On July 25, 2018, Richard Joseph Sonsalla, 82, of Byron, boarded the train to heaven surrounded by his loving family.
He was born at Winona General Hospital on Oct. 17, 1935, to Michael and Merle (Beardsley) Sonsalla. He graduated from Winona Senior High School in 1953 and attended the University of Minnesota. He served with the 25th Infantry Division Army Band in Korea and Hawaii from 1953 to 1955.
Since the age of 15, Dick played in many area bands, including The Dutchmasters, Blue Denim Boys, Winona City Band, Chatfield Brass Band and the Notochords, plus the Sun City Pops in Arizona.
He met his future bride, Shirley Wittenberg, at 16, when he was playing in the band at the Gaymor Ballroom in Altura. She and her sister had just happened to attend the Friday night dance! They were married Dec. 27, 1958, at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Winona.
Dick learned to play the bagpipes from Aggie Wallace while serving in Hawaii and was a charter member of the Mantorville Grenadiers Pipe Band. His piping found him at many parades, weddings and funerals and especially at all the family reunions and birthday parties.
In 1957, Dick was hired by IBM and worked as an Electrical Engineer for 33-1/3 years, retiring in April 1990. He was a member of American Legion Post 92 and the Korean Veterans Club.
He had a love of trains. From putting a penny on the tracks at age 6 to owning a fleet of steam and gas engines. Dick built a hundred-foot tunnel, a 40-foot trestle and laid almost 5,000 feet of track. Dick and Shirley melted their wedding rings to make a Golden Spike for the ceremony in 1998 attended by relatives and friends. Family members and friends from a 3-week-old baby to a 95-year-old gentleman enjoyed the train rides. He loved talking about trains, going to train meets, and could name any train group in the U.S.
Dick was a faith-filled person and taught religion classes at Christ the King Catholic Church in Byron. He belonged to the Teams of Our Lady for more than 30 years. He was a charter member of Holy Spirit Catholic Church and gave much of his time on the Building Committee. He logged many hours volunteering at Saint Marys Hospital.
Dick is survived by his favorite teacher (wife), Shirley; three wonderful children, Joseph (Shulan) of Eau Claire, Wis., Jayne (Gordon) Ferlitsch of Tigard, Ore., and Jeffrey (Debbie Boduch) of Apple Valley; six lovely grandchildren, David, Michael, Maxwell, Maria, Giovanna and Simone; and many beloved nieces, nephews and cousins. He was preceded in death by his parents; and siblings, Beverly Hoeppner, Bill Sonsalla, and Renee Larson Wieser.
He was able to spend his final weeks at home due to the loving care provided by the many angels of Seasons Hospice — with special gratitude to nurses, Teresa and Lucy.
Memorials will be given to Prostate Cancer Research and Seasons Hospice.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, with the Rev. Thomas Loomis officiating. Visitation will be held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 31 in the River Park Chapel at Macken Funeral Home, with a Rosary service starting at 6 p.m. There will also be a visitation one hour prior to the Mass Wednesday at the church. Interment will be at Calvary Cemetery. Military Honors provided by American Legion Post #92.
Online condolences are welcome at www.mackenfuneralhome.com.