Even in sickness, the tireless advocate rose to address this year’s state VFW convention in St. Cloud.
Pat Schon made it her mission to honor the accomplishments and mark the sacrifices made by those who served in World War I.
Inspired partly by her father’s service in the “Great War” in France, Schon organized the annual Memorial Day observances at the Victory Memorial Drive flagpole on the border of Minneapolis and Robbinsdale. She would dress in white and share one of her favorite poems, “In Flanders Fields.”
Schon’s work on behalf of veterans and their families went far beyond her north Minneapolis neighborhood. She held many offices on local and state levels, and she served as national president of the Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of World War I.
“That was her passion,” said her granddaughter Kathleen Coller of Coon Rapids. “She was doing the things she loved.”
Schon received a pin for 6,250 hours of volunteer work at the state VFW Convention last month in St. Cloud. Days later, on June 29, she died of congestive heart failure at the St. Cloud Hospital Rehabilitation Center. She was 86.
Schon began her more than 60 years of service with the women’s auxiliary on July 20, 1945. She was an active member in John Greenwood Auxiliary No. 3177 and the Russell Gaylord Auxiliary No. 159. She was state VFW Auxiliary District 7 president from 1973 to 1974, and had near perfect attendance at local, state and national functions.
“She was at every district or state conference or convention,” said Carol Kratz, treasurer of state chapter of the Ladies Auxiliary of the VFW. “Everybody knew her. There was never a time when she was not there.”
Even in ailing health and under advice from her doctor to skip this year’s state convention, Schon went anyway and delivered a speech to close out her decades of dedication, her granddaughter said.
Even as she ascended to national prominence, Schon took time to mentor junior officers who came behind her. She was resolute in following bylaws and rituals, and she made sure others were well schooled before they advanced, said good friend Opal Peterson, who succeeded Schon as the auxiliary’s national president.
“Pat was one of a kind and has influenced many of us to do better,” Peterson said. “Her quick wit and fun outlook certainly inspired me many times.”
Schon was on the advisory committee that shaped plans to restore Victory Memorial Drive in 2010. New streetlights were installed on biking and walking paths, and the tribute wall that lists the 568 names of nurses and soldiers who died in the “war to end all wars” was reconfigured. At its dedication in 2011, Schon recited “In Flanders Fields” along with a second verse that she wrote herself, said friend and neighborhood resident Linda Higgins.
Schon also read the poem in 2001, accompanied by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, when a monument to honor World War I veterans was unveiled at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
Schon also was a secretary in the Minneapolis public school system, a delegate to DFL conventions, and took pride in her neighborhood.
“She was a wonderful woman,” Higgins said. “She kept her pulse on the neighborhood and made it as good as it could be. She will be missed.”
Besides her granddaughter, Schon is survived by a daughter, Peggy Powell, of Coon Rapids, and two other granddaughters.
Services have been held.