“Tom McKenzie. He died.” Dad would quip that’s all he wanted his obituary to say, but here we pause and reflect a bit more on his remarkably full and happy life. Born to Helen (Sherman) and Basil McKenzie in Appleton, Wisconsin, Tom and his four siblings were called the “funny five.” An untold number of stories about their adventurous youth lives in family lore. They acted out plays, helped father by repossessing cars, climbed below bridges, and appointed themselves archivists to examine the demolished City Courthouse cornerstone. All this helped form the intelligent, funny, and beloved man we were so lucky to know.
One high school summer, Tom worked as a page for State Senator and conservationist Gordon Bubolz at Wisconsin’s State Capital. Later, he served in the US Navy. He started college at Marquette University, and after transferring he graduated from Lawrence University in 1950 where he gained notoriety as a basketball and football player. He pursued a law degree at University of Wisconsin, Madison, which was interrupted when he served two years in the Army Counter Intelligence Corps in Oklahoma City during the Korean War. In 1953, he married Mary (Rusty) Schwingle, whom he met while working as a waiter at her sorority. He always said he fell for her because among her sorority sisters at the breakfast table Rusty looked best each morning. In 1955, he opened his law office in Appleton, and he genuinely enjoyed his 50+ years of private practice. Notably, he Chaired the Board of Governors for the State Bar of Wisconsin in 1988.
Tom and Rusty enjoyed 65 years of marriage until her death in 2019. They loved living over 40 years in their home on the north shore of Lake Winnebago where they raised five children. Tom instilled in each his love of nature and an appreciation for groan-worthy jokes. He took them to Packer Games, theatre performances, and all kinds of outdoor excursions. Tom loved travel and attributed he and Rusty’s longevity to regular winter vacations at a small island off Abaco, Bahamas. In retirement, they took many Elder Hostel trips to places like Channel Islands, CA and Yellowstone in winter. They were learning adventurers who absorbed sights, sounds, and culture wherever they went, and as lifelong companions his love for her deepened over time.
Tom was good natured. He loved life, family, friends, parties, food, and puns. A natural sportsman, he was an avid trout fisherman, snorkel/scuba diver, sailor, golfer, tennis/handball player, hiker, and skier. He reveled in carving wood sculptures while sitting on a breezy porch. Music uplifted his soul whether it was popular music of the ’30’s and 40’s, jazz, classical, or folk. An inexplicably lucky guy, he played a regular penny poker game, affectionately named “the prayer meetings,” for over a half century with old friends. His ROMEO group (i.e. Really Old Men Eating Out) would lunch regularly at Shriners Diner. To the very end, he warmed hearts, lighting up with sparkling eyes when ever someone entered, giving them a heartwarming smile, and offering a booming welcome. His warm hugs, silliness, competitiveness, and optimism will certainly be missed.
Tom’s volunteerism included serving with the Senior Lawyers Division of the Wisconsin Bar Association, Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust, NAMI Fox Valley, St. Bernard Social Justice Committee, and Peninsula Players Theatre Foundation among others. He will be remembered as a compassionate and talented advocate for the people and causes he cared about.
Tom is survived by his sister Mary; children Jane, Katie (William), and Tommy (Jill); grandchildren Tony (Yoko), Forest (Jessica) and Flora; and great grandchildren Sora, Ethan, and Levi. He was preceded in death by Rusty; children Molly and Peter; and siblings Helen, Jim, and John. Visitation is held at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Appleton, Wednesday, May 4, 2022, 3:00-6:00pm and resumes Thursday, May 5, 10:00am; Mass begins at 11:00am, followed by a luncheon at noon. Mass will be livestreamed and recorded for viewing later.
Those attending are encouraged to wear a mask and observe public health practices that limit the spread of disease in order to protect each other, especially our elders. For anyone wishing to contribute in Tom’s memory, you may want to consider Northeast Wisconsin Land Trust, NAMI Fox Valley, St. Bernard Catholic Church, Peninsula Players Theatre, or Trout Unlimited.