Obituary for Johann (John) Friedrick Kunkel
We celebrate the life and we mourn the death of Pastor John Kunkel, BA, BD, MDiv, on December 16 in Winnipeg at the age of 91. Left to cherish his memory are his loving wife for 64 years, Elisabeth (née Bergbusch); four daughters, Deborah, Dorcas (Terry), Lois (John), Kathryn (Dwight); two sons, Jeremy (Tamara) and John Adam; 10 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren; sisters Leah (Ted) and Esther; and numerous nephews and nieces and their children and families. He was preceded in death by his parents August Kunkel and Lydia (née Breier), parents-in-law Rev. Dr. Julius and Mary Bergbusch, and sister-in-law Victoria Bergbusch.
John was born on November 30, 1926 in Calmar, Alberta to German immigrant parents originally from Volhynia in Russia and Radom in Poland. John lived his early years in a small log house on a farm near Thorsby, Alberta, attending country schools for the elementary grades. He fondly remembered teachers who instilled in him a love of music and art. Because he felt the call to ministry as a youth, his parents encouraged his move to Saskatoon, site of the Lutheran College and Seminary (LCS). Graduating Grade 12 from Bedford Road Collegiate in 1944, he enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan, and lived in residence at LCS. He participated in the Lutheran Student Movement and the Student Christian Movement, the latter especially exciting because it was ecumenical and inclusive in faith – principles he practiced all his years of ministry. John enjoyed seminary choir tours, the ‘Boarding Club’ seminary food co-op, and the Western Canada Luther League. In the summer breaks of 1947 and 1948, he assisted Reverend Julius Bergbusch, the President of the Lutheran Synod of Western Canada, United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA), with the duties of a three-point parish centered in Spruce Grove, AB. This is where he first met Elisabeth who would later become his life partner.
Ordained on June 27, 1951, his first parish was German bilingual in Duncan, BC, where he assisted the immigration agent in settling “displaced persons”: young men from Europe who stayed with him while they found jobs and housing. In 1953 he married Elisabeth, a registered nurse, and together they served parishes in Meadow Lake, SK, Golden Spike, AB and Rosenfeld, MB. During these years he was active with Mulhurst Lutheran Bible Camp (Pigeon Lake, AB), and Lake Brereton (MB) Lutheran Camps. In 1963, he accepted a call from the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) Mission Board to a new parish in Bong Mine, Liberia, West Africa, which required German language capabilities, as well as learning a local dialect. John loved parish life in 3 (and more) languages, not only teaching and worship, but founding a parish credit union, making mud blocks to build a multi-use chapel (library, study hall, movie theatre), and working a parish farm to support their work. Life-long friendships were formed then and renewed in a return visit in 1983, and when several daughters later returned to Liberia as volunteers.
Because of their children’s high school requirements, John returned with his family to Canada in 1972 as Pastor of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, Winnipeg. Facilities were shared with St. Bede’s Anglican in the Mount Royal Christian Centre (MRCC) with mutual youth work and social ministry. He served as Chair of Global Outreach, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCC) as well as camping Supervisor at Sunrise Lutheran Camp (near Gimli). He reveled in youth and outdoor ministries, which included congregational and youth group retreats in every season at Fullmer’s Camp (Favel Lake, ON) and Luther Village Camp (Dogtooth Lake, ON), as well as church theatrical and musical presentations, especially the Holy Week Tenebrae and the well-received “Easter sunrise services” at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory.
In 1981, John resumed bilingual ministry at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Winnipeg. In 1986, he was instrumental in founding NEST (North End Sponsorship Team), a cooperative group of churches to sponsor refugees, which is still active and vital after 30 years. He participated in the Inter-Church Task Force on Northern Flooding, advocating fair treatment for First Nations’ peoples affected and displaced by hydro development and dam construction. In the mid-70s, John and Elisabeth and their family were early members of Project Opikihiwawin, a grassroots attempt by families, with the support of the First Nations community, to understand and meet the needs of their adopted Indigenous children. He became a board member shortly after the founding of Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg in 1987, and was an ongoing volunteer builder. John worked with Project Peacemakers, promoting peace and disarmament, locally and beyond. International travel included India, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Poland and the former East Germany, Germany, Netherlands and Peru, as well as a cherished pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona, Scotland. Closer to home, travel also included Florida, Northwest Territories, Newfoundland and Haida Gwaii.
After retirement in 1991, he joined Elisabeth in Northern Manitoba as house-husband, cooking and cleaning at Nursing Stations in Pukatawagan and Brochet, Highlights included fishing trips on the Missinippi (Churchill) River, picking berries, harvesting wild rice and reminiscing with elders in the community. In 2011, John and Elisabeth “downsized” from a house to an apartment on the 15th floor of Fred Douglas Place, with a beautiful sunrise view eastward over the heart of the city. For the past two years, John has been a resident of Misericordia Place.
John lived a life dedicated to inclusive public and parish service, centred on fairness and equality. He was a man of integrity, respected by colleagues, forming many friendships, some spanning more than 7 decades. He balanced his public life with a private piety and personal devotion; with dedication to his family, who enjoyed summer road trips and camping together in every season. He enjoyed canoeing, fishing, wood-working, golfing, curling, snow shoeing and cross-country skiing – never compromising pleasure for proficiency.
Thank you to family and friends for all your love and support. The family would like to especially thank the staff and caregivers on MP3, Robin’s Way and at Misericordia Place for their consideration and attentive care of John over the past two years. We thank our sister Deborah, for her loving and unwavering protective care of Dad in his final two years.
Viewing and quiet prayer vigil for close friends and family will begin at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 4, 2018 at Neil Bardal Funeral Centre, 3030 Notre Dame Avenue.
A funeral service will take place at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, January 5, 2018 at The Lutheran Church of the Cross, 560 Arlington Street, with reception to follow.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Canadian Lutheran World Relief, the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, or the North End Sponsorship Team.
Our most sincere sympathies to the family and friends of Johann John Friedrick Kunkel 1926 2017.source
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