Bertha W. and Richard M. Kunkel

March 09, 2013
  • Richard "Dick" Kunkel and Bertha "Bert" Kunkel show off their smiles in a recent photo.
Submitted photo

Five was a lucky number for Bertha “Bert” and Richard “Dick” Kunkel. They had five children, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren in their 66 years of marriage.

They valued family and maintained close ties with both sides of the family.

“For me personally, we had a great childhood. We had a lot of cousins,” said oldest son Gerard “Gerry” Kunkel of Darnestown, Md. “Mom and Dad were real family people. They were plugged into both sides and connected to them.”

Whether the timing was a coincidence of health or the strength of their love and desire to be together, the couple died within four days of each other.

Bert had gastric cancer and died of pneumonia. Dick developed pneumonia and died of kidney failure.

“I think they planned it,” said oldest daughter Paula Jilanis of Cumberland, Md. “My dad and I had a conversation about it. He said maybe they’d go together.”

“If that’s what you and Mom want to do, that’s fine,” she said she told her father.

“We’ll handle it,” said youngest daughter Marcia Degen of Roanoke, Va., admitting that losing both parents within days had taken a toll.

The strength of family, including those they hadn’t seen for a long time, helped ease the loss.

“Through Mom and Dad’s passing, it’s wonderful to be reconnected with them,” Paula said of their extended family.

The second youngest of 10 children, Dick was born and raised in Shamokin, Pa. He went to parochial school and attending worship was an important part of his upbringing.

Dick served as an altar boy starting at age 12. He would start the fire at home, then go to early Mass and return home in time for breakfast.

“I think church was always a big important part for him,” Paula said.

Dick followed several of his brothers to Baltimore for work as a young adult and was hired at Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Co., where he was a small parts assembly supervisor.

During the war, 35 women were hired, including Bert Roberg of Baltimore. She was one of six children, three of whom died in infancy.

They both worked second shift and Dick invited her on a midnight cruise after work. She was engaged to someone else at the time, but agreed to the date and that engagement ended mutually.

After four or five dates, Dick asked Bert to marry him, but she wanted to wait until after he returned from the war. He served 27 months in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and they married in November 1946.

“They were such a handsome couple,” Marcia said.

The Kunkels raised five children — three sons sandwiched between two daughters.

“Dad used to say the girls were his bookends,” Paula said.

When it came to parenting, Bert deferred to Dick, but they were a unit, Marcia said.

“They treated us all equally,” she said. “I never felt like anyone was a favorite.”

Both parents were involved with their children’s activities — Bert with Cub Scouts and Dick with Boy Scouts. In high school, the boys played football and ran track, and David also wrestled.

The children all were expected to learn an instrument and it was the boys who really took to music, forming their own band. Childhood friends shared memories of basement band practices at the Kunkel home.

“Mom loved it. She thoroughly enjoyed it,” Marcia said.

“We were loud,” Alan said.

The Kunkels raised their children in the 1950s and 1960s, a time when parents were expected to be stern. Gerry thinks he and his siblings got off easy.

“What I really grew to appreciate was that their wishes for us grew as our wishes grew and changed,” Gerry said.

“They embraced whatever we decided,” said Paula, even when it meant Dick had to take grief for the length of his sons’ hair and for them playing in bands.

“We still clearly knew what was right and wrong,” Gerry said. “We didn’t cross boundaries. Dad taught us a strong work ethic.”

The family was raised mostly in Baltimore, with all five children attending Catholic school through eighth grade. With significant downsizing at Glenn L. Martin in 1967, the family moved to Hagerstown for Dick’s new job with Fairchild Aircraft. He worked there until his retirement in 1984.

The family moved in 1968. It came at a difficult time for the family, with the children having to leave behind school and church friends.

Paula was allowed to stay in Baltimore for her senior year of high school, while the boys transferred to North Hagerstown High School once youngest son Alan (of Catonsville, Md.) finished eighth grade. Marcia went to St. Maria Goretti High School.

“It was not an easy move from Baltimore to Hagerstown,” Gerry said.

The Kunkels settled into their North End home on Woodhaven Drive, where they lived from 1968 to 2003.

Both Dick and Bert relished their involvement at St. Ann Catholic Church and service to the community through various organizations. Dick joined the Knights of Columbus in 1952 and served in both the Baltimore area and Hagerstown.

Bert taught others to knit, crochet and sew and made all of her dresses and all of Marcia’s prom gowns.

“They did a lot for people in the community,” Alan said.

Dick’s love for the church led him to study to become a deacon in the Catholic church in 1986. He was ordained in 1992 at the age of 71 and assigned to St. Ann Parish in Hagerstown, serving there until his retirement in 2007 due to macular degeneration.

He was known for his influence through his thoughtful sermons, gentle nature and positive attitude.

Dick’s positive nature came through in his trademark response — “Fantastic” — when asked how he was, even while awaiting hip surgery at the hospital, Paula said.

Bert usually worked “behind the scenes” and had a gift for making people feel welcome, Paula said. The long list of heartfelt condolences on the funeral home website for each of them reflect how they touched others.

There were family vacations to Ocean City, Md., to the New York World’s Fair, trips to Bert’s paternal grandfather’s shore house on the Magothy River, family reunions with Dick’s family at Knoebel’s in Pennsylvania, Sunday drives to Loch Raven Dam to feed the fish and Sunday visits to see Bert’s mother.

Marcia’s memories as a teenager include siblings and friends “piling into the station wagon,” with Dick driving them to Cowans Gap for an afternoon of swimming.

There were times of being surprised by their parents’ skills. Alan recalls going roller skating with the Knights of Columbus and the Kunkel children “falling on the floor” while their father waltzed around the rink with another woman.

It turned out Dick had been a skate monitor for four to five years in his teens.

In 2003, Bert and Dick moved to Cortland Manor, where they lived until October 2012. Still, at their ages and with all of their health issues, what one couldn’t do, the other could.

Their final months were spent at the Village at Robinwood, a move that came after Bert fell and fractured her arm.

Son David Kunkel lives in Hagerstown and was responsible for caring for their parents.

While Dick resisted the idea of moving to Robinwood because he didn’t want to spend the children’s inheritance, David assured them the children wanted them to be safe and comfortable.

“He wasn’t thinking of himself. He was thinking of others,” David said.

Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in 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 Bertha W. and Richard M. Kunkel, who died Feb. 17 and Feb. 21, respectively, at the ages of 90 and 91. Her obituary was published in the Feb. 21 edition of The Herald-Mail and his obituary was in the Feb. 24 edition.

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