May 6, 2017
DANIEL A. KLAS, beloved husband, father, grandfather, uncle and brother died on May 6, 2017, at the age of 90, surrounded by his children and wife of 58 years.
The son of Gertrude and Thomas Klas, Dan grew up the oldest of nine children in Wabasha. It was the era of self-sufficiency, wracked by the Depression and before the days of welfare and social security. "We were all poor but we didn't know it,'' Dan was fond of saying.
His family never owned a house, and never owned a car. His mother, Gert, canned fruits and vegetables from their garden, washed clothes on the wood-burning stove and bleached used flour sacks to make pajamas, shirts and blouses on her treadmill sewing machine. His father, Tom, chopped wood with a cross-cut saw, worked at flour mill and on the railroad, often absent for long periods.
"Times were tough,'' Dan would recall. He told of the time a man from the mill came to their house to offer their dad a job working three days a week at 25 cents an hour. Tom had been out of work for more than six months and the news was greeted with such relief that, Dan recalled, "It was the first time I saw my parents cry."
During the Depression, the family was forced to move from house to house, dependent on the compassion of landlords to stave off homelessness. Despite the heartbreak and frustration, Dan saw value in their struggles.
"I have always believed that growing up poor in a small town was a blessing,'' Dan would often say.
At age 10, Dan got his first job -- a paper route, delivering the Minneapolis Journal. When he and his brother, Bob, sold enough subscriptions, they each won new bikes. The bikes helped the boys get their second job: selling popcorn at softball games for 5 cents a bag. With the money they saved, they bought the popcorn business for $25. Dan saved $14 and Bob saved $11, "so we called it even,'' Dan recalled, noting years later that those kinds of deals made Bob the millionaire.
After graduating from Wabasha High School in 1945, Dan was drafted in the U.S. Army, where he served as a ball gunner in the 754th Tank Battalion in occupied Korea. He was offered a promotion but chose not to re-enlist, deciding instead to return to Minnesota. He took advantage of the G.I. Bill, and attended Hamline University where he majored in history.
Upon graduation, Dan took a job teaching high school history and science. He taught for six years in Wheaton and Willmar until his brothers Bob and Bill (Cutz) persuaded him to come to work for them at Tapemark, a fledgling printing company that they built into a major corporation. Before long, though, law school was calling Dan and he enrolled in night classes at William Mitchell College of Law.
There, he met Mary Lou. "Tall, good-looking and smart,'' Dan recalled. They married their second year of law school, had their first child, Mary Ellen, before graduating and their second child, Kathleen, after passing the bar.
Dan wanted to move back to Wabasha to practice law. Mary Lou's answer was as practical as it was curt: "Send money,'' she replied.
Dan was hired by the St. Paul city attorney's office in 1962, where he stayed for 12 years, authoring several controversial ordinances aimed at bingo operations, junkyards, gun control and pornography.
"There are simply some good, old-fashioned qualities including decency that don't have to be defined,'' he told reporter Don Boxmeyer in one of many stories about Dan's crusades.
Later, Dan and Mary Lou opened their own law firm, working together in private practice for more than 10 years.
Dan was what people today call "an early adapter." He was his family's Francis Ford Coppola. He used 8 mm audio tape to record his children reciting nursery rhymes. He was the first in the family to record every family event on 8 mm film. When video cameras emerged, he was the only Dad at the grade school graduation to be wearing a suitcase-sized video recorder and recording every second.
Dan knew the power of film and audio to capture memories and used that effectively at work too. As city attorney, he helped initiate the practice of having police record drunk driving suspects to increase convictions. He figured out that once the person sobered up and watched the tape, it led to more confessions.
In his later years, Dan devoted himself to what he considered his full-time job "spoiling my grandchildren." He boasted of each of them as a genius or exquisitely gifted, convincing them that he or she was genuinely unique -- and, of course, special in his eyes.
His dedication was complete. He never missed a graduation or birthday, supported their interests, sponsored their fundraisers and constantly encouraged them to open their minds widely through education. He served as grandparent/babysitter to his St. Paul grandsons when they were infants and toddlers and traveled frequently to stay with his out-of-town grandchildren to fill in for traveling parents. When the boys were older, Dan was constant at every one of their baseball, basketball, or soccer games. They laugh about how there were dozens of times when Grandpa would arrive at a sporting event even before the team.
When Dan's granddaughters decided to come to St. Paul for college, he was there for them too, attending Hamline alumni banquets with Katie Kennedy and dropping in at St. Kate's for a game of cribbage with Ali Thames. He was also there for the hard stuff: the long moves, the hospital visits, the relatives' funerals.
Dan was a fighter. In October 2016, he got the news that instead of the hip surgery he was hoping for, he had stage IV lymphoma.
If Dan feared anything, it was cancer. The disease had taken his sweet sister Carol far too young, consumed his dad, and stolen his dear friend and brother Cutz too early. Dan drank three kinds of red juice and a little red wine every day -- convinced of the cancer-fighting properties of the antioxidants.
But when Dan got the diagnosis, he wasn't afraid. “I always thought if I got news like this I would go over the cliff, but I’m really fine,'' he said. "The past has been so wonderful. I don’t need a long future.”
He lived far longer than doctors thought he would, and felt much better through most of it than anyone expected. He watched the Cubs win the World Series and made it to his 90th birthday party.
Dan's motto: "I wouldn't change a thing." And if you asked Dan how he was, he would answer: "I'm the luckiest man in the world."
Dan is survived by his wife of 58 years, Mary Louise (nee May); daughters Mary Ellen (John) Kennedy, Kathy (Rob) Thames, Barbara Klas, John (Christine) Klas, and Trish (Jim) Montalbano; 13 grandchildren: Emily and Katie Kennedy; Ali, Hannah (Aris) Ford, Quin, and Adeline Thames; Jack and George Jamison; Delaney, Lauren and Nora Klas; Michael and Daniel Montalbano; brother Robert (Sandy) Klas and sisters Janet Roberts, Mary Peterson and Alice (Chuck) Harrison. He was preceded in death by his parents, Thomas and Gertrude, his brothers James and William and his sisters Harriet and Carol.
Visitation 5-8 p.m. Wednesday, May 10, Willwerscheid Funeral Home, 1167 Grand Ave., St. Paul. Funeral service Thursday, May 11, 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Victory Chapel, 2004 Randolph Ave. St. Paul, 55105. Luncheon to follow. Military honors burial at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, 12:45 p.m., 7601 34th Ave. South, Minneapolis, 55450.
In lieu of flowers, memorials preferred to the Sisters of St. Joseph Ministries Foundation and the Health Partners Hospice.