BRATS: Our Journey Home A Donna Musil Film Featuring Narration and Music by Kris Kristofferson
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In Memorium Marlene Knudson Koenig

An amazing woman died this year - Marlene Knudson Koenig. She was my third-grade teacher in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. "Hero" is an overused word these days, but in this case, I think it is more than appropriate. Marlene used to say, "Children won't remember what you teach them, but they'll remember how you treat them."

I certainly did.

If you knew Marlene and want to express your condolences, write her husband Hank Koenig at I'm sure he'd love to hear from you!

Marlene Knudson Koenig

April 7, 1936 - August 21, 2011

Marlene was released from the hospital after battling pneumonia but couldn't regain her strength. She was born in Bowbells, ND to Elmer and Kathryn Knudson.

Her father was a stationmaster for the Great Northern Railroad so the family made numerous moves. Marlene graduated from Tagus High School in a class of two. She spent two years at Minot University and then taught two years in Bowbells. She taught in Minot for two years and 1960-61 in Tillimook, OR. She returned to Minot for two years and half a year in Helena. In 1964 she took classes at the University of Montana in Missoula and graduated in 1966 and became a teacher in the Department of Defense Schools at Bad Kreutznach, Germany. In 1970 she transferred to Woodbridge American Elementary School in England where she received a Master's degree in Counseling from Ball State. She also earned her pilot's license.

From 1973 to 1976, Marlene had her first administrative assignment at the Augsburg American School. Marlene fell in love with the outdoor education program at the Hinterbrand lodge in Berchtesgaden and taught there from 1976 to 1979 when she took a year of educational leave to study. She was in the area of Mt. Saint Helen's when it erupted. She said she took many outstanding pictures but was very disappointed when the camera shop owner told her there was no film in the camera.

She returned to outdoor education in 1980 but her career there ended when she injured her back and required surgery. She stayed in Berchtesgaden as a teacher for Milt Foreman from 1982-1983. Superintendent Frank Alt asked Marlene to be an assistant principal at the Ansbach American School from 1983 to 1984.

Marlene was the principal of the Hessisch Oldendorf American Elementary School from 1984 to 1991 and supervised the construction of a new school building. Her final assignment in Europe was at Sembach American Elementary School from 1991 to 1992 when she retired.

She settled in Kalispell, MT and served one year as the top administrator of the Smith Valley Elementary School District. In 2000 she moved to Vancouver, WA and married Elmer Koenig in 2003. They enjoyed traveling in their RV and spent winters in California and Arizona until she developed Lymphoma twice and survived. Though weakened by this condition she maintained a positive attitude and tried to help others.

She believed that students might forget what she taught them but they would never forget how she treated them.

At her many assignments Marlene made many lifelong friends. She tried to call each one on their birthdays and other special occasions.

Marlene was a member of the Sierra Club and a past president of the Vancouver chapter of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees.

She is survived by her husband, Elmer "Hank" Koenig; her grandchildren, Martin Koenig, Dennis Koenig, Alexander Koenig, Elizabeth Crawford, Carolyn Crawford and Anneliese Koenig; her cousin, Margaret (Maggie) Overby; and her grand-niece, Cassondra (Cassie) Nordtome. Burial will be at the Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, WA.

September, 2011

Hi - my name is Donna Musil and Marlene Knudson was my favorite teacher. Considering I moved 12 times in 16 years on 3 continents, that's not an insignificant fact. I had a lot of teachers. I'm here today to represent the thousands of children - mostly military brats - that Marlene taught, nurtured, encouraged, and loved over the years. I was just one of them.

I entered Marlene's 3rd grade class in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, when I was 8 years old. By that point, I had moved 8 times and my father had been deployed 2 years of my short life to Korea and Vietnam. I was an extremely sensitive child - and at that point, could've probably gone either way, as evidenced by the first quarter report card I still have from that year, on which Marlene reported that I had a little trouble with self-control, authority figures and "talking too much."

I don't know what she did or how she did it, but somehow that tall, beautiful teacher with the long dark hair made this small, sensitive child struggling with her emotions feel special, secure, and safe. For the rest of that year, I had a perfect report card - I even won the "Good Citizen's Award!" - and I never forgot her.

We moved to San Francisco after that, then to Korea, then to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where my father died of service-related cancer when I was 16. I spent my senior year in a strange school in Georgia with children who didn't even know my father had died. I thought about Marlene and held onto momentoes that reminded me of her, but I didn't know where she was. This was long before the Internet.

Twenty-five years later, I was in the midst of making a documentary film about "growing up military," and stumbled across a website for Department of Defense teachers. I found Marlene's address and sent her an email. I said, "I'm sure you don't remember me from Adam's housecat, but you were my favorite teacher when I was a little girl." I heard back almost immediately. She said, "I know exactly who you are and you were one of my favorite students!"

We met up in Denver shortly thereafter and from that moment on, she was like a second mother to me - a mother that offered advice, but never criticized… championed my dreams, no matter how unlikely… and once again, made me feel safe, secure, and special.

Like a lot of children, I didn't call enough or visit enough, and I'll forever regret that. I can't believe she's not going to be there anymore to swap secrets, bat around ideas, or rant about the Republicans! But like the thousands of other children Marlene taught, I will carry her love in my heart and in my soul. And when I'm down or scared or just confused and not sure what to do, all I'll have to do is think of her smiling face and "go get 'em" attitude, and I know I'll be okay, because Marlene is on my side.

Like you said yesterday, Hank, we were the lucky ones. All of us were. It was much too short, but it was great while it lasted.

To you, Marlene! I will miss you more than you will ever know.
The first documentary about growing up military.