Sokaogon Chippewa Community News

Honoring and Remembering Ken VanZile

Ken was a father, grandfather, friend, uncle, and cousin. Ken was a tireless and lifelong defender of the land, the water, his tribe, all tribes, all people, in fact. It can be said that those were his “hobbies” throughout his years with us. Ken was United States Army Veteran, who served our country proudly and with honor.

Ken faithfully imparted our history, sometimes in the form of stories. He was a humble man who sought to think of others first. He took great pride in protecting what we have for future generations, for defending the earth we stand upon.

Ken served our country and his tribe with dignity, honor, and humility. His love and compassion was demonstrated by his service to others. It’s been said that warriors are defined by protecting those, and what they love. I believe this to be true. Ken was a warrior through and through.

A loved friend, former son-in-law offered these thoughts: Why think separately of this life than the next, when one is born from the last? Time is always too short for those who need it, but for those who love, it lasts forever. ” Thank you Ron.

Ken enjoyed ricing, spending time with his grandchildren, daily long drives, telling stories, visiting and laughing with friends, family; teaching, being taught by others, playing baseball (as a younger man), and was a voracious reader.

Ken taught his children to always put first those in need, think of those not thought of, to help those less fortunate, to remember those not here. To show and feel compassion, as it is a virtue, perhaps the most necessary of all.

Ken’s children wish to offer love and gratitude to Pastor Gary Spurgeon, Roger Maki, Frankie Olds, Ray McGeshick III, Caleb McGeshick, his nephews Jeremy & Casey VanZile for being there for Ken, helping until his last days with us. You are the best of men, both thoughtful and considerate. For our Dad, you embodied hope and faith. More than friends, nephews. Brothers.

Ken’s children wish to thank all those who offered their prayers, thoughts, memories, condolences, cooked the delicious food. Those who helped with the services, as well as those who couldn’t attend. Miigwech

Surviving are : Aaron VanZile (his only son), his daughters: Melissa VanZile (oldest daughter), Marisa (youngest daughter). His grandchildren : Mona Jane, Creighton, Aidono, Rayanne.

His brothers & sisters : George (Donna) VanZile, Jim (Donna) VanZile, Matthew VanZile, Warren VanZile, Tina (Sylvester) VanZile, Henry (Judy) VanZile, Connie VanZile, Sally McGeshick. Preceding Ken was his parents Henry and Jane VanZile, sisters Joanne, Peggy Lou, Margie, brother Timothy.

His much loved multitude of nephews & nieces. His beloved friends, cousins, near and far.

You are in our hearts and we will all see you again. Thank you Dad.

By Melissa VanZile, Daughter



I am sorry I wasn’t able to attend the funeral services for Ken Van Zile today. But I want to share my condolences and sense of loss by sending this photograph as a tribute to his courage and leadership along with countless others in the Mole Lake Community to stop the Crandon Mine.

Ken Van Zile and Robert Van Zile made a long arduous trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, to have a direct discussion with the largest and most powerful mining company in the world and the owner of Nicolet Minerals (aka the Crandon Mining Company).

This is a historic photo of Robert and Ken after our meeting with BHP Billiton officials in Johannesburg 20 years ago. Robert performed a pipe ceremony (the CEO had to withdraw the smoking ban in the boardroom). Roman and I gave a PowerPoint presentation while Robert spoke and Ken gave Brian Gilbertson (CEO of BHP) some wild rice. He is holding Patti Loew’s book on Wisconsin Natives that I gave him after Robert’s presentation when he told the BHP executives that there would be a never-ending battle to stop the proposed Crandon Mine.

At the end of our meeting, Mr. Gilbertson told us that they were going to meet with their counterparts in Houston, Texas to discuss the Crandon project. Two weeks later, they closed the Crandon office. One year later, Mole Lake bought the Nicolet Minerals Company with an $8 million IOU to BHP Billiton. Two years after that, BHP essentially forgave the debt and returned the funds to Mole Lake in a trust fund.

This moment was the beginning of the end.

After our meeting, Roman and I suggested that we rent a car and go to a game reserve to see some lions and elephants. But both Ken and Robert changed their tickets to go home two days early because it was ricing season. Ken was also a little worried that the South African lions might like the taste of a North American Ojibwe! When they both got home, Robert and Ken felt like the richest people on the planet after seeing the misery of the mining world in Johannesburg.

Please extend my sympathies and condolences to Ken’s family and the Community. He was an Eco Warrior and a hero to his community and The Nation. I was proud to have known him and worked with him.


Glenn Reynolds, Former Tribal Attorney