Don Schack, advocate for Washington state military veterans, dies at 81

By SHEILA HAGAR | Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Wash. | Published: March 13, 2020

WALLA WALLA, Wash. (Tribune News Service) — Walla Walla lost an advocate, an activist and a helping heart when Donald Schack died on Friday.

Schack, 81, was at the center of a group of family, friends and fans when his heart beat a final time, according to his son.

“My dad wanted to be home, he wanted to be with my mom,” Steve Schack said this week.

“They had an open door policy for visits — he had so many friends.”

That is without dispute.

Don Schack, who was never without his trademark cross worn on a long chain around his neck, was widely known here, statewide and nationally for his activism on behalf of military veterans.

The longtime Walla Walla resident had a finger in nearly every veteran pie, from work as a chaplain at the Walla Walla Veterans Home to an officer in the local VFW to chair of Washington State Veterans’ Affairs Advisory Committee.

Schack was also instrumental in spurring a World War II Memorial Project at Fort Walla Walla Park.

“He was a good man, a good dad, a good everything,” Steve Schack said of his father.

“He was always involved in veterans affairs, and he was not afraid to speak the truth.”

After enlisting in the U.S. Army at age 18 and eventually joining the U.S. Air Force, the senior Schack arrived in Walla Walla in 1962 as part of an incoming unit for a new Air Force dispersal base that would exist here for the next dozen years.

Don Schack soon met Walla Walla High School graduate Janet Shephard at the Blue Mountain Tavern, Steve Schack said, and that was that — the couple married in 1964.

“They were best friends,” their son said.

“They traveled the world, they did a lot of RVing, right up until last summer.”

The young couple would be stationed overseas, in Hawaii and back in Walla Walla during his 12 years of active service. He then joined the U.S. Army National Guard, eventually accruing 34 years of active service to his county.

“My dad was a true American. He bled red, white and blue, and I appreciate that,” Steve Schack said.

Family shared the same importance in Don Schack’s heart as military matters. Taking his kids camping and fishing were his favorite ways of passing time, Steve Schack recalled.

Don Schack escaped categorization. His day jobs included teaching at Walla Walla Community College, working at the downtown Sears and Roebuck and selling insurance.

He participated in numerous church organizations and coached ROTC in various schools. He would become notorious as one of the primary voices in Walla Walla and Washington state to keep local, regional and national politicians on their toes about the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center and more.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., worked with Don Schack on numerous health care and other veterans issues over many years.

“My prayers for comfort and peace are with Don’s family and friends. He was a fierce advocate for our troops and veterans,” the congresswoman said in an email.

“I appreciated his friendship and could always count on Don. He was a trusted voice for veterans in the Walla Walla Valley, and he will be missed.”

Larry Cunnington, commander of AMVETS Post 1111, said Wednesday he knew Don Schack for 20 years.

“Don had no problem calling (politicians) and telling them where he stood. And where they should stand to support veterans … I would tell it like Don would, but you wouldn’t be able to print it.”

Don Schack believed in what he was doing, Cunnington said, and was unafraid to stand up for it.

Yet the man had a way of winning hearts, even when his own was on the fritz, Cunnington said.

“He was a stubborn individual that was going to fully live until the very end.”

Steve Schack suspects his father’s deep love for his family, which included four children, and his interpersonal relationship skills developed because of his childhood.

Don Schack and his youngest brother, Ron, were the last of 10 children born to their parents. When their mother died, their father placed the youngest in a Catholic Church orphanage in St. Louis, Mo.

Once the boys were through high school, they went to live with an older brother before joining the military, Steve Schack said.

What could have ruined some children only made his father stronger, more aware of what was important in life, Steve Schack said — God, family and service to America.

“That was my dad,” he said.

“It was just my dad.”

A memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. April 4 at Trinity Lutheran Church.


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