John Veenschoten, 85, of Erie, Pa. passed away on Friday, Feb. 20, 2009 at his residence. He was born in Erie on Dec. 17, 1923 the son of Vincent V. and Lillian Colby Veenschoten.
John attended Harding Elementary School and graduated from Strong Vincent High School in 1942. He enrolled at the University of Montana that year and completed one half year before enlisting in the Army Air Force in Butte, Mt. He was assigned to Sioux Falls, S.D. where he received training in radio operation and then to gunnery school in Las Vegas. He was assigned to MacDill Field in Tampa, Fla., where he received his phase training in B-17 bombers. The crew was sent overseas as a replacement to the 398th Bomb Group, 603rd squadron of the First Air Wing of the 8th Air Force. John completed 30 combat missions over Europe, receiving six air medals and the Bronze Star among other awards.
Returning after the war, he married his childhood sweetheart, Muriel Crooks, and attended the New York State College of Forestry at Syracuse University. Graduating in 1949, he returned to Erie to open "The Sportsman," a sporting goods business with stores in the West Erie Plaza, the Liberty Plaza and at Peek-n-Peak resort. Closing the business after 20 years, he entered the fine arts and antiques business and sold at top shows in major cities all over the south and east. Many fine and valuable antiques passed through John's hands during that period and he became nationally known for his selection of American period furniture, American paintings and antique weapons among other items.
John served over 25 years as a founding director of the Erie Zoological Society, often in the capacity of curator of animals. He designed the original pixie land at the Zoo. He was on the retail board of the Head and Ski Co. and was nominated to the board of the National Sporting Goods Association. He was a member and director of the Aviation Club and a member of the Erie Yacht Club. He also was a former member of the Kahkwa Club and the Maennerchor Club and founded the original Presque Isle Gun Collectors Club in 1950. The club is still in existence.
In 1985, he retired to his beloved Sanibel Island where he and Muriel soon became very involved volunteers. John was a member of the City of Sanibel's Wildlife Committee where he served two years as chairman. He also served on the Historical Committee as co-chairman and chairman of the Historical Village site. He formed a group of men known as the Hammerheads who completely restored seven old buildings at the site. He also served over 12 years as a Planning Commissioner for the city. In 1999, COTI awarded him the "Citizen of the Year."
John was an avid bird and big game hunter and made "the trip of a lifetime" to hunt in Africa. He also loved fishing and building ship models in his spare time. He was a collector of early toy soldiers, antique guns and old canes.
In addition to his parents, John was preceded in death by his brother, William Edwin Veenschoten of Birmingham, Ala.
He is survived by his wife, Muriel, and three daughters; Judith Shipman and her husband, William of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass., Susan Veenschoten of Erie and Marcia Tershel and her husband Paul of Canonsburg, Pa. He is further survived by his grandchildren: William Shipman and his wife Noor of Roxbury, Mass., Kathryn Colby Tershel of Canonsburg, Pa. as well as by Elizabeth Kelsey and Sara Ellen Tershel both of Canonsburg, Pa. He also leaves a brother; David Van Veenschoten of Naples and several nieces, nephews and his cousin Joan Cotter of Erie.
There will be a memorial service on Saturday, April 4 at 2 p.m. at the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ on Periwinkle Way, with The Rev. Dale Kent officiating.
Memorials may be made to the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village, 950 Dunlop Road, Sanibel, FL 33957, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, Sanibel-Captiva Road, Sanibel, FL 35957 or to the charity of one's choice. Send condolences at www.burtonfuneralhome.com.