She was a self-described “chess nerd” who frequented local club events, drawing attention to herself with a quiet self-assurance, maturity and a sparkling personality.
Anarae Schunk stood out in the male-dominated chess world — so much so that the former CEO and board member of some of the state’s biggest companies sought her out.
Schunk, 20, mentored and inspired young chess players, including a junior high girl who went on to win a national championship.
Outgoing. Vivacious. Peppy. Extraordinary.
That’s how people want to remember Schunk, a University of Minnesota student from Burnsville whose body was found in a ditch Sept. 30 after she went to a bar with an ex-boyfriend. His name is not important. He is not important.
What’s important to people such as Ken Shaffer is that Schunk’s legacy is remembered. That’s why several chess associations will hold the Anarae Schunk Memorial Chess tournament this Saturday at Oxbow Creek School in Champlin. Donations at the tournament will be used to fund chess scholarships and activities for local youths.
Shaffer’s daughter, Tracy, was a promising chess player on the verge of excellence. Jack Mangan, director of Minneapolis Chess, had some grant money, and thought Schunk, a star player, would be an excellent coach for Tracy.
Schunk taught Tracy valuable lessons about chess, such as how to see and control the game board, not just the next play.
“Anarae taught Tracy how to read an opponent,” said Shaffer. “Was he sweating? Was he afraid of you?”
“Because chess is so male-dominated, Anarae taught her how to smile at your opponent,” said Shaffer. “Don’t glare at him or gloat, but enjoy it while you were beating him.”
Schunk, effervescent and confident, also taught Tracy about life. They both enjoyed chess, science and math, and both played saxophone.
“Anarae is who Tracy wants to grow up to be,” said Shaffer. “Our family fell in love with this wonderful young woman. She was clever, funny and interested in the world. She was going to be someone special.”
Schunk came over frequently for home-cooked meals such as chicken with dumplings, and she dragged Tracy along to coffee shops to play speed chess with college kids. The mentorship was a big reason Tracy went on to win an improbable national championship in 2012.
Roger Hale, former CEO of Tennant Co. and a member of the boards of companies such as Dayton Hudson and U.S. Bank, was introduced to Schunk by Mangan and invited her to Brasa for lunch.
They came from different worlds, yet Schunk was able to hold a conversation with Hale, who has traveled in rarefied company in Minnesota.
“I went home and told my wife, ‘That was one of the most interesting people I’ve met in a long time,’ ” said Hale. “We had an animated conversation. I can’t say that about every adult I’ve met.”
Hale said Schunk showed up at a chess event a couple of weeks before her death. She acknowledged her life “was a little stretched out,” but she was looking for focus.
Shaffer said Schunk mentioned her ex-boyfriend only once, remarking that “you wouldn’t like him.”
When Hale asked why, she replied: “Because my dad doesn’t like him.”
Ken Shaffer said his daughter is grieving the loss of her mentor and friend.
But she’s determined to adopt Schunk’s oft-repeated motto: Never quit, just restart.
Whether Tracy Shaffer is on her quest for future chess wins, or simply navigating life, her father believes Schunk will be with her in spirit.
“We put a picture of Anarae in Tracy’s chess bag, so she can be with her at every tournament,” said Shaffer. “Tracy loved Anarae.”