On the morning of Sunday, November 1st, Earl Chesnik, age 86, lost his battle with mesothelioma. He was surrounded by his family at his home in Sauk Centre, Minnesota.
Earl was born to the late Frank and Margaret Chesnik on May 1,1934 in West Allis, Wisconsin. His long and illustrious career in plumbing and heating started with Bud’s Burner Service, a furnace cleaning company that Earl started while in high school, foreshadowing his savvy business skills later in life.
On September 12, 1953, at the age of 19, Earl married the love of his life, Sharon Lynn Rau. Earl and Sharon (Sherry) met a year earlier at the Riverside ice skating rink on the east side of Milwaukee. They shared 67 years of marriage together. Yes, you read that right - 67 years of marriage. Earl’s unconditional love for his beloved Sherry is everlasting.
Earl and Sherry became a family of four with the birth of their daughter, Carrie (born 1957), and son, Kevin (born 1959). In the summer of 1961, Earl and his family headed for Redfield, South Dakota. Redfield would never be the same.
Earl first worked in Redfield as a do-it-all furnace serviceman before building two successful businesses: Dakota Sheet Metal and NCK Developers. Earl was a skilled contractor and built a reputation for being able to do everything from install plumbing for a bathroom to repair a broken furnace to design the layout of an entire building.
Earl left his mark not only on the buildings he built but the lives he changed. He believed strongly in helping your fellow neighbor. He turned his belief into action by becoming actively involved in and nationally recognized for his civic engagement. Drive through Redfield and you’ll see Earl Chesnik’s legacy all over this small South Dakotan town. Earl set up subdivisions for low-income housing, created the town’s business park, and built the Star Nursing Home for the elderly. Earl was also involved in local politics in Spink County, he served twice as the South Dakota Delegate for the National Democratic Party Convention and he was the Chairman of the South Dakota State Democratic Party in 1976. Multiple past Governors from numerous states wrote Earl letters of commendation, acknowledging the positive impact that he made on his community. There is no replacing Earl, that’s for sure, but the world could definitely use more Earl Chesnik’s in it right now.
Earl enjoyed teaching gun safety to youth and would spend the third Saturday morning of every October driving out to the dirt gravel road leading up to Wayne Nelson’s farm to pheasant hunt with his son. Kevin also remembers the time he traveled 130 miles to Sisseton, South Dakota with his high school basketball team for a game only to arrive and realize that he forgot his uniform and thought he wouldn’t be able to play. But Kevin had Earl as a father, and right on cue, Earl was there to meet him when he got off the school bus, his son’s basketball uniform in hand.
In 1978, Earl sold both of his businesses, packed everything up in storage, and hit the road with Sherry. They traveled the country together as Earl built motel after motel - first with Super 8 Corporation in Virginia, Georgia, and Maryland; next with Thorolson’s in Idaho, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas; and finally with Spirit Hospitality in Colorado and Wyoming. In a contest of “who’s visited more states,” Earl would probably win. During his time in construction, Earl worked his way from being a Superintendent to a Project Manager to a Developer and Consultant, a testament to how well he knew his craft.
In 2009, at the age of 76 (yes, he really was still building motels in his mid-seventies!), Earl decided to retire after working on a whopping 36 different motel building projects. He settled down with Sherry in the beautiful, three-story house he built himself (I mean, are you surprised?) fourteen years prior on a five-acre lot in Sauk Centre, Minnesota. If I could draw you a picture of Earl and Sherry’s final house, you would see a quiet road leading up to a cozy house in the country with a full wrap around porch sitting on top of a hill surrounded by red oak and birch trees, the “ladies” as Earl called them, whose leaves would whistle in the wind. It was as if that house had Earl’s personality built into it.
Next to this picturesque house was a separate completely furnished workshop, home to Earl’s 2,500 (I’m not exaggerating, okay maybe a little) different tools. It’s more of a tool palace, actually. Trust me, I’ve seen it. Earl was a connoisseur of tools. If you needed a circular saw or a sheet metal break, Earl had it, and he knew how to use it. His extensive builder knowledge came quite in handy when he was called upon to put up drywall in his granddaughter’s basement or give his son advice for fitting a new kitchen sink. When in doubt, we called Earl. He would know what to do.
Beyond Earl’s handyman skills and infamous collection of tools, he also collected baseball hats. He had nearly 100 different baseball hats, many of which lined every inch of his home office. But his signature hat was the classic cowboy hat. You would always know when Earl entered the room. His presence was captivating.
When Earl was young, he had an unparalleled thirst for learning. He absolutely loved reading history books, especially books on World War I and World War II. He passed his love of history on to his son. If you ever caught them in a conversation, you’d hear them both rattle off historic dates and places without breaking a sweat. It was quite impressive. Like father, like son.
Earl’s thirst for learning stayed with him his entire life. In his later years, he wanted to keep with the times so he learned how to text, email, and use the internet. When Facebook became a thing, Earl was on it. He set up his profile account and would send Facebook messages to his family members, all of whom would chuckle when they received his messages because they secretly knew Earl was better at Facebook then they were! Earl believed you never stopped learning, and he certainly lived up to it.
If you haven’t caught on yet that he was a special guy, Earl was a member of the Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, Jaycee’s, and Redfield, South Dakota Chamber of Commerce. If you were lucky enough to know Earl, you knew of his kind heart, the smirk he would make when trying not to laugh, and the passion he poured into everything he did. He was known for giving the biggest of hugs. When he hugged you, he really hugged you. We are all giving him the biggest hug back today.
Earl is survived by his wife Sherry, his two children, Carrie and Kevin, his daughter-in-law, Connie, his sister Marilyn and brother-in-law Jerry, his nephew Ben and niece-in-law Shannon, and his three grandchildren, Kelly, Hayley, and Valerie. Earl relished his role as “Grandpa Bud” to his grandchildren. They shared a mutual love for breakfast food with their Grandpa and they will always remember their many outings to Truckers in Sauk Centre to stuff their faces with eggs, hash browns, and jumbo-sized pancakes. They will never look at a stack of juicy buttermilk pancakes again without thinking fondly of their Grandpa's face. If you’re reading this and thinking that pancakes sound like a good idea for dinner tonight, I think Earl would support your decision.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (https://www.curemeso.org/donate/) In honor of his memory.
We love you, Bud. We miss you deeply. Until we meet again. Hugs and Kisses.