Funkhouser's recipe for a joyful life: Family, church, chocolate

October 15, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Newton J. Funkhouser, who died Oct. 1 at the age of 81. His obituary was published in the Oct. 6 edition of The Herald-Mail.

A strong sense of history prompted Newton J. Funkhouser to tape interviews with family members throughout his lifetime.

Many times, Newton would learn things about his ancestors that even he hadn't known before, such as the story of how his grandparents - Newton Funkhouser Sr. and Molly Funkhouser - were married in the late 1860s in Sleepy Creek, W.Va., arriving in a horse-drawn surrey during a raging storm.

"The grandchildren were amazed at the age of these events and didn't even know what a surrey was," said Newton's half sister, Judy Melby-Robinson of Hagerstown. "I told them those people were gone long ago."


Judy said she and Newton, who died Oct. 1 at the age of 81, were close even though they often were separated by great distance, as well as more than two decades in age.

"Marvin L. Funkhouser was our father - my mother was Helen, while Newton's mother was Virginia," Judy said.

Judy said Newton had twinkling blue eyes and a spirit to match. His joy of life continued until his death at Charlotte's Home in Boonsboro.

Throughout his life, Newton loved to reminisce about the Funkhouser family, which had been traced back to the 1500s.

Judy said when Newton returned to Washington County in 1971 to stay, he lived with his uncle, the late Elmer Funkhouser, in Fountain Head.

As a young man, Newton headed off to Mississippi. After graduating from Gulf Coast Military Academy, he traded the sultry heat of the South for the cold of Alaska, where he spent 10 years in aviation, first with the U.S. Army and later as a civilian weather observer.

Newton flew a single-engine airplane as a private pilot. His photograph collection included a lot of shots he took from an airplane as he approached airport runways to land.

"Dad and mom were married in 1946 in Alaska," said Newton's oldest son, Michael Funkhouser, who was born a year later.

His mother, Rosa-Lee, accompanied by a friend, had journeyed to Alaska at the age of 20 from Florida to work in the weather bureau there. She met Newton through their work.

"At that time, the government was giving bonuses for people who would stay in Alaska," Michael said. Newton and Rosa-Lee stayed and had another son, Allan.

After Newton and Rosa-Lee divorced, Newton returned to Washington County and worked in local industries while Rosa-Lee stayed in Alaska for a time.

She now lives in Jacksonville, Fla., Michael said.

In the meantime, Newton was married for 11 years to Janet Mohr Funkhouser until her death in February 2006.

"Dad was dedicated to the church," Michael said.

Newton customarily would audiotape and later videotape worship services, make copies and share them with parishioners and others.

Judy said he also loved to watch the news.

"He'd tape that, too," she said.

One of the great loves of his life was chocolate in general, and Dove dark chocolate in particular, both Judy and Michael agreed. He enjoyed eating it and giving it away.

"Dad would also eat any kind of ice cream as long as it was a gallon," Michael said.

Family, church, chocolate and ice cream ... after those joys came nature, basset hounds and the sheer pleasure of just getting up in the mornings.

That joy of life translated into a perpetual good mood.

"Newton would always say he was so blessed," Judy said.

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