Jack Birkner '51 October 18, 2023 12:57 PM updated: October 18, 2023 1:21 PM
Jack Wilton Birkner
October 7, 1928 - October 17, 2023
On Tuesday morning, October 17, Jack Wilton Birkner, 95, passed away peacefully, surrounded by the loving family who cherished him throughout his time on Earth.
A native of Bay City, Texas, Jack was the fourth of eight children (4 boys and 4 girls) born at home to Joseph Adolf Birkner and wife Mabel Green Birkner. His father owned a dairy business, and the Birkner family earned the reputation of caring for people in need across all socioeconomic backgrounds. He attained a strong work ethic early, having farmed and later on worked in the family’s lumber yard business in Bay City.
Faith was an important part of Jack’s life growing up and included regular Sunday morning worship. During his high school years in Bay City, he would come to have the friendship of a lovely young woman and fellow church member, Mary Lou Quinn, who was three years younger in school. Spare time was enjoyed playing football on his high school team. Jack’s participation in 4H and skill in showing livestock in County Fairs found him with the Grand Champion Jersey Heifer at the 1946 Houston Livestock Show.
After graduation from Bay City High School, Jack came to Texas A&M University where he joined the Corps of Cadets and earned funds for his college education following another family tradition of brick masons; his assignments included laying brick building family homes in a newly growing city of College Station. He earned his B.S. degree in Dairy Husbandry in 1951.
On the occasion of one small break in his studies, his hometown friend, Mary Lou, was in the Queen’s Court at the annual Rice Festival, and she asked him if he would escort her. Without hesitation, Jack replied “Yes!” From that event, Jack viewed his friend in new eyes; romantic pursuit ensued. The couple were married on August 5, 1951.
After college, Jack was commissioned in the U.S. Army and was assigned to Ft. Knox, Kentucky. In 1953, the couple was blessed by the birth of their first child, Dolores Kay. In March that same year, Lt. Birkner set sail from San Francisco for the Korean War front on the USS Anderson. With final transportation by train, the young Lieutenant was assigned as a platoon leader to the 7th division Infantry Regiment, and he experienced the true ravages of battle on a site known as Pork Chop Hill.
Critically wounded on his first day in the battle zone, during the height of a major offensive from the Chinese, Lt. Birkner had been prayed over by a Catholic Chaplain after being helicoptered to a nearby MASH unit. Communications and medical updates were not at today’s standards, so his young wife received a cryptic telegram from the Army Adjutant General, expressing the minimum information that Jack was seriously wounded in action in battle, and an address where mail could be sent to him. The medical treatment he required included treatment at Tokyo Army Hospital, followed by Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. It was poignant that his flight to San Antonio over the Golden Gate Bridge was four months to the day of his flight over that same bridge en route to San Francisco. Medical treatment continued for broken bones and substantial internal damage. Following numerous surgeries, bone grafts, and healing. Jack received his permanent disability discharge in 1954, and received commendations for his bravery, leadership, and service including the Purple Heart, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.
Despite the substantive injuries he sustained, he and Mary Lou never perceived him as disabled, because he was always doing something for others, busy about helping people in their church, neighborhood, and community, to which they were faithfully devoted. His deep personal faith formed the structure by which he viewed life and raised his family to trust in God throughout their lives, and he embodied that faith.
His post military career included working as an assistant County Agent in Wharton County, followed by a position with Tide Agricultural Products (today known as Wilbur-Ellis) in El Campo, where he was a branch manager for 26 years. Following retirement there, Jack became a full-time farmer for 17 years. Not content to rest on his laurels, he earned his real estate license and practiced for many years. Additionally, he worked with C.E. Muegge for another ten years.
Jack and Mary Lou have four children, Dolores Kay Cole (husband Larry) of Hillsboro, TX; Jack Wilton Birkner, Jr. (wife Stephanie) of New Braunfels, TX; Marla Jean Menard (husband Tracy) of Rosharon, TX, and Patricia Lynn Lampley (husband Jim) of Bryan, TX.
Family gatherings were key in Jack’s life with multiple generations gathering regularly over 50 years at the family deer lease at the Lockhart Ranch in Camp Wood, Texas. Four generations enjoyed these annual rituals and created lifetime memories and bonding that brought multiple families together forever in laughter, love, and life lessons.
Jack’s years beyond retirement with Mary Lou found them busy every day, whether spending time with family or working as a dynamic duo to improve something in their beloved community of El Campo. They cherished their friends and neighbors with whom they spent much time. The Birkners were committed, faithful members of The First Christian Church of El Campo, and Jack was an elder and served on many committees for many years.
He was a life member of the Lions Club, where he served in numerous leadership roles. Jack was a life member of the American Legion and served as Commander for six years, in addition to participating in activities that paid tribute to veterans who had passed away. As a Charter Member of the Wharton County Fair Association, Jack enjoyed coaching dairy cattle shows for his 4H students.
Jack left this world on October 17th, peacefully, in his sleep. He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Mabel Birkner, brothers Joe, Jr., and wife Dorothy; Otha “Skeet” and wife Melba; Otis “Butch” and wife Dorothy; sister Mabel Wakefield, father and mother-in-law Sam and Fern Quinn, of Bay City, TX; brother-in-law and wife, Rex and Margie Quinn, all of Bay City, TX, and sister-in-law and husband Bill and Sammie Wright of Richmond, TX; brothers-in-law, Larry Kiesling and Robert Klein.
Survivors include Mary Lou Birkner, his wife of 72 years, of El Campo, sisters, Mary Kiesling of Kenedy, TX, Anna Ruth Klein of Tomball, TX, and Kathy and Richard Stevens of Fort Worth, TX; cousin, Kenneth Birkner of San Antonio; children, Kay and Larry Cole, Jack and Stephanie Birkner, Marla and Tracy Menard, and Patty and Jim Lampley; 11 grandchildren and spouses, Camille (August) Pfluger of San Angelo, TX, Leigh (Igor) Morosowski of Arlington, VA, Melissa (Carl) Richter of Aledo, TX, Bond (Olya) Birkner of Monterey, CA, Adrian Menard of League City, TX, Haley (Kylle) Sebree of Carlsbad, CA, Quinn Menard (Bob Briscoe) of Alvin, TX, Jamie (Darrin) Barton of Cypress, TX, Chrissy (Justin) Payne of League City, TX, Kaitlyn (Craig) Colson of College Station, TX and Layne (Shane) Beasley of Hico, TX; 22 great-grandchildren (and 2 more on the way), and a host of very special nieces, nephews, and close friends.
Visitation will begin on Saturday, October 21, at The First Christian Church of El Campo. Funeral services will begin at 10 a.m. with the Rev. Rick DuBroc and Rev. Adraylle Watson officiating. Graveside services will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday at Roselawn Memorial Park in Van Vleck.
Arrangements are in the care of Triska Funeral Home in El Campo.