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Diesel mechanic leaves a legacy

As a photo of Alexandria Technical and Community College's diesel mechanics graduating class from 1971 was displayed on a monitor, Karen Schenk of St. Joseph spoke to this year's graduating class on Friday, March 2. Her husband, Dean, who passed away last September, is in that photo. A scholarship and tools are being donated in his name. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 1 / 3
Karen Schenk of St. Joseph (left) donated torque wrenches, each worth $1,000, to five second-year students in the diesel mechanics program at Alexandria Technical and Community College, including (left to right) Kirk Ringey, Nathan Klehr, Issai Ramirez, Sam Kmitch and Tyler Benz. The tools were donated in memory of Karen's husband, Dean Schenk, who passed away last September. Dean was a diesel mechanic and graduated from the Alexandria program in 1971. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 2 / 3
Each of the five torque wrenches that were donated were engraved in memory of Dean Schenk. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 3 / 3

A collective "ooooh" was loudly uttered as five torque wrenches — each worth $1,000 — were unveiled last Friday, March 2, in the shop area of the diesel mechanics program at Alexandria Technical and Community College.

The wrenches were donated by Karen Schenk of St. Joseph in memory of her husband, Dean Schenk, who died in September. The 66-year-old, who was a diesel mechanic his whole life, graduated from the Alexandria diesel mechanics program in 1971.

Last fall, Karen Schenk started a scholarship in her husband's name for first-year diesel mechanic students, but said she wanted to give back even more to continue her husband's "generous spirit." The $500 Dean Schenk Memorial Scholarship will be awarded each year to a first-year diesel mechanic student.

She decided to also set up a tool fund for second-year diesel mechanic students and on Friday, donated the five torque wrenches, each engraved, "In memory of Dean Schenk." The plan is to award five torque wrenches each year.

Names of all 38 second-year students were written down and assigned a number and then, in a special presentation, numbers were randomly selected and five lucky students were presented a wrench.

The students attending the presentation did not know why they were there and were pleasantly surprised when the wrenches were unveiled.

The winners were Kirk Ringey of Princeton, Nathan Klehr of Cold Spring, Issai Ramirez of Springfield, Sam Kmitch of St. Cloud and Tyler Benz of Aitken.

Klehr said the donation of the $1,000 wrench was "so generous."

"It means a lot, but it means even more that it came from a former graduate of the program," said Klehr. "For her (Dean's wife) to do this, it's just great."

In a speech to the students, Karen Schenk told them to be proud of what they've learned at Alexandria Technical and Community College.

"Be proud of what you will do the rest of your life, whether it's diesel mechanics work or whatever you go into," she told the students. "Love life and always give your all, to your family and job. Being proud of what you do equals being proud of your life."

Schenk also said that the school's foundation and teachers help her set up the tool fund and that she plans to continue it for a long time.

"It's what Dean would have been so very proud to do, helping others," Karen Schenk said.

Who was Dean?

When Dean Schenk was a little boy, he used to run around his house with a little tool box telling his family members, "Me fix. Me fix," according to his wife, Karen. When he grew up, fixing things was his job, she added.

He worked for implement dealers, welding shops, gas stations and repair garages. His last job was as a shop foreman for Astech Corporation in St. Joseph. He worked there for 17 years.

Dean, who graduated from Windom High School in 1969, also loved woodworking and loved to make child-sized rocking chairs and doll cradles that he would donate to the local women's shelter or give away to family and friends. He also built shelves, cupboards, plant stands, bookcases and more.

"He was a family handyman for lots of friends and family," Karen said of her husband. "He just loved to help people."

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in nearly 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

(320) 763-1242
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