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Joseph "Joe" K. Unekis

Joseph On Sunday, May 26, 2019, Joseph Unekis, loving husband and father, passed away. He was 79.

Joe was born on May 22, 1940 in Danville, Illinois, to Joseph Anthony and Eva (Kelly) Unekis, the youngest of their three children. He grew up in Westville Illinois, and after graduating from Schlarman High School in 1958 he attended the University of Illinois before transferring to Eastern Illinois University, where he was a member of the Delta Psi chapter of Delta Sigma Phi. Joe was awarded his bachelor’s degree in economics from Eastern Illinois University in 1963.

It was at Eastern that he met Shirly Bork. They would marry in 1965 in Decatur, Illinois. In 1967, Joe left his job as a junior executive at A.E. Staley Company and entered Indiana University’s PhD program in Bloomington, Indiana. It was in Bloomington that Joe and Shirly had their first four sons: Keith, David, Brian and Scott.

Upon receiving his doctorate in 1977, Joe accepted a position as an Associate Professor of Political Science at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. Shortly after their arrival they welcomed their fifth son, Kelly. Joe would teach political science courses at Kansas State for 34 years, retiring in 2011. In that time he was awarded tenure in 1984, won the William L. Stamey Undergraduate Teaching Award for 1989-90, and had thousands of students attend his classes. Joe authored several journal articles and presented papers at the conventions of the American Political Science Association and the Midwest Political Science Association, organizations of which he was a longtime member.

Joe also served as an officer in the Air National Guard. After graduating from the Air Force Officer Candidate School and being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in November of 1963, Joe served with the 181st TFG in Terre Haute, Indiana until 1980, then with the 190th CSS in Topeka, Kansas from 1980-1990. In 1986 he attended and graduated from the Air War College. His final assignment was at the Kansas Air National Guard headquarters from 1990-1991. He retired in 1991 as a Lt. Colonel.

Joe’s passion was golf. He fell for the game as a caddy at local courses as a boy, and never could shake it. He always said that the best thing about the game was that you could play it your whole life, and he did; getting his final round in only days before he died. He was (mostly) successful in passing his love of the game to his children.

But what Joe truly loved was being a dad. He wanted more than anything to see his children thrive, and to have the opportunities that he hadn’t. Any chance he could, he would take advantage of a work trip to turn it into a family vacation. Snow meant taking a day off from work to haul kids back up the sledding hill, roll giant snow boulders for forts, and make hot cocoa at the end of the day. Every local program for kids - city sports leagues, parks and rec swimming courses, summer library programs, boy scouts - were utilized to give his children a chance to explore different activities (or maybe just get them out of the house.) Christmases always entailed a last-minute, shopping-budget-busting trip to the toy store to make that year’s present opening even better than the year before. He encouraged his children to try everything, but didn’t force them to do anything (well, besides golf.) He was there for the successes, failures, and everything in between, always supportive. He also made them do a LOT of chores and yardwork, because it was good for them. As he got older and grandchildren appeared, he embraced the role of the paterfamilias. He doted on his grandkids and reveled in allowing them to do things he would never let his own children do at their age. And he never made his grandkids do chores or yardwork.

Joe was preceded in death by his father, Joseph, his mother, Eva, his brother, Richard and his sister, Mary McConnell. He is survived by his wife, Shirly, his five sons, Keith (Jodi), David (Jen), Brian (Kristi), Scott (Stephanie), and Kelly, and his nine grandchildren.

A Vigil Service will be held at 6:00 p.m. Monday June 3, 2019 at the Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen Funeral Home. The family will greet friends during a visitation following the Vigil until 8:00 p.m. at the funeral home.

Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:00 a.m Tuesday June 4, 2019 at the Seven Dolors Catholic Church in Manhattan, with Father Kerry Ninemire as the Celebrant. Interment with full military honors will follow in the Kansas Veterans’ Cemetery at Fort Riley.

The Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen Funeral Home, 1616 Poyntz Avenue, Manhattan, Kansas 66502 is assisting the family with the funeral arrangements.

Online condolences may be left for the family through the funeral home website at

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