Zane Michael "Mike" Van Auken, 72, of Forest City, Iowa, died April 17, 2017, at his residence.
Celebration of Life services were held April 22, 2017, at Immanuel Lutheran Church with Pastor Zech Anderson and Pastor Steve Dornbusch officiating. A gathering of family and friends was held April 21, 2017, at Cataldo Schott Funeral Chapel, 505 North Clark St. Forest City. Burial of cremains will be held at a later date.
Zane Michael “Mike” Van Auken was born on April 5, 1945, to Ruth (Bloom) and Zane Van Auken in St. Paul, Minn. He spent his first nine months on the Bloom family farm near Shafer, Minn., with his mom and older sister, Karen, until his father returned home from the War and met his son for the first time. The family then moved to Arcadia, Wis., and then to Winona, Minn., where he was joined by his younger sister, Rebecca (Reif) and spent his childhood immersed in family, nature, and music. He attended Winona State for two years, where he met his future bride, an exchange student from Norway, living with friends of the family. Just as their relationship was budding, it was time for her to return to her homeland. Mike then transferred to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, where he was involved in various musical endeavors. Serendipitously, he had the opportunity to tour Europe with the Nordic Choir, and was able to extend his stay to visit his long-distance love interest in Norway. After two years of courting across the sea, they decided enough was enough and Mike married Inghild “Pøtt” Nørstebø on Feb. 10, 1968, in Winona.
Mike and Pøtt made their first home in Gays Mills, Wis., in a pink trailer house. Mike taught band and choir in the Gays Mills and Soldiers Grove Junior High and High Schools for two years, before they moved to Forest City, Iowa, in August of 1970 - 10 days after their daughter Kari (Van Auken) Stern ‘93 was born! Aided by the recommendation of renowned Nordic Choir director Weston Noble ‘43, he was offered the position of director of the Waldorf College Concert Band and the New World Singers. He spent 16 years as a much beloved teacher and mentor to countless Waldorf students, impacting many lives in a very positive way. He led the band and singers on many tours, including four transformative trips to Mexico. In February of 1973, the family was made complete with the birth of son, Paul Michael. Mike took a sabbatical from Waldorf during the 1974-75 school year, when the family moved to Oslo, Norway. There, Mike was the music teacher at a junior high, where he had to learn to speak Norwegian very quickly! Mike’s years at Waldorf were filled with wonderful friends, colleagues and students that continued to hold a special place in his heart for years to come. This was one of several phases of his life that created lasting connections, which reverberate to this day.
In 1986, he was given the opportunity to shift gears and start in the insurance industry, eventually expanding to investments and financial planning. The family spent a total of 13 wonderful years in their home on North Clark Street, where Mike experimented with landscaping and home remodeling while helping raise his kids. In 1989, they moved out to “the country” to their current home on a former farm, where Mike established an office for Van Auken Financial Services in their big red barn, where he advised clients until his retirement in 2011. That big red barn was also the setting for many parties and celebrations with family and friends over the years. On this larger spread Mike was free to pursue more of his varied interests, including gardening, bird-watching, tree-planting, chicken-keeping and building his fish pond.
Of course, music played a huge part in Mike’s life! He enjoyed singing with the choir at Immanuel Lutheran Church for 46 years, playing jazz with Rank & Tenure and worship music with Psalm 100 and beyond for many years, directing the junior choir at church, listening to a lot of good jazz, enjoying live performances of many kinds, and more.
Mike was a voracious reader, devouring all of Louis L’Amour’s westerns, as well as book club novels, histories and other nonfiction, magazines about geography, science and culture, his beloved Montana, and daily newspapers. He had his own way with words, too, and penned and printed three illustrated children’s books for his grandkids and others to enjoy.
Mike liked good jokes (often laughing before he could get out his own punchlines) and good discussions, particularly about politics. His were of the decidedly lefty variety, but he really enjoyed rubbing shoulders with people from all stations and stripes. He was quite involved not only in many ways at church, but also in Rotary, with Habitat for Humanity, helping create a community garden, reading with elementary school kids, and more.
Mike loved his wife’s cooking and laughing with friends over libations. He had the good fortune of spending many glorious summer days at the Nørstebø family cabin in Norway and the Van Auken family cabin in Montana; per his wishes, the final resting place for his earthly remains will be a particular spot near the cabin with a particularly wonderful vista of the mountains of Glacier Park, which will be marked by a rock engraved with, simply, “Enjoy the View.” This will be a fitting tribute to a man who touched many lives but nonetheless remained humble.
Mike was dedicated to and loved his family very much. He was preceded in death by his parents (Ruth and Zane Van Auken) and sister Karen. He is survived by Pøtt, his beloved wife of 49 years; daughter Kari (Van Auken) Stern ‘93, her husband, Chuck, and daughters Sofie, Celia, and Stella of Plymouth, Minn.; and son Paul, his wife Courtney, and their daughters Tizita and Soliana, of Oshkosh, Wis.; sister Becky and her husband Bill; and a niece and three nephews and their families. It is a comfort for all of them to know that his health problems of many years will plague him no more, and he is now tapping his toes with the heavenly choir, whose pitch is always perfect!
Family suggests memorials for Immanuel Lutheran Church or the charity of your choice.