Rex Schilling
Rex Schilling
Rex Schilling

Obituary of Rex E. Schilling

Rex E. Schilling Vancouver, Washington November 22, 1931 ~ September 11, 2020 Rex Eby Schilling was born to Iva and Bernard Coffman (later Schilling) on November 22, 1931, in Cambria Township, Michigan, and passed away on September 11, 2020, in Vancouver, Washington. He was predeceased in 2016 by Marj, his wife of 60 years, their daughter Linda in 1963, and their son Mike in 2000. The oldest of five boys, Rex grew up during the Great Depression with few possessions or modern necessities. He moved nearly every March with his sharecropping parents until 1943, when they were able to purchase their own farm in Hillsdale. Despite all the hardships and work, he spoke of his childhood positively. Most stories revolved around making something from nothing or fixing up others’ castoffs to sell. The Hillsdale farm was also the start of his career with bees, which would play a key role in his future. Rex was an avid student and voracious reader, habits he carried throughout his life. Thumbing encyclopedias during school lunch periods was a favorite activity and his knowledge of a broad range of subjects was impressive. After completing high school in 1950, he headed off to Michigan State University, where he studied engineering. He also joined the ROTC, joking that the purpose was to learn his left from his right during all the marching. In the spring of 1952, after ROTC participation in Holland, Michigan’s Tulip Festival Parade, he met Marj Bruns and her twin sister Marlene while the girls played tennis at Hope College. That summer, his job as a state bee inspector allowed for more meetings with Marj. He’d say with a grin that sometimes the job took him to Holland, but most times, he took the job there. In November 1952, out of money for school and romance, he enlisted in the US Army. After sub-zero Basic Training at Fort Riley, KS, he was sent to radio school at Fort Gordon, GA, where, as he often joked, he finally thawed out about June. Unable to meet the typing-speed requirement for intercept, he trained as a radio repairman. The twins had moved to New York City by that time to continue their nursing school, so he’d cover other guys’ KP or guard duty for travel money to go see Marj. His final year in the Army was spent in Germany eavesdropping on the Soviets and rattling around the countryside on a GI Harley he’d pieced together from three wrecks. Returning to the States in September 1955, Rex landed in NYC to be near Marj, who had a year of nursing school left at Cornell. They were married on June 16, 1956, and the whirlwind was on! Marj graduated that September and they moved back to East Lansing so he could resume college. Mike, Chuck, and John were all born during his MSU days, but they got by on his GI Bill, her nursing work, keeping bees, and selling literally tons of honey. Rex opted for a BA in mathematics in December 1959 to finish school sooner than an engineering degree would allow—and before any more kids arrived. He took a job as Field Engineer with Sperry and built a 25-year career working on the inertial navigation systems of the Polaris and Trident nuclear submarines. After orientation on Long Island in 1960, it was off to Kittery, ME, where Ruth and Linda were born. Temporary jaunts to New London and Cape Kennedy filled the ‘60s, while the ‘70s included stays in Port Orchard, WA, and Vallejo and Long Beach, CA. In 1980, having ditched the kids at various points along the way, the couple ran off to Guam (spurred by Rex’s job) for a couple years of quality time. They returned to the Northwest, where Rex finished up with Sperry in 1986. Rex and Marj then moved to Shelton, WA, and lived there until 2015. They spent their twilight years in Vancouver near Ruth and her family. Rex was the father of five, grandfather of eight and great-grandfather of thirteen. If you were family, he was in your corner no matter what, though a lecture might be delivered along with the required help. He loved his extended family, too, and traveled back to Michigan from all over the country for visits. Dad instilled in us the value of personal relationships and looking out for those you love. Rex’s work ethic was second to none; if something wasn’t done right and done well, it wasn’t done. He had a knack for turning whatever was on hand into the right thing for the job. His innate intelligence and acquired experience let him see things from multiple angles and he was thinking outside the box long before the phrase came into vogue. Similarly, he could spot peoples’ talents and coach them into effective teams. He didn’t care what people did for a living, as long as they did their best. He respected all levels of laborer, having done the menial and tedious himself for years. Rex, in tandem with Marj, were amazing community members wherever they lived. He was a 4-H leader on two coasts plus Guam, a Lions Club member, a volunteer fireman, and an elder in two churches. Dad was recently described by a fellow parishioner as “wise in the Lord”. He went on mission trips and worked on all kinds of service projects. Rex and Marj were founding board members of Habitat of Humanity of Mason County (WA) and worked tirelessly there over many years, helping to build their first 25 homes. Outside of these organizations, Rex often helped folks individually, in small and big ways. Most of the time his aid came in the form of help up, not a handout, and he would always brush off thanks or accolades by saying others had done the same for him. Rex was very kind to all, never met a stranger, and was an epic storyteller. Rex did not complain and always had a positive attitude. He spent the last several months of his life in self-described “solitary confinement” due to the COVID lockdown at his assisted-living facility. Even then, when asked how he was, his reply was inevitably, “Better than most.” In lieu of cards or flowers, the family asks that you consider a donation in Rex’s honor to Habitat for Humanity of Mason County (WA) or to the Heimbigner Hospice Care Center, where Rex received incredible, compassionate attention during his final days. Private services will be held. Although it will not be available live via Zoom, the services will be recorded.
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