Herman J. Koenig, a legend in his time

September 16, 2019

In the early hours of Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, Herman J. Koenig’s spirit was peacefully set free from his well lived in and worn 94-year-old body at his home in Clarksville, to soar to Heaven’s Kingdom.  Herman was born Dec. 20, 1924, during a snow storm in West Winfield, N.Y., to John and Ann Koenig.  

Herman was preceded in death by his parents; brother, John Koenig (Segri); sister Dorothea Malone; and brother-in-law Earl Knobloch.  He is survived by Ruth, his high school sweetheart and loving wife of 70 years.  He was a loving father of two daughters, Gwyn K. Terrell (John) and Beth K. Allen (Tim), his primary caregivers.  He was a proud grandfather of Jared E. Terrell (Jessica), Alaina T. Vickers (Kenneth) and Luke S. Terrell (Jenny) and joyous great-grandfather of Caitlyn, John and Caleb Terrell, and Kiera and Kenneth Vickers IV.  He is also survived by sister Josephine Knobloch; brother-in-law John Malone; nephew Steven Malone; niece Karen Marchese (Vince); two grandnieces and a grandnephew.

As the son of a farmer, he grew up working the land and dairy farm in the rural community near town. In those days farmers had to be self-sufficient, and Herman discovered that plow horses had a mind of their own with one speed.  He taught himself to rebuild or create whatever was necessary to work the farm from equipment to various snowplows, snow blowers and two drivable snowplows on tracks.  He converted a car into a Model A truck for the farm, then used it to drive to and from college.  He also renovated the farmhouse by raising the roof, adding a chimney/fireplace, redoing the kitchen or whatever was needed - he designed and built it.  

After high school, he continued to work on his family farm Mount Koenig for a year until Ruth graduated from high school so they could simultaneously attend separate colleges.  Herman graduated in 1949 from State University of New York in Oswego, earning a degree in industrial arts.  Twenty years later he attended college in Trenton, N.J., to earn a master’s degree in education.  After their college graduations, Herman and Ruth, through a placement assistance program, sent their resumes to several school districts in warmer southern states that were seeking industrial arts and music teachers.  Both of them had enough of cold harsh winters with too much snow to shovel and plow in New York State. 

Herman and Ruth were married June 30, 1949, at the Congregational Church in West Winfield, N.Y.  After a camping honeymoon, they packed up and drove to Ocean View, where both were hired as teachers at Lord Baltimore School. 

They quickly found an upstairs apartment to rent in Clarksville.  Upon arrival they met Charles Marvel painting the exterior of the house and became lifelong best friends with him and wife Irene.

Their landlord invited them to St. George’s United Methodist Church, with 2019 being their 70th year as members.  Herman and Ruth became youth leaders for weekly MYF meetings and did activities with the young people. Herman sang in the choir; Ruth directed, and in the ‘70s both sang in the St. George’s Quartet, traveling around Sussex County.  Herman was a Sunday school teacher for over four decades, member of the official board and trustee.  In the ‘90s into 2000s, Herman attended the weekly Men’s Prayer & Bible Study Breakfast held at a local restaurant in Selbyville and was a frequent speaker. 

In the early to mid-‘50s, Herman and Ruth took small groups of students to Word of Life in Schroon Lake, N.Y., for summer camp.  They continued to attend with their friends, took both daughters then their friends, and finished their visits over a 50-year period of going alone or taking their retired friends.

For 20 years, Herman taught industrial arts at Lord Baltimore in a separate brick building with a classroom and large shop area. Students learned: drafting, electrical wiring, auto mechanics, maintenance and repair, carpentry and wood shop to build small furniture pieces, manual typesetting, ceramics and more;  many of the skills for trades to be taught when the vocational school was established.  He used the shop for welding, auto body fill and repair, built a 14-foot flatbottom airboat and a 16-foot fiberglass tri-hull pleasure boat.  He created the large canvas backdrops and built props for high school operettas.  After school consolidations in 1970, Herman moved to Millsboro Junior High School to teach industrial arts for three years.

The last 15 years of Herman’s career in education were spent as the career guidance and placement coordinator for the Indian River School District.  He traveled around the area on his motorcycle to visit hiring employers.  He took photographs of their business and did interviews, then created slide show presentations that he taught in classrooms for all high schools in the district.  Using his List of Hiring Employers handout, students could apply for summer jobs or permanent employment after graduation.  Herman was often mistaken for a truant officer or policeman while riding his motorcycle.  The sight of his white helmet, dark pants and navy blue windbreaker caused many agile young people to run, jump fences, hedges and bushes to quickly hide.  Herman also filled in as a substitute principal for all schools in the district.  He retired in 1987 after 38 years of service with the Indian River School District.

In 1952, Herman and Ruth bought from their landlord one-and-a-half acres of land located next door to her house and their upstairs apartment rental. They designed their new concrete clapboard home with a covered carport and breezeway.  Herman built it with help from a teacher at Lord Baltimore and hired student helpers. He did all of the plumbing, electrical, masonry and brick work. They moved in before completion, and work continued after school and weekends.  It’s proven to be the most hurricane-safe house to this day. 

Herman continued through the years to build on his property.  A storage barn, larger barn with horse stall and large workshop, small greenhouse, bomb shelter, playbarn with an addition to convert into a home for his youngest daughter, treehouse with rope swing and zip line, mini bike track through the woods, large workshop with attached rec room, small garden shed, small exercise barn, an above-ground pool then hand dug an in-ground pool with outside shower, two carports, a snow blower attachment for the two-wheel garden tiller, one- and two-seat go-carts for his grandchildren. 

From 1969 into the ‘80s, his daughters, neighborhood kids and school friends had a playground paradise including the large front lawn.  A multitude of church picnics and pool parties were held over the summers.  Herman built a mini-bike and a tandem bike.  Group bike rides with neighbors around the block or the triangle were routine for years during the summer and early fall weekends. 

In the early ‘80s, Herman spent several weeks each summer helping his brother build his two-story chalet.  He continued to help complete the punch list for the next several years. His final building project was in 2011, at 86 years old; he designed, funded and had the garage on the old parsonage property moved between St. George’s Church and the new parsonage.  Since 1949, Herman and Ruth had hoped for a youth center, which he finally made a reality.  A carpenter and others volunteered their time; cabinets, carpet and flooring were donated; and Herman did construction work until the new Surge Youth building was completed.  

Herman and Ruth loved to travel throughout the country.  Herman’s first project was building a car rooftop two-person pop-up tent for summer camping with four students through states in the west.  His next creation was a seven-person crank-up travel trailer hitched to the station wagon.  A multitude of happy campers stopped to watch Herman crank up his silver travel trailer at the campsites.  There were many great summer trips across and all around the United States with his family, parents and nephew or with the Marvels.  Visiting relatives and friends along the way were regular stops in the majority of trips. 

Herman’s greatest travel creation was combining two short -bed vans into one 19-foot camper van.  This labor of love took 11 years to complete after school and on weekends.  This required every talent he had mastered: welding, auto body building, sanding, block and fill, auto mechanics, wiring, interior lighting, plumbing, custom headliner and door panels, upholstered cushions, new seat covers, custom cabinetry, counter, fiberglass bathroom, three bunks, multi- colored custom paint design over solid exterior body paint and yes, Herman did it all.  The DMV people were stunned and not quite sure what class to tag it in, but they figured it out.  

Herman and Ruth began their traveling and camping adventures immediately after their retirement in May 1987. Thousands upon thousands of miles were safely traveled all over the United States and Canada in the camper van.  They reached their goal and traveled to all 50 states. They also booked guided tours with travel groups to places around Europe and the Caribbean.  He was fascinated by culture and architecture, history and scenery.  They made many new friends from here and around the world.

Herman’s hobby as a newlywed was photography.  He built a darkroom in their home for developing his photos.  There are a couple of people who have the complete set of Koenig Christmas cards.  He created them with special lighting, costumes, props, did location shoots and used very uncooperative animals.  Herman was a tailor and master of the sewing machine.  He made the window draperies in his home and a variety of vinyl and upholstered multi-purpose cushions.  His daughters designed and he created both of their wedding dresses.  He made several winter coats, a wool winter coat with satin lining, and many denim jackets.  Herman built and upholstered a five-piece sectional furniture set for his youngest daughter.  He built custom hutches, side tables, a double with bunk bed and carpeted cat tower for his oldest daughter and grandchildren. 

Herman used his wood-turning talent to create priceless keepsakes from three old, cherished oak trees cut down at St. George’s Church.  He made various sizes of regular and pedestal bowls, some with lids, lamps, various height candleholder pairs, double candleholders, jewelry boxes, small plates, and picture frames.  These pieces were donated and sold at the church auction.  He continued wood turning using maple, cherry, and ash from the ditch tree that his and the neighborhood children grew up playing around.  He made over 130 unique pieces in total. 

Herman was also an artist, painting with watercolors or oils on canvas.  There is a large collection of oil paintings in his and his daughters’ homes.  Herman spent a period of time writing poetry and very witty life stories.  His youngest daughter convinced him to write an autobiography and he included a lot of photos. 

Herman learned how to type in high school.  This skill was critical when his youngest daughter taught him how to use his new computer.  The world opened up at his fingertips.  He learned how to make and print photo cards for his family and would type the annual Koenig Christmas letter faithfully sent to family and friends.  He learned how to email and would forward funny emails to everyone in his address book.  He also discovered YouTube which occupied hours of time for days on end.  

Anything that piqued his interest, he would master as he always loved to learn.  He loved to teach and share his knowledge with others, encouraging them to try new challenges.  He genuinely cared about all people, would help anyone in any way that he was able and was a faithful friend.  He touched thousands of lives through his career in education and his dedicated service to the church.  Many think of Herman as a legend in his time.     

Herman loved his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and committed his adult life in serving to the best of his abilities.  The Lord blessed him with extraordinary gifts, talents and intellect as well as a long life filled with blessings and abundance.  His walk with the Lord on this earth was a unique and spectacular journey.   

Herman loved and cherished his family.  He supported his children and grandchildren in so many valuable ways.  He set the standard for the best way to live and enjoy life to the fullest.  Most of all, he was loving and a great listener. 

Some may believe this to be an exceptionally long tribute, but God only created one Herman J. Koenig. 

A Celebration of Life Service will be held at St. George’s United Methodist Church in Clarksville at a later date.
Memorial contributions in Herman’s name can be made to Delaware Hospice, 100 Patriots Way, Milford, DE 19963.


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