Donald James Kannel was born to eternal life on June 3, 2023, at home in Arkansaw, Wisconsin. He was a lifelong, devout Catholic, dairy farmer and baseball fan (in that order), and for his goodness and faith, he felt like the world’s oldest altar boy.
Born April 28, 1939, Don was the fourth of eight children of Earl and Rosella (Gilles) Kannel. He grew up on a dairy farm on East Hill above Plum City and attended St. John the Baptist Catholic School. He graduated from Plum City High School in 1957 and later enlisted in the Army, where he learned rocket firing. He served in Germany for 18 months.
Upon returning from the service, he married Jean (Black) Kannel at St. John’s in Plum City on December 29, 1962. He loved to tell how a very surprised Jean picked him up as he was hitchhiking home to Plum City when he returned from the Army. He had written letters to be mailed after he left Germany, so Jean and his family weren’t expecting him for nine more weeks. Legend has it that he had an engagement ring in his pocket that day!
After marriage, Don and Jean farmed in Plum City, and later Don worked for Bob Lecander of Elmwood for six years, making a lifelong friend in the process. Bob’s generosity to him was a topic of well-loved stories. In 1971, Don and Jean and their children moved to Jean’s family farm above the Big Arkansaw Valley. There they farmed, for better or worse, until selling the cows in 2003 for a well-earned retirement and some delayed traveling to visit family.
Don was a loving father and friend to many. Throughout his adult life, he told (and retold!) stories of his younger years, a pleasure he retained long after dementia caused his memory to fail. He was a blood donor (16 gallons!) and an enthusiastic singer. Jean played organ and Don sang with her at church for more than 40 years. He was also a member of the American Legion Post #365 in Plum City and helped to serve fish frys every year during Lent.
An avid sports fan, Don loved to tell that he had a .500 batting average as a high school senior! When there were cows to be milked, there was always a game on the radio. When the cows were gone, he finally got the chance to go to Madison for Badger basketball games and to Milwaukee to watch the Brewers.
Don is survived by his wife Jean; children Mary (Keith) Heavilin, Monica Cicci, Mark (Lynn Wolf) and Marcia; grandchildren Kayleigh (fiancée Lily Straus), Cole (fiancée Abi Hall), Noah Cicci and Maya Kannel; and great-granddaughter, Leo Straus. He is further survived by his brothers Marvin (Dell Jane), David (Phyllis) and Edward (Marjorie) Kannel; his sister, Mary Ellen (Dale) Nevalainen; Jean’s siblings and sister-in-law; and dozens of nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents; in-laws Willard and Bernadine Black; siblings Kenneth Kannel, Steven Kannel and Virginia Webb, son-in-law George Cicci; and granddaughter Elizabeth Kannel.
As Don lived with dementia, his daughter Marcia became his primary, live-in caregiver. Marcia filled his days with field trips, painting, shopping and many other enriching activities. Her family gratefully acknowledges the loving care she provided day and night so he could enjoy the best possible quality of life during his illness. In his last four months, he also had care from St. Croix Hospice at home.
The Kannels were assisted in so many kind ways by neighbors Jim Lieffring, Kelly Kallstrom and Brandon Hughes (along with the Hughes children Corbin, Charlie, Cooper and Caylee, who brought Don much pleasure with their friendship). Chris Keyes Winkler and Helen Keyes of Wheatfield Hill Farm in Durand showered him with kindness (and a kitten named Tiger), and Lori Klein became the family’s treasured respite caregiver and friend. Scott Black, Don’s nephew and neighbor, also lent his support generously. Thank you to everyone who visited and loved Don. May God bless all of you for your goodness and compassion.
Rhiel Funeral Home & Cremation Service, Durand, is assisting the family. Friends are invited to a visitation at Rhiel’s in Durand on Sunday, June 11, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial and military honors are planned at St. Henry Catholic Church, Eau Galle, Wis., on Monday, June 12, at 11 a.m., with visitation for an hour before Mass.