Obituary: Thomas R. Menzel
Thomas R. Menzel (1950 – 2019)
Thomas Roy Menzel, 69, of Hansville, Washington, passed away Friday morning, April 26, 2019, after a year and a half of stormy passage through melanoma cancer (his plea to others: “wear your sunscreen”).
Tom was born on January 9, 1950, at St. Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, the fifth of ten children of the late Roy and Margaret Menzel. He attended Stevens Point parochial schools, graduating in 1968 from Pacelli High School. As a child “Tommy” was a favorite among the neighbor ladies, charming his way into their cookie jars with his big blue eyes and talking his way out of almost any trouble.
After taking college courses in his hometown for two years, highlighted by a semester abroad in Europe, Tom moved to Madison and earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 1972 from the University of Wisconsin’s renowned journalism school. He worked for almost four years as a reporter and regional editor for the Janesville (WI) Gazette, quickly and ambitiously advancing his credentials. In 1976 he departed his beloved Wisconsin homeland and became the news and Sunday editor for the Idaho Statesman (Boise), the largest newspaper in Idaho.
In 1986, Tom left the newspaper business for good, forming Menzel-Higgins Communications with his wife, partner and creative director, Kathleen “Kate” Higgins. Their combined skills led to a broad range of accomplishments, including environmental impact statements, environmental assessments, political and community action campaigns and a variety of high-profile papers and reports for both private and public clients and causes. They worked mainly in the Boise area initially, later taking their talents to Washington’s Seattle-Puget Sound region, where they have lived and worked since 2004.
Free-spirited, strong-minded, sassy and brilliant, Tom always insisted on cutting his own path, embracing life and ideas with a passion. He was a lifelong adventurer, never afraid to explore and meet new friends with the love of his life, Kate. He was a pilot for a time and loved outdoor pursuits, especially fly fishing, hiking and gardening. In addition to his home overlooking Puget Sound (aka “Pugetopia”), his favorite places on Earth were Kelly Creek in northeast Idaho and the family cottage on Lake Katherine in northern Wisconsin.
Although he was alone among his siblings in choosing to live west of the Mississippi, Tom always remembered the places of his youth and the people who helped him along the way. He was a gifted writer and journalist, etching his mark on family in recent years as the primary author, researcher and driving force behind two heirloom-quality, spiral-bound books that chronicle the lives and travels of his parents. A testament to his determination, Tom completed the second book – a lasting gift to his family – just weeks before he died.
Tom is survived by his wife, Kate, Hansville; a daughter, Tyra (Gardner) Erickson, and their two children, Elynn and Reed, Burien, WA; and a son, Whitney (Jessica Sienkiewicz) Menzel of Portland, OR, and her two children. He is also survived by eight siblings: Rev. William Menzel, Wisconsin Rapids, WI; Kathryn (Charles) Collins, Appleton, WI; James (Sharon) Menzel, Stevens Point; Michael Menzel, Plainfield, WI; Fritz (Carol) Menzel, Stevens Point; Janet Jurgella (Eric) Finn, Plover, WI; Stephen (Wendy) Menzel, Stevens Point; Daniel Menzel, Stevens Point; two sisters-in-law, one brother-in-law; and numerous nieces and nephews.
From Dan’s poem, “Thinking of Tom in Early April”:
In a clear, chill, moonless night,
My brother finds beauty
And talks to us about it.
Stars, darkness in the lake
Twin beauty – or turn it upside down.
My brother wrote words.
Hundreds of thousands, millions of words.
All of them cased in concise, meaningful sentences.
Son, brother, lover, father.
Grandfather and all the greats to follow.
So much joy.