John WanserJohn Gregory Wanser, 90, Bismarck, died February 20, 2013, at his home. Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 12:30 pm Wednesday, February 27, at Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Bismarck, with Bishop Paul Zipfel officiating. Burial will be in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Bismarck.
John Gregory Wanser, 90, Bismarck, died February 20, 2013, at his home. Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 12:30 pm Wednesday, February 27, at Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Bismarck, with Bishop Paul Zipfel officiating. Burial will be in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Bismarck.
Visitation will be held from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm Tuesday, February 26, at Parkway Funeral Service, 2330 Tyler Parkway, Bismarck, where rosary will begin at 7:00 pm, followed by sharing of memories.
John Gregory Wanser was born on December 13, 1922, in Jersey City, New Jersey, one of ten children of John and Anastasia Wanser, who were Austrian immigrants of Russian descent. His family was one of strong passions and headstrong stubbornness, gifts that were passed on to John quite effectively! Many of his childhood friends remained close to him throughout life, a hallmark of John’s incredible life.
John joined the Navy during World War II, serving aboard the USS Blair in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. The captain loved him so much that he gave John the tattered flag from the ship that flew at half-mast on the day of President Roosevelt’s death, and it remains on display to this day in John and Kay’s home.
After the war, he made a most unlikely decision to attend Jamestown College, a choice he later attributed to “not wanting to end up in the Mafia like the rest of my friends.” But in reality, it was God’s hand that guided that decision, for it was at a college dance where he met the Polish farm girl who was to become the love of his life, Katherine Szarkowski. No doubt John’s stunning good looks and charisma had a strong effect, but Kay had her own beauty and an inner grace that would become a lifelong complement to his larger-than-life persona.
John and Kay married on September 1, 1949. After graduating from college, he soon took his first teaching job in Tuttle, North Dakota, where he also served as basketball coach. While there, their only daughter, Roxanne, was born.
Eventually John took a teaching position in Bismarck, and was soon active in the sports scene as well, serving as assistant basketball coach at Bismarck High School. It was also in Bismarck where his two sons, Greg and Johnny, were born. He caught the eye of superintendent of schools T.E. Simle, who offered him his first appointment as elementary school principal.
John went on to become perhaps the most beloved principal in the history of Bismarck, serving at Roosevelt, Saxvik, Pioneer, Riverside and Will-Moore schools. Along the way, he also earned his master’s degree in education from the University of North Dakota. A kid at heart all his life, a high point of the school year was when he adorned Halloween costumes custom-made by Kay and visited all the schools. His elaborate get-ups included a Cabbage Patch doll, his sheepdog Boomer, Mr. T, and Flip Wilson’s Geraldine. Kay was always by his side made up in the perfect accompanying costume. The life-long effect he had on kids was obvious, evidenced by the myriad of former students who greeted him on the streets of Bismarck in later years, and by the many touching letters he kept from kids who loved him, including one who eventually became his son-in-law.
John spent summers on Kay’s parents’ farm in Jamestown, and also in New Jersey helping his mother maintain her apartment building. During trips to the East Coast, he would take credentials as a Bismarck Tribune reporter, which afforded him access to his beloved New York Yankees. With his charm, he would easily get right on the field and visit with all the legendary stars of that team. In fact, while North Dakotan Roger Maris was still playing for the Cleveland Indians, John was the first person to introduce him to his future teammate, Mickey Mantle! And in August of 1961, John wrote an article on Roger that appeared in the Bismarck Tribune, ending up with the line of “Here’s to 61 in ‘61”, an uncanny prediction of Roger’s home run feat that year.
John was a true pillar of Bismarck throughout the years, serving on many community boards and befriending countless people of both great and small influence. He and Kay cherished their friendships and celebrated them on many occasions, welcoming all into their home with uncommon warmth and hospitality. His annual birthday parties in mid-December became a cherished institution, followed by legendary Russian Christmas celebrations in January. His gifts to friends of hand-crafted ginger bread houses and meticulously decorated Russian Easter eggs were unforgettable. Ever the dapper dresser, he was known to trim his trees in his favorite Brooks Brothers attire.
An avid golfer, John eventually took a post-retirement job at Riverwood Golf Course. Several of the young high school kids who worked summers with him quickly learned to love him, and remained close throughout the rest of his life. His unique ability to have friends of all ages who genuinely cared for him and Kay was unparalleled. At his 90th birthday party in December 2012, his beloved grandson, Bobby, offered this toast to his Grandpa…“If I can have as many friends as you have had, then I will have won at life.”
John’s passion for his faith and the Catholic church was steadfast throughout his life. He formed close friendships with many of the Bishops, Monsignors, and priests serving in Bismarck. He often invited them to his home, made sure they had wine to enjoy at Christmas time, and hosted an annual luncheon in their honor.
John’s devotion to Kay became especially apparent in the later years of their marriage, after she suffered a devastating stroke. His strong will enabled her to live at home, where he lovingly demanded the very best of care for her. The love that the two of them shared has and will continue to serve as a shining example of God’s vision for marriage for all who were blessed to witness the last few years.
Surviving John are his wife, Kay, his daughter Roxanne and son-in-law Bob Berger, his son Greg, grandson Bobby Berger and his wife Krista, and sisters Dolores Sedlak, Doris Telepun and Olga Jeziorski. His son Johnny preceded him in death.
John’s love for his adopted North Dakota was especially evident in his frequent trips to Medora, a place that held a special place in his heart. To honor that love, his family requests that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, Box 1696, Bismarck, ND 58502. He and Bobby will share a named seat in the amphitheater in Medora, and a tree will be planted in Founder’s Park in honor of John and Kay.
Go to www.parkwayfu neral.com to share memories of John and to sign the online guestbook.
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