saturday afternoons in the fall were about Husker football.

Dad and Mom took me to my first Husker football game in 1969. On Friday night, we stayed on the ag campus with the team and we were the guests of Husker coach Bob Devaney. Nebraska beat Oklahoma 28-21 that Saturday afternoon. The game, the pageantry and the excitement won me, a 9 year-old boy, over for good. I've been a Husker fan ever since.

But Dad won my wife, Judy (who can't watch if the Huskers aren't winning by at least a touchdown), my daughter, Rachel (who married a Husker), my son, Alex (who wanted to skip school after the Huskers once lost a big game - Grandpa thought that was perfectly reasonable) and my daughter, Sarah (who always knew enough to root for Nebraska because everyone will be crabby if they don't win) over with Husker Fever.

We had many fun trips to Husker games over the years. The highlight of those Husker trips was the 1996 Fiesta Bowl when Dad and Mom hosted a group of Husker fans at their home in Arizona. The Huskers took the Florida Gators to the woodshed in the national championship game. Dad had a smile on his face for six months after that one!

Another experience Dad and I shared over the years was the Final Four. I have told the story of how we made it to our first Final Four in 1982. But we shared at least a dozen others. My friends love to tell "Harry stories". In the early days, Dad would keep up with us drink for drink. After he could no longer do that, he just tried to keep up with us physically. That became too difficult as well. But I am grateful for those trips we had together - those were some great memories.

He was the PA announcer for Chamberlain Cubs basketball games from 1963-1992. My best guess is that he called over 300 games. I took over for him in 1993 and still announce to this day. This is our 51st year at the microphone at the Chamberlain Armory. He taught me how to get the best seat in the house for every game!

In his later years, Dad enjoyed just being Grandpa Harry. He loved attending his grandchildren's events. And like a good Grandpa, he was very proficient at bragging about them.  Even if his grandson or granddaughter struck out, Grandpa Harry would brag about how graceful they were while doing so. God help the official who would rule against Grandpa Harry's grandchild.

As we prepare to put Dad in his final resting place, the saddest aspect for me is that he will not be alive to see all his friends at his funeral. Dad loved people and loved to visit. It will be the great missed opportunity for him.

I miss you Dad.

Rachel Millard's eulogy for her Grandpa Harry can be found here.


Unknown said...

So enjoyed reading this, Doug! He was a great man and lives on in you! Thinking of your family!

Anonymous said...

May God fill you with consolation and peace. May God fully embrace you dad... Throughout eternity.
I am not able to be with you, but know masses are offered...
Fr. Satch

Unknown said...

I had a lot of smiles on my face while reading this, especially the videos!!! Its almost as if I could hear him telling stories. Prayers and hugs to all of you.

patience said...

Doug and family , so sorry for your loss. I knew your dad was a great man but I had no idea all yhe amazing things he accomplished in his lifetime. What a beautiful "eulogy" to honor a very special person

Christy Graves said...

What a wonderful tribute to your father!! He obviously passed on all of his wonderful traits to you and you should be quite proud!! Christy Graves

Jody Elston said...

Thanks for sharing this Doug. One of my earliest memories is touring the Pepsi plant with my Brownie group. Your dad was always giving and kind. I'll always remember him as a legend in Chamberlain.
Jody Elston

Anonymous said...

Doug, it's strange but I dreamed or thought about Harry last night. Nothing to personal, just was trying to sleep and had thoughts about the Shoenhards, specifically Donnies Ford garage. Then I thought about who bought it, another fellow I think was named Don. And I thought that he had died. Then I thought about Harry K Chevy, and finally I thought about Harry K Pepsi and Beer. I wondered if he was still around, I new he had diabetes. I was thinking about his generation and the men who had the courage to be their own bosses and become successful in a little out of the way town. Harry had chutzpa. Craig Anderson

Bryan Vielmette said...

Very well said Doug. A truly remarkable and caring individual that will be missed.

Unknown said...

That is a great tribute, Doug. Your dad was so kind and fun to be around, a very positive person to young people. Like you said, a community minded man. I am glad I got to know him like I did, our dads being good friends and golf partners, and all the good times we used to have around sports and other fun activities. Sorry to you and the whole family. Brett Anderson

Anonymous said...

Great tribute Doug. Your dad did leave one thing behind ..... you. You've made him proud no doubt.

Brian Kirby

Alicia Biskeborn said...

This was awesome I loved reading this!! Thoughts and Prayers go out to you and your family!!

Anonymous said...


So sorry to hear of your Dad's passing. I never had the privilege of meeting him but he sounds like he was a great man, husband, father, and grandfather. The piece you wrote is a very nice tribute to your Dad. My prayer are with you and your family during this very difficult time. God Bless!. Take care.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of your dad's passing, Doug. I loved reading this and learning more about Harry's K's life. I'll always remember taking him down to Omaha a few years back. He was so enjoyable to to talk to. The time just flew by driving down there. We're thinking of you and your family.

Rob Marshall

Laura Lew said...

Wow. What a wonderful tribute to your many wonderful memories. The world is a bit dimmer without Uncle Harry's light burning brightly. He was an extraordinary man and his spirit will live on in everyone who loved him. Thinking of you and your entire family. Sending you much love from your family in CA.
-Laura, Tom, Charlie & Kate

Kayla Byers said...

I had the privilege of caring for Harry in his last few months, and he was a great guy that I will never forget. I will truly miss caring for him. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.