Duane Elmer Schmeling
January 27, 1934 - January 18, 2021
It is with great love, respect and sorrow that we announce the passing of our father and grandfather Duane Elmer Schmeling. Duane finally succumbed to his valiant and lengthy battle with cancer on Monday, January 18, just 9 days shy of his 87th birthday. With courage, strength and a resolute will to live, Duane defied one prognosis after another, earning him the title “The Bounce Back King”. We were grateful to have the extra time with him. It gives us great comfort that he is reunited with his great love, wife Deanna, who passed in 2009 and who he missed dearly.
Duane was born on January 27, 1934, in the cold winter of Watertown, South Dakota. The second son of Elmer and Nettie (Redlin) Schmeling, was just a boy of 7 years, brother Darrell only 9, when coming home from church, their mother suddenly died at the age of 30. Their father, who had a threshing/farming business, was distraught from his loss. Being ill-equipped to raise the boys himself, Elmer sent them to live with different relatives in two separate households. Duane’s early life wasn’t easy. He was only afforded an 8th grade education before it was determined that he would go to work harvesting the fields. Despite this rough start or perhaps because of it, Duane was determined to make something of his life.
With a hunger for real world experience and adventure, Duane tried to join the US Army. Unfortunately, being only 16 years of age but claiming to be 2 years older, he was turned away for his little white lie. Undaunted, Duane tried again a year later but this time, he carried with him his father’s signed permission and was soon off to the Hawaiian Islands for training. From there he was sent directly to the front lines in Korea. After re-enlisting, Duane was sent abroad again, this time to Germany. He was honorably discharged out of Pittsburgh, California in 1954.
After serving his country, Duane moved to Napa where his father had moved to in 1951. So convincing was Duane about the beauty and opportunity of the Napa Valley, his brother Darrell, wife Betty and their six kids would also find their way here. His decision to accept a job as a truck driver for the Hamm’s beer distributing company would prove to be a fateful one indeed. It was here that Duane met Deanna Passini, the bookkeeper and daughter of the company owner, Ike Passini. Three years later, on October 6, 1957, they were married in Napa at St. John’s Catholic Church.
Duane was a machinist at Kaiser Steel for 32 years but was always driven to do more. After retiring, never being one to sit idly, he decided to put to use his multiple skills and talents. He owned and operated a laundry mat, serviced and maintained car washes and eventually started a successful laminating business, Clear Vue Products. After retirement, Duane went to work for Spectrum Coin which eventually led him to start his own pinball and arcade game business, ZDM.
Duane loved camping, fishing, hunting, gambling, gardening and traveling. He loved working with his hands, especially working with wood. He built many beautiful pieces of art in the forms of furniture and household items. As he worked, he often had the garage door open. Passersby would stop to inquire about his projects and he was only too happy to show them what he was working on or just talk to them about it.
Duane and Deanna loved spending time with family and friends. They hosted many holidays, all sorts of family gatherings, pool parties, graduations, weddings and Super Bowl Sundays. When Duane fully retired (or when he actually meant it), he did lots of traveling with Deanna in their trailer. They journeyed all about the US, seeing many of the national parks including the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. They also ventured back to the state of Duane’s nativity to see Mount Rushmore, making a stop at the Redlin Art Center in Watertown, where famous S. Dakota artist Terry Redlin, has several original works on display. He had a special interest in this artist as Terry Redlin was his cousin.
Many “old time” Napans may remember Duane and Deanna always enjoying the Napa Town and Country Fair where he entered and won prizes for his woodworking projects. They especially loved visiting and dining at the Son’s of Italy spaghetti booth. Indulging their love of seafood, they often made trips to San Francisco to dine at Alioto‘s and Fishermen’s Wharf Grotto #9 or to Spenger’s in Berkeley and various seafood restaurants at Jack London Square.
In 2009, Duane’s life and happiness took a hit. After losing Deanna, he struggled to find his footing. But he eventually bounced back, finding enjoyment in his life again as he began traveling with his kids, nieces and nephews. He particularly enjoyed spending extra time with his grandsons, becoming very involved in their lives and activities. It was also at this turning point that he began to develop a passion for gardening. Duane was a very dutiful gardener, as he kept diligent logs and records of all related items including seed types, various fertilizers and planting times. And no matter the season, he always had quite the bountiful harvest!
Duane was gentleman with a generous heart and a welcoming spirit. He loved people and people loved him. He was the consummate host, always making sure everyone in his company was well taken care of. Duane had a sharp wit and a keen sense of humor. He loved to joke and laugh and he did so daily, right up to the end, all while fighting his physical pain.
Duane had a zest for life and an extraordinary will to survive, which he exhibited many times, at many stages of his life. His strength of character helped him defy the odds and face life’s obstacles with fortitude and courage. When he came home after his last stint in the US Army, Duane said this:
“I will never be cold again and I will always have money in my pockets”
He lived his life observing this vow he made to himself. He always made sure his family was well taken care of, with a roof over their head and food on the table.
Duane was preceded in death by his wife Deanna, his parents and brother Darrell Schmeling. He leaves his daughter Susie Dineen, husband John and grandsons Dillon and Maxwell. Also surviving is daughter Darlene, grandson Zack, great granddaughter Shiloh, numerous nieces and nephews and many loyal friends. Duane will be missed terribly and leaves a void in our lives that will be very hard to fill.
The family wishes to think Veterans Affairs and Kaiser Hospice, (especially nurse Justine) for their extensive care and guidance during the last year of Duane’s life.
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