ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Funerals are a difficult time for any family. Friday was especially taxing for Kim Butkowski and her three brothers.
Their sister, Sandy Schulte, died last Friday at 57 after a long illness. Less than 24 hours later, their mother, 76-year-old Sharon Schulte, succumbed to complications from lung and brain cancer. And on Tuesday, their father, 77-year-old Thomas Schulte also died after a stay at Quiet Oaks Hospice Home.
A joint funeral was held Friday morning at Williams Dingmann Family Funeral Home in St. Cloud.
"Sandy was born with Down syndrome," said Butkowski, 56. "She was the oldest of us kids and my mom and dad promised they were going to keep her at home with them as long as they could. She functioned at the level of a 4-year-old ... Sandy's health had deteriorated the last couple of years and she got real weak. She had trouble walking and was to the point where she couldn't feed herself. I think she aged very rapidly ...
"About a year ago mom got lung cancer and that metastasized to brain cancer," Butkowski added. "In November, my dad started stumbling and falling and having some memory trouble. When we brought him in to the doctor, we learned he also had lung and brain cancer. None of them could take care of themselves."
For a while all three were residents at Talahi Care Center in St. Cloud. As Sharon Schulte's health deteriorated, she was hospitalized and then transferred to Quiet Oaks.
The family moved Thomas Schulte to Quiet Oaks last Friday and would've moved Sandy Schulte, too, but she was too weak.
The Schultes lived in the country southeast of St. Cloud. They had three boys — Thomas, Troy and Tedd, who are 54, 51 and 42, respectively.
Sharon Schulte was a writer, authoring a couple of books, including "The Children Remember – Stories of Minnesota Children During World War II." For a time, she also was an at-home joke writer for the nationally known comic Phyllis Diller.
"I have no idea how that came about, but I can remember as a kid she would write these jokes on a typewriter and send them off," Butkowski said. "Phyllis Diller would pick some and she paid my mom $5 a piece. And mom of course watched Phyllis Diller every chance she could so she could see if any of her jokes were used. She had a good sense of humor."
Thomas Schulte worked primarily as an over-the-road truck driver.
He also had an interest in auto racing, participating as a driver at area tracks and passing that passion on to his son, Tedd, and two of the younger Thomas' sons.
Butkowski said her father was a heavy smoker, which could have contributed to her parents' illnesses.
"But their wish came true," Butkowski said. "They wanted to walk Sandy to heaven's gate. That's what they did. It was like, after Sandy died, it was OK for those two to let go. They were connected at the soul. It's mixed emotions for the rest of us. We tried to rally around them, but it was so difficult at the end. It was just too much. We lost half our family in four days' time."