Coping with Grief
We would like to offer our sincere support to anyone coping with grief. Enter your email below for our complimentary daily grief messages. Messages run for up to one year and you can stop at any time. Your email will not be used for any other purpose.
Kenny Schlenker was a Man’s Man who lived large. He had more friends than any one person would be fortunate enough to have in more than a lifetime. He loved these friends and even more he loved his family.
Kenneth Alvin Schlenker was born in Miles City, Montana, on May 17, 1952. He left his earthly home in peace with Gretchen and Tami by his side on Friday, October 13, 2023.
His family moved to Billings in 1957 and this became his forever home. He never lived anywhere else, and was always just a 10-minute drive from the home he grew up in with his mom, Charlotte, dad, Alvin and three sisters on Cook Avenue.
When Kenny met a friend, this friend was his for life and he was lucky enough to still have many from his school days at Broadwater Elementary (he sure loved the Fire Escape slide), Lincoln Junior High and Senior High, where he graduated in 1970. He got a laugh out of saying he managed to be in the State Championship Cross Country Team photo at Senior High and never ran in a meet because he was “too busy smoking cigarettes in Pioneer Park”! His group of friends just grew and grew over the years. He worked in the oil and brokerage business. In 2004, he bought his beautiful home on Poly Drive and he entertained often at his pool in the summers, where he proudly showed guests his recent art additions, flowers and gardens.
Though his friends were all special to him, Kenny’s family and his “Lover” Gretchen were the most important to him. He and his mom, Charlotte, shared a very special bond and Kenny stopped by her house every day at lunch. His sisters knew he was their mom’s favorite. His dad, Alvin, was a hardworking German who did not give his love openly, but we all knew how proud he was of his only son.
He had a 17-year loving relationship with Gretchen Knight who was with him until the end and, for that, he and his sisters were so blessed. He was second after his oldest sister Dona and Carol and the Caboose Tami followed. We grew up with many cousins who were close. Kenny was Tami’s best friend and there was seldom a day they did not talk or see each other. Kenny considered his nieces Libby and Mary Kate and his nephews Connor, Sam and Max his children. When the boys, along with Gretchen’s son Shay were young, he accidently called himself “Unkee” to them and from that day he became Unkee Kenny forever. He loved watching the boys play baseball, basketball and football. He even made his way to the soccer field to watch Libby from time to time. But he did like them to win and did not make a secret of that fact.
Kenny graduated from Eastern Montana College and went on to a successful (most of the time) career in the oil business, with a brief venture into the brokerage business at a point where the oil business seemed to disappear. His early nickname was “Lucky” and he came by that honestly. He was a great risk taker, and when he felt like the oil business was not risky enough, he ventured into horse racing. Along with his partner Carter Stewart, their horse Golden Ticket won with 33:1 odds in a dead heat at the Travers Stakes in 2012 and in 2013 their horse Frac Daddy was in the Kentucky Derby. Kenny loved those days and they remained part of his favorite times in his life.
He was an impeccable dresser and it was always important for him to present a well-groomed, well-pressed image, no matter what the occasion. He even looked fabulous running down Poly Drive. No one could compare to him and his friend Tom remembered he was the second Jason’s model in the Gazette years ago. He was part owner of Magoos in the late ’80s and Uber Brew.
Kenny, following his dad’s lead, was a lifelong Yankee’s fan and his house was full of memorabilia. He and Gretchen were fortunate enough to attend many Yankee games and sit right behind home plate. And like Alivn, he liked them best when they were winning, but always a fan. His nephews Sam and Max and parents got to enjoy a wonderful NYC vacation with tickets to see the Yankees that they will never forget.
He was a fabulous cook and, for years, Christmas dinner was at his house, along with multiple entries and beautiful decorating. About the year the table decorations caught on fire after everyone left and he and Gretchen were relaxing, he declared he was done and it was someone else’s turn to have the dinner. No one ever took him up on that — probably because no one could compete with his amazing Christmas celebrations — and he would be quick to let us know that.
Kenny loved his pets. He first acquired Sylvia Cat (named by niece Libby), whom he adored. After his mom passed, he inherited her kitty Katie. Then along came his dog Pepper and then Gracie. Mr. Jones completed his cat family. This summer, he could not resist rescuing Mick the Dog, who had been abused.
Kenny lived a large life and got to experience more than many people would in several lifetimes. He lived life without abandon and with no regrets and for that, Gretchen and his family are so happy. He is survived by Gretchen Knight; sisters Dona Schlenker Cranston, Carol Schlenker Keenan, Tami Schlenker Evenson, their husbands, Monty, John and Mike (Big Evee); niece Libby Cranston Heine (Brandon Heine), Connor Cranston (Yaicha Bookhout) and Sam and Max Evenson; Gretchen’s son Shay and mother Carol; great-niece and nephew Charlotte and Elliott Heine; and his aunt, Lorraine Stolts and many cousins. He was preceded by his dad and mom, Charlotte and Alvin; niece Mary Kate Keenan; and his beloved Sylvia, Katie and Pepper.
A special thank you to Doctor Steve Hammond and staff at The Billings Clinic, and Renee and staff at Albertsons Pharmacy on 13th and Grand. In place of flowers, if you desire, please make a donation to Pooch’z B & B - A Home for Senior Dogs, 644 56th St. W., Billings, MT 59106. He would love knowing that there are dogs that would be helped in his memory.
There will be a celebration of Kenny’s well lived life at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Winner’s Circle a.k.a the Vault (2501 Grand Ave). Please join his family and Gretchen to raise a toast to him on his journey.
“I think of death as a delightful journey that I shall take when my tasks are done.” (Evelyn Cameron)