Merlin “Yukon” Charles Schankey passed away on May 19, 2021, at Aspirus Hospice House on N. 32nd Avenue in Wausau, Wisconsin after a long battle with Inflammatory Myopathy compounded by recently diagnosed cancer. Merlin was 82 years old at the time of his death.
Merlin was born in Black River Falls in Jackson County, Wisconsin. He was the 3rd of 4 children born to Charles Schankey and Albertine S. (Lei) Schankey. Merlin grew up on their family farm. Merlin had many stories he told of his youth on the farm, which have enthralled his family for years. However, when Merlin was around 12-years old, his parents sold the farm and they moved to Mukwonago, Wisconsin. It was at Mukwonago High School that Merlin learned to play the drums. In 1956, Merlin graduated from Mukwonago High School.
When Merlin was roughly 15 years old he began writing to a 13-year-old girl, Elaine Hays, who lived in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Merlin and Elaine wrote to each other for 4 years and 5 months before they ever met. Just 10 months later, on September 6, 1958, they were married and had their first home in Mukwonago.
In 1960, Merlin and Elaine had their first child, Deborah Ann. Nine months later at 22 years old, Merlin joined the trio The Country Travelers. He became long friends with the guys in the band. In 1963 Merlin and Elaine had their second child, Denise Annette. In 1964, they moved to a new home in Waukesha; however, that was short lived and in 1965 Merlin and Elaine decided to move to Eau Claire, Wisconsin in order to be closer to Elaine’s parents. Merlin and Elaine would go on to enjoy 62 years of married life together.
In Eau Claire, Merlin’s first job was with Pet Milk. Roughly one year later Merlin was hired as a meat cutter at Armour Meats, where he worked for 16 years. Merlin also did many odd jobs such as electronics repairs and Christmas tree flocking to earn extra money to take care of his family. In 1982, after Armour was bought out by Indianhead Foods, Merlin started M & E Remodeling and Repair. For the next 35 years, Merlin remodeled/repaired hundreds of homes in the Eau Claire area.
Merlin was also a gifted artist and designed/created many of the business signs around the Eau Claire area. He was also talented at woodworking and made many of the cabinets, wall hangings, clocks, mirrors, and knick-knacks in his daughter’s homes.
However, it was music that was Merlin’s true passion. He was a gifted drummer, vocalist and played a little guitar, too. In 1966, Merlin started his own band, which he named Yukon and the Prison Band. For over 14 years, this band was the most popular band in town. Throughout much of that time, the band would play Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. During his time in country music, Merlin had the privilege of working with many famous and talented artists to include Merle Haggard, Mel Tillis, Charlie Walker, Tommy Collins, Bill Anderson and Jeannie C. Riley, to name a few. However, he formed a lifelong friendship with performer/song writer Glenn Barber.
In 1980, his daughter, Deborah, introduced Merlin to musical theater. She convinced him to play the drums for the musical Pippin at the Fanny Hill Dinner Theater. That’s all it took and Merlin was hooked. Over the next 10-15 years, Merlin acted in several shows at Fanny Hill Dinner Theater to include Harvey, Cactus Flower, Run for Your Wife, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Around 2000, he reprised his role in Harvey at the Pepin Theater in which he shared the stage with William Christopher (of the TV show M*A*S*H).
When they first moved to Eau Claire, Merlin and Elaine joined Pinehurst Lutheran Church and Merlin dedicated hundreds of hours in service to the church to include building the beautiful lighted cross that still hangs at the front of the church. Merlin was genuinely a kind and helpful people-person. He was outgoing and could make friends literally anywhere he went. In fact, he could not go through a store in Eau Claire without being stopped 2-3 times just to talk by people he knew. Merlin was constantly helping others.
But most of all, Merlin was devoted to his family. He did whatever it took to take care of his family to include working multiple jobs. First and foremost, he was a family man and taught his family the value of laughter, joy, hard work and a strong character.
Merlin is preceded in death by both his parents, Charles and Albertine Schankey, his brothers, Vernon and Roger, his sister, Carol (Loppnow) and his granddaughter, Debra (Tepe). Merlin is survived by his wife, Elaine (Hays), daughters Deborah (Piskoty) and Denise (Connell), 12 grandchildren, Tabitha (Cater), Shane Kent, Natashia (Laughnan), April (Coleman), Jared Schankey-Bowen, Noah Piskoty, Marissa (Durham), Alaura (Berg), Austin Connell, Symbria Piskoty, Allen Piskoty and Hunter Piskoty, and 17 great-grandchildren.
Memorial Service will take place at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 25, 2021 at Ascension Lutheran Church, 1500 Peterson Avenue, Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Visitation for family and friends will be held at Hulke Family Funeral Home, 3209 Rudolph Road, Eau Claire from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Monday, May 24, 2021. Visitation will take place one hour prior to the service at church on Tuesday, May 25, 2021. Burial of Ashes will take place at Rest Haven Cemetery immediately after the memorial service.
Friends and family may offer condolences online at www.hulkefamilyfh.com.
Hulke Family Funeral Home & Cremation Services, 3209 Rudolph Road, Eau Claire, WI 54701 is assisting the family with the arrangements.
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