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At the side of the road

by Brenda Dayne on October 10, 2013

At the end August, after a long illness, Tonia’s father died peacefully in his sleep. It was not unexpected. One day later, my father died, quite unexpectedly, while he was gardening. By the time I got the news the following day, my sisters were already making their way to my parents home in Boise.

My father’s funeral took place less than a week after he’d died. I was not able to be present. I couldn’t leave Tonia to face her father’s funeral alone, Tonia couldn’t leave her sister to face their father’s funeral alone, and the thought of facing my father’s funeral, without Tonia beside me, after five planes and twenty three hours of travel, was simply unthinkable. So I stayed in Wales, and grieved with my family remotely, by phone and Skype.

Due to our unusual circumstances of having been served up a double-decker grief sandwich, as it were, Tonia was granted an extended medical leave from work. Amazing, yes? Britain is so wonderfully civilized. We’ve spent the past month or so sharing our joint grief, taking turns propping each other up, gently. It has not been easy. There were weeks of broken sleep, and not much food, because nothing tasted of anything. For a long time it even felt impossible for me to knit. Grief is a funny thing though. Overwhelming at first, it feels as if we are moving through it, one day at a time. Life feels a little different now, as I enter the second month of a life without my father in it. Not happy. Not yet. But a little less unhappy.

For those wondering when is the next podcast, or whether there will be another one ever, I have no answers. In many ways it feels as though I’ve pulled off the main highway of life, onto a lesser road, with little traffic and fewer people. I’ve come to a full stop, on a country lane, and the parking brake is on. It’s nice here. Quite restful, in fact. I’m knitting again, and the view is okay. Sometimes, intermittently, life doesn’t completely suck. I am making progress, by standing still. For a perpetually moving person, such as myself, that you can move while standing still comes as a bit of a revelation. And there will come a time, I imagine, when I’ll feel ready to put the car back in gear and make my way to the main road. But that day isn’t today, nor will it be tomorrow. This is all I can tell you right now.

A few days after he died, my mom emailed me the obituary that my father had written for himself. The fact that he wrote his own obit made me smile, as it speaks volumes about who he was as a man. He took care of business the way he always took care of my mom, me and my sisters. Crossing those T’s and dotting those I’s. His version of his life, however, was little more than a list of names and dates and facts, with nothing to indicate who he really was, or how much he was loved. So, I rewrote it. The fact that I did this would have made him smile, I know, in return.

Dad and Brenda 1961Kenneth E. Ehlers, resident of Boise, was a man who worked in numbers the way an artist works in charcoal or oils. Balance sheets were his canvas, and accounting and finance were the mediums in which he worked, as well as the tools he used to help others make sense of their world. A highly intuitive person, Ken found an outlet for his creativity in a profession many would consider to be dry or dull. He never found it so. He loved the work that he did, and he generously shared his skills, and his deep knowledge of business and finance with a wide variety of charitable and community organizations, as well with his many friends, and his beloved family. His daughters would often call for accounting and business advice, asking, “Is the CPA in?” The answer was always yes.

Born on August 9th, 1937 in Blue Island, IL, Ken grew up in Southern California, graduating from Verdugo Hills High School in 1955. At the age of 18, he joined the Naval Reserve but, after a month of wretched seasickness aboard a naval Destroyer, he resigned from the US Navy and served his country instead in the US Army. Sadly, most of his daughters inherited his wobbly sea legs.

Ken’s work as a draftsman with the Army Corps of Engineers sparked a life-long interest in architecture which, though never pursued as a career, continued to fascinate, engage, and inspire him throughout his life. He was stationed during his enlistment at Fort Ord, California, Fort Belvior, Virginia and Fort Bliss, Texas. Honorably discharged in 1958, he achieved the rank of Specialist 5th Class. After discharge he attended Valley College in Van Nuys, California, courtesy of the US Government, on the GI Bill.

In 1959 he met and married his beloved wife, Cathy, in southern California, and in 1960 the couple moved to Eugene, Oregon, so that Ken could attend the University of Oregon. While studying accounting Ken’s family grew rapidly, with the addition of four daughters in five years. After graduating with a BS degree in Accounting and Business Statistics, Ken worked full time for several local accountancy firms in Eugene, while at the same studying at night for the United Certified Public Accountant exam. He passed the exam and became a Certified Public Accountant in 1968.

In 1970 the family moved to Portland, Oregon, when Ken accepted a position with a large international bank, where he worked in the accounting department and as Assistant Vice President for five years. In 1975 he joined a CPA firm, in Beaverton, Oregon, as a principal, and then established his own CPA practice a year later. Successful self-employment allowed Ken to pursue outdoor passions, and he joined the Mazamas, and climbed most of the glaciated peaks of the Cascades. He also loved to ski, and took frequent mid-week trips to the mountains, finding peace in the solitude of nature, when the slopes of Mt Hood and Mt Bachelor were quiet.

Ken was active in his professional community, the Oregon Society of CPA’s, and was awarded a life membership in the Association when he retired. Campfire of America acknowledged his entire family, as both Ken and Cathy were group leaders, and all their daughters were members. Ken was also a member of the service club SERTOMA of Beaverton, Oregon, and served on the Washington County Planning Commission for 8 years during the 1980’s. While living in Portland he was active in the Duck Club of UO. He was a lifelong supporter of the Ducks, and Ken’s family find comfort in the knowledge that Ken will now be “in the huddle” at every game of the football team he loved.

Ken sold his CPA practice in 1995, retired from business, and moved to Sisters, Oregon with his wife. He continued to enjoy outdoor pursuits, skiing the slopes of familiar mountains, until a series of health concerns forced him to stop. He turned his attention to artistic endeavors, working in wood and stained glass, and was particularly drawn to Craftsman and Mission design. Extensive research on the life and work of Frank Lloyd Wright informed Ken’s carpentry and stained glass designs, and he created many beautiful objects for his home and his family. His daughters were the recipients of many of his works, of which they will treasure, always.

During the time Ken lived in Sisters he was active in community affairs, serving for five years as a charter member and treasurer of the Community Action Team of Sisters. For six years he served as treasurer and board member in the Sage Meadow Home Owner’s Association. He also assisted the treasurer of the Sisters Garden Club in obtaining its not-for-profit IRS status while his wife was president. In addition he served on the Financial Council and served as Secretary of St. Edward the Martyr Catholic Church.

Ken had a heart attack, and died on August 30, 2013 at the age of 76. He will be greatly missed by family that includes Cathy, his beloved wife of 53 years and his loving daughters Brenda Dayne, of Wales, Linda Jensen, of Virginia, Pamela Ehlers Stec, of Minnesota and Sandra Ehlers, of Alaska. Daughter-in-law, Tonia Clarke, and sons-in-law, Jerry Jensen and Adrian Stec, will miss Ken. He was a loving presence in the lives of his grandchildren, Christopher, Zachary, Erik, Edward and Alexander, who will also miss him very much. Ken had two younger brothers, Russell and Robert, who passed away recently. He was also preceded in death by both parents, Edward and Marie Ehlers.

At his request, Ken’s ashes will be scattered on Mount Jefferson, Oregon, where he will rest peacefully forever.

Funeral service will be held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church 2612 W State St., Boise, ID on Thursday, September 5th at 11:00 a.m. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Mary’s Church.

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