South Milwaukee Loses a Local Music Icon: Kneevers Passes Away

South Milwaukee lost an iconic figure on Thursday, as Earl Edwin Kneevers Jr. passed away at the age of 93 in Sheboygan.

What a life he led … from his groundbreaking service in the U.S. Army to his decades making music in South Milwaukee to his church and volunteer work to his post-retirement efforts as a historian and author, Mr. Kneevers left quite a legacy.

It all comes to life in his obituary.

Earl was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on August 10, 1929. His parents were Earl Edwin Kneevers, Sr. and Erna Steil Kneevers. He was baptized at St. Mark Lutheran Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on September 1, 1929. Earl graduated from Sheboygan North High School in 1947.

He earned Bachelor and Master of Science degrees (1951 and 1961) in Music Education from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He served in the United States Army for three years during the Korean War, performing with the Fifth Army Band, participating in the first firing of the atomic cannon, and serving as a prisoner chaser. His experience of the Operation Grable nuclear test is detailed in the book, Sheboygan County’s Unforgotten. Earl was proud to serve his country in the Army and made lifelong friends in service. (Details about his time in the Army here.)

He taught instrumental music in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin for thirty-five years, seventeen years as Senior High Band Director, eighteen years as Orchestra Director and also as K-12 Music Supervisor. Earl was awarded the Hugo Anhalt Achievement Award from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 1966 for his contribution to the Advancement of Music in the State of Wisconsin. In 1986, the Mayor and Common Council of the City of South Milwaukee presented him with a “Resolution Honoring Mr. Earl Kneevers for his Contribution to the Art of Music in the City of South Milwaukee.”

Earl met his wife, Charmaine Louise Chopp, in high school when they performed in the Music Makers Dance Band, Earl as a saxophone and clarinet player and Charmaine as a vocalist. They were married on August 14, 1954, at Bethany Lutheran Church in the Village of Kohler, Wisconsin. During his career, Earl served the Boy Scouts of America as a Music Merit Badge Counselor.

He was President of Trinity Lutheran Church in South Milwaukee and also directed their choir. He was Conductor of the South Milwaukee Municipal Adult Band in addition to organizing and overseeing band, drum corps, twirler, and drill team competition for the Wisconsin Spectacle of Music in South Milwaukee for twenty years.

Upon retirement in 1989, Earl became a Master Adjudicator and Field Representative for the Wisconsin School Music Association. He was also appointed to serve as Chair for Retirees and History. Several of his news articles were published in the Wisconsin School Musician magazine. Community service projects for Earl included serving as President of SCARTA (Sheboygan County Area Retired Teachers Association) and President of the S.M.E.A. (South Milwaukee Education Association).

He also served as Commander of the Sheboygan Falls American Legion Post #149 from 2002-2005. He was an adjudicator for the Sheboygan Music Club Scholarship Program and was Chairman of the South Milwaukee Retirees Scholarship Committee. He worked with people who have memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease at “The Gathering Place” located at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin. As an avid reader, he was a student of conservative politics and was an active member of the Sheboygan County Republican Party.

In 1998, Earl and his wife, Charmaine, published a historical book, The Kneevers Hotel – A Sheboygan Landmark 1887-1978. Their second historical book, The Sheboygan Socialists, was published in 2003. A retirement highlight for Earl was fishing with his granddaughters at the family cabin in “God’s Country” at Three Lakes, Wisconsin. 

Learn more in this YouTube video, described as “a collection of memories from South Milwaukee High School Band/Orchestra Director, Earl Kneevers’ scrapbooks. This slide show features, momentos, photos, newspaper articles and such contributed by friends, students and colleagues.”

1 Comment

Filed under South Milwaukee

One response to “South Milwaukee Loses a Local Music Icon: Kneevers Passes Away

  1. June Marie Ruszczynski

    Mr. Kneevers was a class act. I had the pleasure of meeting (and performing for) him in South Milwaukee Orchestra.

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