Karen Millang

Karen Lucille Schwab Millang passed away on Friday, March 13, 2020 due to complications from pneumonia. She was 77 years old.

Karen was born on December 14, 1942 in East Chicago, Indiana. As the second oldest (and oldest daughter) of 8 children, she was often given the task of helping her mother care for her younger siblings. That early sense of responsibility – and the desire to care for others – was something she would carry with her for the rest of her life.

During Karen’s childhood, the Schwab family moved from the Chicago area to a farm outside of Greenfield, Iowa, and eventually to Des Moines. Karen graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1960 and attended classes at Drake University. She was married three times: first to Dwain Thieme, with whom she had three children; then to David Tilton; and later to Roger Millang until his death from cancer in 1992.

Strong, stubborn, and fiercely independent, Karen worked hard to provide for her family. She worked as a bookkeeper for a number of businesses before accepting a position as bookkeeper and box office manager at the Des Moines Community Playhouse, where she remained for over 15 years. Karen loved the theatre and enjoyed working with community members – especially the young people who came to perform in shows and work backstage. She had many “adopted” theatre-kid sons and daughters, but even the older Playhouse volunteers affectionately called her “Mom.” After leaving the Playhouse, Karen continued to help with local theatre productions at the Drama Workshop and elsewhere in the community.

Not ready to retire, Karen continued working, first at the Carpenter’s Union apprenticeship program, where she kept the books, helped with programs, and taught CPR classes. She then worked for the Iowa Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union. Being one of the few women in a field dominated by men wasn’t always easy, but she held her own and gained the respect of her male co-workers and the union members who came to her for guidance.

She was quick with numbers and managed to navigate her profession as the technology changed from cash money and paper ledgers to credit cards and computers. But crippling arthritis and repetitive stress from years of punching keypads made it impossible for her to continue working full time. In her later years, she focused her energy on her family, helping to care for her parents, nieces, nephews, and her five grandchildren. Being a grandmother was one of the greatest joys of her life.

Karen was plain-spoken and tough; she didn’t suffer fools and was never afraid to speak her mind. She was a great listener, with an uncanny ability to see a problem from many different perspectives. She gave excellent advice and was not shy about scolding you if she thought you had made a mistake, but she was never judgmental; as long as you owned your choices, she respected them. She was fiercely protective – and fiercely proud – of the people she loved. She was unfailingly generous – even when she didn’t have much to give, she always found a way to share what she had. She never hesitated to help family members or friends in need: whether it was a place to stay, a hot meal, or a shoulder to cry on, Karen’s door was always open.

She loved children and animals, Star Trek and NCIS, football and Irish music, cigarettes, coffee, and chocolate. But nothing was more important to Karen than her family. She was known for her all-day holiday open houses. She was always happy to baby-sit or help with homework. She was the person that everyone turned to in times of crisis, the calm in the storm, the one with the answers. She was tenacious. She was resilient. And although she might not have wanted to admit it, she had an enormously kind and loving heart.

Karen was preceded in death by her parents, Wallace and Audrey (Graham) Schwab, her brothers Curt, Bill, and Terry, and her husband Roger Millang. She is survived by her daughters Lisa Matusak (Joe), Julie DeFino (Lou), and Amy Thieme (Pat Davis), her grandchildren David Thorn (Stevie), Jordan Nahs – Keenan (Ruairi), and Lindsay Nahs (Chris), Emily Toulouse-Anadon (Rod), and Nicholas Toulouse, by her brothers Chuck (Jean), and Tim Schwab, her sisters Pam Ringleb and Annette Cook (Dave), her sister-in-law Nancy Schwab, her nieces, nephews, and their children, and numerous very special “adopted” children.

Her ashes will be interred at Sunset Memorial Gardens in Des Moines. A Celebration of Life memorial will be held at a later date.  Flowers and messages of condolence may be sent in care of her daughters:
·       Amy Thieme – 845 40th Street, Des Moines, IA 50312
·       Julie DeFino – 6025 Westside Drive, San Ramon, CA,94583
·       Lisa Matusak – 261 N Kenneth Place, Chandler, AZ 85226

In lieu of flowers, please feel free to make a contribution in Karen’s memory to the Des Moines Playhouse or the Animal Rescue League of Iowa.


Online condolences will not publish to our website but will generate an email that is directed to the family.