The Monona community lost one of its rocks Feb. 2 when Ken Grinde died

He was a man from another era, whose mission was working hard, raising a family, helping others however he could and having as much fun as possible along the way.

I got to know Ken – like many people, I always called him “Commodore” – through his daughter, Diane Thompson. She and I met more than 25 years ago, when her daughter Tara (the youngest of three gorgeous red-haired daughters) and my oldest child Hank were in kindergarten at Maywood School (now Nuestro Mundo.)

Ken was born in Madison but raised on a farm near DeForest that is still in the Grinde family. Diane remembers as a child, going to Grandma Grinde’s farm for chicken dinners every Sunday after church.

Ken graduated from DeForest High, and married his beloved wife Wava in 1951, while he was serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict.

When his tour of duty ended, Ken returned to Madison and went to work at the old Commercial State Bank, which sat at the corner of State and Carroll streets in downtown Madison.

“When you walked in the door, he was the first guy you saw,” Diane said. “He knew everybody.

“People loved him. Sometimes, he even did chores for seniors who needed help. He would do their banking, take them shopping, even buy their groceries. He invited them to our family parties.”

He would work at the bank for the next 55 years. Meanwhile, Ken and Wava had two children: Diane, who is married to Tommy Thompson, an accountant and retired teacher at Madison College, and Steve, who has worked for the city of Monona for the past 31 years.

Ken, Wava and kids moved to Monona 52 years ago, in 1967, living at the corner of Dean and Midmoor.

In 1984, Ken and Wava moved onto the lake, to a house on Nishishin Trail on Belle Isle, where they would stay for the next 35 years. (Coincidentally, that was the same year Diane and Tommy moved into their own lakeside home on Winnequah Road.)

And all those years, Ken was building his life of community service.

He joined the Zor Shrine, rising to the rank of potentate in 1996.

As a Shriner, he served as a “driver” and “rider,” escorting disabled and injured children to Shriner hospitals throughout the Midwest.

To give you an idea of what that entails, a former colleague of mine at the State Journal had a daughter born with two clubbed feet. Throughout her childhood, she had multiple surgeries.

Always, the Shriners would pick her up in a special van and take her to Chicago or Minneapolis, then bring her home again. My colleague thought they were saints.

Ken joined the American Legion. Every Wednesday morning, he would drive to the Veterans Hospital to serve coffee to vets as hey walked through the door.

Ken joined the East Side Club, formerly the East Side Businessmen’s Association, promoting private sector development in Monona and Madison’s East Side.

He joined the Four Lakes Yacht Club, eventually serving as its president, or commodore.

He was a member of the Masonic Lodge and the Elks Club.

“I don’t think there is a single person who didn’t like him,” Diane said.

“There were no strangers. Within 10 seconds of meeting you, he knew your name and you were a friend.

“He loved life. I never saw him in a crabby mood. He got up happy, he went to bed happy.”

He never missed a party. I would see him at various social functions, like his granddaughters’ graduation parties (Tanya in 2001, Tina, 2002, and Tara, 2006) and he often had a small glass in his hand full of iced vodka. I’m a vodka drinker myself, which he always remembered.

“Make me a cool one,” Diane remembers him saying, along with “Give her the gas!”

In his later years, he volunteered at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church Food Pantry, driving down to Pick ‘n Save to pick up donations of bread and produce.

Then one day, he got lost driving from the grocery store to the church.

That was the beginning of the end, Diane said. The diagnoses was dementia.

Slowly but inexorably, he began to forget everything and everybody.

This past fall, Ken and Wava moved out of their beloved home on the lake into Heritage on Owen Road. Wava is in an apartment, while Ken was in the memory care unit.

In December, they celebrated 68 years of marriage.

On Feb. 2, he died in his sleep.

“He’s happy now,” Diane said. “He’s walking, he’s talking, he’s with his friends. I truly believe that.”

But Monona has lost a rock.

Got something Sunny Schubert should know? Call her at 222-1604 or email

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