Knut Jul Svendsen, a U.S. Army veteran who went on to run a number of businesses in Queens Village, was remembered by family and friends for his tireless work ethic and endless curiosity.
He died Jan. 12 at age 92.
Born in Drammen, Norway, in 1923, he immigrated to the United States at age 6 and grew up in Brooklyn. He worked a series of jobs and studied engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now the New York University Tandon School of Engineering, for two years before he was drafted. He never finished his degree.
For his service in World War II and later the Korean War, Svendsen received the World War II Victory Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, the Good Conduct Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
Upon returning from the war he settled in New Hyde Park with his wife, Unni, whom he married Feb. 7, 1948, and began work as an engineer with Sperry Rand. In 1963, while still working at Sperry Rand, he opened a Chicken Delight store in Queens Village.
During the 15 years he owned and operated the fast-food restaurant, his daughter Lorie Pelan remembered him working back-to-back shifts, beginning his day at 6 a.m. at Sperry Rand and working until 11 p.m. at Chicken Delight. Due to growing competition from other chain restaurants, he eventually closed up shop, but not before buying the building that housed the store and taking a bullet to the shoulder while fighting off a thief.
He would go on to run a successful bicycle repair shop and frozen food distribution business.
“He had an incredible energy. He was so hardworking and still so generous with his time, even up until the end,” said Pelan, of Ronkonkoma.
Retiring gave him the time needed to indulge his insatiable curiosity, Kyle Pelan said of his grandfather, who took algebra and geometry lessons online at night and experimented with growing fruits and vegetables in his small backyard in New Hyde Park.
He remembers his grandfather often showing children who would gape through the fence at Svendsen’s garden from Manor Oaks Elementary School the progress his fruits and vegetables were making and giving each of them tiny tomatoes, lima beans or whatever else was in season.
“He was a selfless man. He loved doing things for others and had a huge heart,” said Kevin Kapela, Svendsen’s neighbor of 27 years.
For years, Svendsen would dress up as Santa Claus, climb up on his roof and throw presents down to the neighborhood children, Kapela said. He stopped some time in his 70s when climbing became difficult, but Kapela says he continued clearing snow from his neighbors’ driveways until he died.
In Svendsen’s final days, family friend Darah Salmaggi asked him for advice on how to live life well.
“Don’t get old,” Svendsen replied, laughing. “Always have a sense of humor in life, you’ll need it. Don’t smoke, don’t drink . . . and if you have a family, make sure you take care of them.”
In addition to his wife of 67 years, his daughter and grandson, Svendsen is survived by two sons, Bruce Svendsen of Danbury, Connecticut, and Brian Svendsen of Hauppauge; two other daughters, Karen Condon of Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Bonnie Bracken of Greenport; 12 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service was held last week at R. Stutzmann & Son Funeral Home in New Hyde Park. After cremation, his remains will be interred at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn and a family plot in Drammen.