How do we write a farewell letter that captures our father’s soul? The guy we’ve loved all of our lives, and who’s done so many cool things he could be the subject of his own book? Dad often joked that he was going to write a book about his life, and he would call it, “I could have been a ballet dancer.” This is our ode to daddy, Clinton “Clint” Ray Schoenleber, a man we loved very much, even though he didn’t come close to dancing in a ballet.
Dad was born in his family’s home in Edwardsville, Illinois in 1934, the seventh of nine children. At 17, he jumped at the chance to escape the small town scene and live with his older brother Don in Alaska. In Anchorage, dad worked at Sea Airmotive where he learned to fly small planes. It was then that he also became a guide, taking the rich in the bush to hunt and fish.
In 1962, he met mom on a blind date, organized by a mutual friend. On their first date, Dad took her in a four-seater Cessna. It must have been the best airplane flight in the history of airplane flying dates because mom and dad got married six weeks later. Jill (1963), Michael (1965, deceased after birth) and Kristi (1968) were born in Anchorage. Ken joined the team in 1970.
By the time Ken was born, we were living in Fairbanks where dad quickly became a captain for Alaska International Air, flying C-130s all over the world, sometimes – and to our delight, the kids – carrying suitcases full of money. When AIA became MarkAir, it flew Boeing 737s in Alaska and on the east and west coasts. His flying exploits throughout his career did not go unnoticed, as he was referenced in several books written by people he knew. Dad was respectfully nicknamed “Captain Dutch” because he could easily steer a plane to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, where the runway is short and the landing is notoriously tricky. We also knew and loved him as “Captain Grim”. Most of you will know that “sinister” was his well-known favorite word.
Dad loved local hockey. And he channeled that passion into the transformation of the Big Dipper Skating Arena. He and other hockey fanatics worked with the then mayor to transform this dilapidated old ice rink into the building we know and love today. His love of hockey didn’t end there. He built us an ice rink in the backyard, with a net and a homemade Zamboni. He sharpened his skates at Sport King whenever he was in town and Roger needed his help. And a year, he even coached the Sport King women’s hockey team.
Dad was extremely proud of the work he had done (and his family was equally proud) of forming the AIA Pilots Union. He and two of his best friends, Dale Ranstead and Terry Reece (along with others), were the driving force that made this possible. And, after long nights of coffee, cigarettes and wine, the union was born. The AIA pilots finally had health care and a pension!
Dad loved his job as an airline captain and when he was forced to retire at 60 he was really pissed off. That day he took off his watch and never wore it again.
Mom and Dad moved to Port Townsend in 1997. They bought a tiny house that was built in (circa) 1860, and they remodeled it themselves to reflect the original floor plan. And that was our father; he could fix anything and everything on the planet. He spent the last 24 years of his life on Tyler Street and never wanted to live anywhere else. But he and his mother were still avid travelers, taking trips to explore different countries and taking road trips across the United States; Iceland and St. Petersburg were two of his favorite destinations.
Dad always supported us to be ourselves. He didn’t spend a lot of time giving advice, but he was supportive. He was open-minded and accepting. He loved our friends and treated them like his own. He loved animals and they were always drawn to him. He believed that traveling was an education in itself. And his mantra was: you can take whatever you want on a trip, but it’s your responsibility and you have to wear it yourself. That’s why we all travel with just one suitcase each!
He could fix anything. He could build anything. He was an artist – yes, he hand carved the totem pole in front of our house in Fairbanks. He was funny and gregarious – the life of the party. He had so many sayings and slogans that we will never forget. And he was the best storyteller. He loved to sit at any kitchen table, drink red wine or Bud Light, and tell stories – and he had so many. We didn’t even care to hear them a million times.
But above all, he loved his family. He liked it when all of his kids were home at the same time, even though we did nothing but watch TV together on the living room couch. He treasured every Schoenleber family reunion, and he dived deep into his Schoenleber genealogy. “Dad” adored his three grandsons Austin, Atticus and Sebastian. He loved them to the moon and would do anything for them.
Dad had a wonderful sense of humor and he always made us laugh. That’s why mom fell in love with him, and why we kids followed him. He did it all himself and on his own terms. This is how he lived and how he died. Until the end, dad was still making jokes. He still told stories. And he told us he loved us.
Dad is survived by his 59 year old wife, Sonja; her children Jill, Kristi and Ken (Elizabeth); his wonderful grandsons; his sisters Marilyn and Edee (Ron); his brother Tom (Janet); several nieces and nephews; as well as many other friends and family who knew and loved him. If you want to remember him in any way, please send a donation to our father’s favorite charity, your local food bank.
A Celebration of Life in Honor of Dad is tentatively scheduled for August 14, 2022 in Port Townsend, Washington.