News and Views

Death claims proud American Ansgar Schei - January 8, 2010

Ansgar ScheiCourtesy of The Reflector
At age 94, Ansgar Schei of Woodland was looking forward to a hip replacement operation and then another trip to Hawaii. But he died Jan. 7, 2010, before he could accomplish those goals.

Funeral services for the long-time owner of Lewis River Motors who raised millions for philanthropic causes will be held Wed., Jan. 13, 11 a.m., at Woodland Presbyterian Church, 756 Park St., Woodland.

Schei is remembered for his patriotism, his politically-conservative beliefs, his strong Christian faith, and his support of humanitarian causes.

Ansgar Clarence Schei was born Dec. 30, 1915, in Woodland, and lived in the Woodland and Ridgefield areas his entire life. His father, Henry Schei, came to the United States from Norway about 1909, then returned to Norway, married Astrid, and came back to the United States for good. Family members say Ansgar was conceived in Norway and born in America.

Henry and Astrid took Ansgar to church when he was an infant. "I became a cradled member of the Woodland Presbyterian Church," Ansgar once said.

"Ansgar" is the name of a Saint in Norway.

The Schei family went on camping trips to the Lake Merrill area near Cougar because the area reminded Henry and Astrid of their native Norway.

Schei graduated from Woodland High School in 1934 where he played football and basketball. During high school years he worked at a blacksmith shop and delivered newspapers.

It was on a blind date that Schei met Milly Kane from Ridgefield. They were marred in 1937.

For awhile Schei worked at a feed store. In 1937 he and friend Freeman Keller borrowed money from Ridgefield banker Ed Firstenburg and opened a Richfield gas station in Woodland. Schei's son, Eric Schei, said Firstenburg was willing to make the loan because he, Firstenburg, had taught school and knew Milly who was a secretary at Ridgefield High School.

The service station lasted until 1942. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Schei attempted to join the Navy, Coast Guard and Army, but was rejected because of poor eyesight. During the war, he worked at the Vancouver Shipyards where he became a foreman.

After the war, Schei worked as a bookkeeper for Schurman Machine Works. Son Don arrived on Oct. 13, 1947.

Then in 1950, Schei acquired a third share in Lewis River Motors with friends Al and Ken Bjur. He never retired from that business. Son Eric arrived on Nov. 28, 1952.

Ansgar and Milly lived in the same house since 1950. Milly passed away in 2006.

Schei loved boating. In high school, he acquired a 10-12 foot sail boat and sailed in the Columbia River.

In 1962 a customer at the Lewis River Motors dealership traded in an 18-foot boat. The Schei family took the boat to Anacortes and sailed through the San Juan Islands. They were joined by four other families with boats–Lucille Bryant, Charlie Ferguson, Lenny Boys and Claude Smith. The families slept either on their boats or in parks during the 1 ˝ week adventure.

Schei's interest in boats continued as he acquired ever-larger vessels. In 1966, Schei purchased a 27-foot boat and moored it at Jantzen Beach in Portland. That boat sank during an ice storm in 1969-1970.

In 1980, he acquired a boat from his cousin's boat business in Seattle. This was a 40-foot trawler made by Ocean Alexander. His last boat, which he still owned at the time of his death, was a 42-foot Ocean Alexander.

In 1960, Al Bjur left Lewis River Motors, leaving Schei and Ken Bjur as partners. When Ken died in 1974, Schei acquired full ownership.

Schei saw the need for quality health care services and served on the board of Southwest Washington Medical Center Foundation. About 1988, he was named to the board of directors of the Medical Center.

In 1990 at age 75, Schei began his support of Medical Teams International, formerly known as Northwest Medical Teams, a group of volunteer physicians who donate their time and skills to help impoverished people in far-off countries. Schei organized banquets attended by as many as 280 people to raise money for Northwest Medical Teams. Over 18 years, Schei raised about $1.3 million for that cause.

For several years, Schei funded the expenses for a Woodland teacher to attend a one-week American history course at Williamsburg, VA. He also began a program to recognize exceptional teachers in the Woodland School District with financial awards. He established the Schei Family Foundation.

Schei is credited with founding the Woodland Chamber of Commerce. He served on the board of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. He was a member of the Lions and Masons. He believed that people could still made contributions to society even in retirement. He was seen as a voice in local politics.

Schei's office wall at Lewis River Motors has an autographed photo of record-setting pilot Yeager. Schei was twice named Citizen of the Year in Woodland.

In his later years, Ansgar and Milly Schei traveled around the world, including trips to China, the Holy Land, Norway and Ireland. Milly was part Irish.

Schei went to Hawaii every year for 10 years and made the trip just two years before his death.

Schei was a good public speaker. In the 1950s and 1960s, he spoke at various churches including churches as far away as Spokane. He spoke at his fundraising banquets.

Schei spent his life in the automobile business but wasn't a car enthusiast in high school.

Schei once took flying lessons but never obtained a pilot's license. He enjoyed golfing and was a member of Royal Oaks Country Club in Vancouver for 20 years. He never smoked. He signed his name either "Ansgar Schei" or more commonly AC Schei.

Schei broke his left hip in June 2009 and had screws placed in the hip. He still worked five days a week at his Lewis River Motors.

Some 58 people attended Schei's 94th birthday party held Dec. 30 at the Oak Tree. The event included a prime rib dinner which Schei always served at his fundraising banquets. Schei showed his ever-present sense of humor, dry wit, faith, love of family and love for people around the world at that event. His death eight days later was unexpected.

Schei was preceded in death by his wife Milly in 2006, and sisters, Lucille Slane and Genevieve Englehorn. Survivors include sons Don Schei of Portland, and Eric Schei of Woodland, and seven grandchildren.

Services will be held Wed., Jan. 13, 11 a.m., at Woodland Presbyterian Church, followed by interment at Frank Abel Cemetery, Woodland where Milly is buried. Donations are invited in Schei's name to Medical Teams International, P.O. Box 10, Portland, OR 97207.


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