Editor’s note: Each Monday, the Kenosha News takes a look at the life of a Kenosha County resident who recently died. We share with you, through the memories of family and friends, a life remembered.
Pat Kuhner loved bike rides and ice cream cones.
He was an animal lover who trained a squirrel to eat from his hand.
“He was a kind person,” said Pat’s stepgranddaughter, Tina Peterson.
Pat also took pride in taking care of his wife, Marie. “He liked being the one to provide things for her,” Tina said.
“He had a great personality,” Marie said.
Pat spent the first half of his working life in the U.S. Navy. The next half, he worked as a consultant for nuclear power plants in Illinois and California.
“He was smart, stubborn and loved talking about politics,” Tina said.
Pat R. Kuhner, 86, of Kenosha, died April 11 at his home. He is survived by his wife, Marie; children, Kelly (Don) Proko and Sheila (Rick) Thompson; four grandchildren, Dr. Tina (Dr. Kris) Peterson, Kendra (Jon) McGarthwaite, Nicholas Thompson and Emily Snellman; and numerous great-grandchildren.
Born on July 5, 1932, in Wheatland, Wyo., Pat was the adopted son of Ben C.W. and Catherine Kuhner. He attended local schools and graduated from Lincoln N.E. High School in Lincoln, Neb.
In the Navy
In 1949, before his 18th birthday, Pat enlisted in the Navy, where he began a 20-year hitch.
He worked his way up the ranks, retiring as a master chief petty officer.
Much of Pat’s naval career was spent aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise during both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.
“He loved the Navy,” Marie said.
Although he did not like talking about his service experience, “he’d talk about the places he went — the Philippines, Germany and Japan,” Tina said.
In his 20s, Pat married and had three children, Sheila, Mike and Steve. That marriage later ended in divorce.
While stationed at Great Lakes Naval Base, Pat met Marie LaPoint, a Kenosha woman, while she was dining with friends at a local supper club. They married on April 30, 1966.
“He later told us that he knew from the minute he saw her that she was the one because of her bright red hair,” Tina said.
Marie had a teenage daughter (Shelly) from a previous marriage, and Pat raised her as if she was his own, said Tina.
“He was a good stepdad and very involved with his stepgrandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Pat retired from the Navy in 1969. He then attended Gateway Technical Institute, and using nuclear power expertise learned in the Navy, went to work for Commonwealth Edison in Illinois.
In 1979 Pat accepted an offer to help set up Commonwealth Edison’s now-closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, and the couple moved to southern California.
“He taught them how to build and run the plant,” Tina said.
Tina, who is Shelly’s daughter, fondly recalled visiting Pat and Marie in California.
“When he’d come home from work, we’d go on bike rides and get ice cream. His favorite was a double scoop of butter pecan.”
Another memory was how Pat befriended a squirrel in the park during his lunch hour.
“He named it Fatso and told us how it would jump on his lap and eat out of his hand,” Tina said.
Back in Kenosha
In 1995, Pat and Marie returned to Kenosha. Pat joined Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1865, the Fleet Reserve Association and the U.S.S. Enterprise Association.
“He was very involved with veterans’ charities,” Tina said.
He also attended as many reunions as he could of his former shipmates from the U.S.S. Enterprise, she said.
A member of the Southport and Pike Masonic lodges in Kenosha, Tripoli Shrine, Pat often drove patients to and from the hospital, Tina said.
On the Honor Flight
In October 2016, Tina accompanied Pat on a veterans Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
“He said it was the only time he felt appreciated since he had left the military because after (Vietnam) people were yelling and screaming at veterans,” Tina said.
Tina said Pat’s favorite part of the special trip was “mail call,” for which family members write letters to the veterans and they receive a big packet as they did when they were they were in military service.
Throughout his life, Pat enjoyed being active, bowling, biking and swimming at the Kenosha Youth Foundation.
Pat bowled on leagues in California and Kenosha, often joined by Marie.
“We got to love it,” Marie said.
Pat also liked keeping his mind active with puzzles of all sorts.
“He’d get in a mood and you couldn’t get him away from finishing a (jigsaw) puzzle, and they were always the big ones,” Tina said.
Reading also engaged Pat. His favorite genre was political history.
“Pat was a talker, liked to joke and liked to tease people,” Tina said.