February 18, 1933, to August 20, 2018
Leander (Lee) A. Mendyk, 85, of Winona, Minn., ended his life’s journey on August 20, 2018, at his home in Winona.
Visitation will be held from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Friday, August 24, 2018, at the Watkowski-Mulyck Funeral Home, where the Recitation of the Most Holy Rosary will be held at 6:30 p.m. Visitation will also be held from 10 a.m. until the Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. on Saturday, August 25, 2018, at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, 360 Main Street, Winona. The Very Reverend Mark C. McNea will officiate. Following the Mass, the American Legion Leon J. Wetzel Post 9 of Winona will provide Military Honors outside the cathedral. All are invited to a luncheon which will be held in Holy Family Hall following the Military Honors.
Additional services will be held next week in Loup City, Neb., where Lee will be laid to rest in the Evergreen Cemetery.
Lee was born on February 18, 1933, to John and Helen (Sekutera) Mendyk of Litchfield, Neb., later relocating to Arcadia and then Ravenna, Neb. He grew up during the Great Depression on the Nebraska prairies, always helping his parents on the farm. He learned to seek and find perfection putting up barbed-wire fences with his Dad, John. He was taught to work on a task until you got it right. His mom, Helen, saved her egg money, part of which went to Lee as his allowance. As further related by family, Dad would save his allowance and when his friends went to buy candy or a toy … he saved his money instead … to buy himself his first trumpet. He learned to sacrifice for others from her.
He and his best friend, Brice Hogue, went out for track in high school but only managed to continue for a week. After working out and running for track they also had to run home for several miles. Then there were all those farm chores to do still for his mom and dad … so track was put on hold. He was able, however, to pursue his running interests later in life after the family moved to Winona and AFTER retirement at the age of 65! He participated in 5K races in Lewiston, St. Charles, Goodview, for Steamboat Days and the BIX, a seven-mile race, internationally attended, in Davenport, Iowa, which included the “dreaded Brady Hill” at the very end. This was a big accomplishment for him and he was proud of these achievements as he should be and as his family always was too!
He married Rita Marie Kuta of Loup City, Neb., on April 18, 1953, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Grand Island, Neb., after passionately pursuing her, even following her on other dates! He generously showered her with gifts of jewelry beginning after their second date, (a very nice watch!). Rita relays that she said, “Oh, I can’t accept THIS … it is so nice and it’s only our second date!” … (but he was convincing)! The gifts of beautiful jewelry and clothing continued throughout their marriage. He never forgot to bring home little gifts for his children or his wife and was a loving and generous father.
Lee was inducted into the U.S. Army serving both at Fort Riley, Kan., and Fort Eustis, Va. His earlier years of playing trumpet in his high school band served him well as he was, per Rita, “lined up with his unit to ship to Korea when they were all asked if anybody played an instrument.” Lee stepped forward, was asked to audition … and the rest is history! He always said “the trumpet saved my life.” From that point forward he performed in the U.S. Army Band wherein one of his last duties was to meet ships returning from Korea and escort returning soldiers for interment.
He completed his BA in music education at Kearney State College, Kearney, Neb., after which the family relocated to Greeley, Colo., where he completed his Master’s and Doctorate degrees at the University of Northern Colorado. He relocated to Aurora, Neb., for the next seven years, developing one of the most successful marching and concert bands in the state. Rita says he always wanted “to have the best marching and concert bands in the state,” and judging by the very large collection of trophies in the cases at Aurora High School, we have to say he accomplished his goal! He had similar success with his teaching years at a later date at Lincoln High School in Lincoln, Neb. His first position as director of bands at the college level was for Wayne State College, Wayne, Neb., followed by University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and then assistant director of bands at University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kan. He returned to his home state to direct and teach at Lincoln High School for several years. Lee was then hired as director of bands by Winona State University, Winona, Minn., in 1977, and remained at WSU for 21 years. He initiated the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, as well as the High School Honors Band program, bringing in renowned guest clinicians such as Col Arnold Gabriel, Col John Bourgois of the President’s Own, U.S. Marine Band, Doc Severinson, Clark Terry, as well as many others. His program was a huge success and instrumental to his recruiting efforts for WSU … always being able to replenish his performance groups with top-notch freshmen to replace his graduating seniors. He was designated Professor Emeritus of Music upon retirement in 1998. His students affectionately called him “Doc.”
He performed in the Chatfield Brass Band and Winona Municipal Band and taught private lessons from beginner to college level. He was a highly sought after adjudicator for music competitions of all types throughout Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. He continued to travel as adjudicator and remained a private music instructor for many years after retirement, both of which he enjoyed immensely!
Lee was an avid gardener and natural “green-thumb,” his yard boasting beautiful displays of flowers bursting with color and creativity rivaling most botanical gardens … not to mention their vegetable gardens which kept Rita busy with canning and freezing after “retirement”! He absolutely loved driving, from the early years of family day trips into the Rockies north of Greeley, to long-distance trips to visit family in Colorado, Nebraska, and Missouri, or short trips around Winona pursuing another favorite past-time or two … “finding great pastry or pie and teasing the servers of those treats!” He was a big Chicago Bulls and Bears fan back in the days of Refrigerator Perry and Mike Ditka, enjoying a hearty rivalry with family members who were Vikings or Broncos fans! And let’s not forget those Nebraska Cornhuskers! Go Big Red!
Lee was a member of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Winona.
Survivors include his wife, Rita; five children, Stephanie K Mendyk of Winona, Michele R Mendyk of St Louis, Mo., Stephen A Mendyk and wife Ruth (Paulson) of Fresno, Calif., Michael J Mendyk and wife Becky, of Winona, Joni Mendyk-Bliss and husband Joseph Bliss Sr. of Eagan, Minn.; cousins, Richard Mendyk, Janet (Eurek) Mendyk, Larry Mendyk and wife Kathy of Liberty, Mo. Also surviving are grandchildren, Joshua Hervey of Minnetonka, Minn., Bennett J Mendyk of Winona, Katherine L and Caroline M Mendyk of Fresno, Calif.; step-grandchildren, Jennifer Bliss of Red Wing, Minn., Joseph Bliss Jr and wife Jaryn of Oklahoma City, Ok.; step-great-grandchildren, Emma M Paulbeck and Claire A Bliss of Red Wing, Minn., and Abby M and Sophia A Bliss of Oklahoma City, Ok.
He was preceded in death by his dear sweet granddaughter, Sara Anne Hervey.
Lee has finally “gone home, gone West” … his most oft-repeated requests in the past months of his illness. We miss you terribly already but you are in our hearts forever!
In lieu of flowers donations would be appreciated to the American Heart Association or Alzheimer’s research.
Online condolences or memories may be left for Lee’s family at www.watkowski-mulyck.com.
Watkowski-Mulyck Funeral Home is assisting the family with arrangements.