Leland E. “Lee” Schoniger, Jr.
Wed, 11/11/2015 - 11:17am admin
June 23, 1926 - November 4, 2015
After a brief illness and stay at Hans P. Petersen Memorial Hospital in Philip, Leland E. “Lee” Schoniger, Jr., 89, Philip, S.D., passed away on Nov. 4, 2015, with his family by his side.
He will be remembered as a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather as well as respected businessman, avid outdoorsman, pilot and dedicated community volunteer.
The oldest of two children, Lee was born June 23, 1926, in Redfield, the son of Leland E. Schoniger, Sr. and Anna W. (Staehli) Schoniger. Lee grew up on the family farm near Redfield and went to country school where his Aunt Elsie taught.
In 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression, the family farm could no longer support two families and Lee’s family moved into Redfield where his mother and father owned several restaurants, including the Nook Cafe.
In May of 1943, at the age of 16, Lee boarded a bus in Redfield to join the U.S. Navy and help fight in the war with Japan. But Aunt Elsie thought otherwise. She boarded the bus and informed Lee he would finish high school before enlisting. A year later, Lee graduated from Redfield High School and was on a bus that afternoon to enlist.
Lee served aboard the USS Pentheus in the Pacific theater. Among many entries, his journal documents the day Japan surrendered after atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lee was honorably discharged in June of 1946.
After leaving the Navy, Lee worked in California until August 1947 when he moved to Philip to work with his cousin, Don Schoniger, installing wind chargers and wiring new homes.
In January 1950, Lee went to work for Hap and Earl Dorothy at Dorothy Brothers Chevrolet. He was inspired by Earl, who was a pilot during WWI, to pursue his pilot’s license and soon purchased his first plane with his friend Bud Hall. Lee spent many hours flying and oftentimes flew parts and supplies to distant farm and ranch families. His most memorable time was flying medicine and food to those stranded by the blizzard of 1949.
Shortly after going to work for Hap and Earl, Lee married Betty “Jean” West on Dec. 6, 1951, in Pierre. In 1953, Lee became a partner in Dorothy Brothers and later served as president until the dealership was sold in 1988 and he retired in 1989.
Lee was a lifetime member of the VFW and past commander. He was a member of the Moose Lodge and the Elks Lodge for over 20 years. He was a member of the First Lutheran Church of Philip and served on the church council. Lee was a past member of the Philip Volunteer Fire Dept. and served for several years as assistant fire chief. He was a longtime member of the Philip Chamber of Commerce, serving as president for one year. He also served on the board of directors for the South Dakota Auto Dealers Association including a term as president (1980-1981).
For 18 years, Lee was the Scout Master for Scout Troop 8 in Philip. He took many young scouts camping and hiking to the Badlands, Black Hills and Big Horn Mountains. He also spent time at the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M., developing his leadership skills. Later in life, Lee often received phone calls and visits from former Scouts who thanked him for the influence he had on their lives.
Lee was a long-time member of the Bad River Senior Citizens and the Bad River Dance Club and proudly drove the community bus for Prairie Transportation for the past 18 years. He had a rich life filled with many friends and family, traveling, dancing, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and, most importantly, spending time with his large extended family.
Lee is survived by his sons, Michael Schoniger and his wife, Janet, Centennial, Colo., and Bruce Schoniger and his wife, Ann, Smithfield, Utah; daughters, Beth Smith and her husband, Mel, Philip, and Mary Ragland and her husband, Tracy, Newcastle, Wyo.; 14 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
Lee was preceded in death by the love of his life Betty “Jean” Schoniger on March 9, 2006; his parents; a granddaughter, Audra Nicole Smith; and his brother, Wayne S. Schoniger.
Visitation will be held from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12, at the Rush Funeral Home in Philip.
Funeral services will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 13, at the American Legion in Philip.
Interment will be at the Masonic Cemetery.
Arrangements are with Rush Funeral Home of Philip.