Over more than 50 years as a member of the Kenyon community, Gary Skundberg, who died Sept. 19 at 78, made a huge impact as both a teacher and volunteer. Friends and family members described a man driven by his love for his family, faith, and passion for music.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Skundberg attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He married his wife Mary in 1963 and the couple taught in Iowa until 1967, when they moved to Kenyon.
Skundberg led the band program at Kenyon High School and Kenyon-Wanamingo following consolidation until his retirement in 1999. Upon his retirement he continued to have a large presence in the community as a particularly active member of Kenyon’s First Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Kenyon Sons of Norway.
Skundberg spent much of his retirement traveling across the world, often as a guide on group tours. While he visited and enjoyed dozens of countries, no foreign country was more near and dear to his heart than his beloved Norway.
Skundberg’s longtime friend Allan Story how Skundberg’s kindness and love for Norway led him to form a fast friendship with a Norweigan couple who had brought their child to Rochester for treatment at the Mayo Clinic. While working as a bus driver, Skundberg had overheard the couple talking with a Mayo Clinic nurse. Always generous, Skundberg offered to do whatever he could to help the family feel more at home.
The Skundbergs and Story bonded with the Norwegian family over love for music and all things Norway, and remained in contact with the ever since. They visited Norway to see the family in 2017 and were planning on hosting the family this fall, but the trip had to be cancelled due to Gary’s declining health.
“it was a genuine connection of interests that we had that brought us together,” Story said. “It’s all thanks to Gary for having this beautiful connection come together.”
Current K-W High School Band Director Claire Larson recalled how Skundberg, along with his wife served as tour guides for Kenyon-Wanamingo choir and band students on their trip to Norway in the summer of 2018. With his love of Norway, teaching and music, Skundberg was completely in his element on that trip.
“It was the perfect fit,” she said. “Gary was a musician, they were both Kenyon people, they were both interested in Norway, so both their interests and skills made them really fantastic guides.”
Larson found out almost immediately about Skundberg’s death, due to her friendship with his daughter Kari. However, she found it remarkable how many people approached her saying they were saddened by Skundberg’s passing and wanted to share their thoughts.
For Larson, the outpouring of sympathy and support showed what an impact this humble man had on the community.
“The Kenyon band tradition was inspired by him, and he supported it to this day,” she said.
In honor of Skundberg, Larson pulled the Kenyon marching band together for a stop by the Skundberg home Sept. 25 to play a few songs for Mary Skundberg in memory of her late husband.
Students described Gary Skundberg was an incredibly supportive teacher and an invaluable mentor. He consistently held high expectations for his students, selected complex and challenging music and students consistently stepped up and got the most out of their gifts.
“Her had a very quiet demeanor but he commanded respect,” said Kevin Anderson, who served with Skundberg in the Sons of Norway. “He had been retired from teaching for many years and still his students called him Mr. Skundberg. Because he respected his students and valued them, they respected him.”
Carol Lozon is among those who knew Skundberg best, having worked alongside him as principal of Kenyon High School when he was band director, and as president of the Kenyon Sons of Norway when he was a leading member.
Lozon fondly recalled sharing a bit of music and wine with the Skundbergs on many an evening. Sometimes, she’d even go to a concert at Orchestra Hall or St. Olaf College with the Skundbergs. She already misses those great times with a dear friend.
“He was an all around nice guy who was loyal, there when you need him,” Lozon said. “He will be dearly missed by many communities.”