Saturday, February 25, 2023

John "Wes" Gunther, November 2, 1927 - February 14, 2023

 My father died shortly before 2 a.m. on Valentine's Day. When we saw our 9-year-old granddaughter the evening before, she was aware that he would likely pass away soon. When Christa was tucking her in bed that night, she said she hoped that Papa (as his great-grandchildren called him) would fall asleep and wake up in heaven with Nana so they could spend Valentine's Day together. That is exactly what happened.

I actually lost my father over six years ago, to that insidious disease known as Alzheimer's, so his passing has affected me much differently than when my mother died 4 1/2 years ago. It was hard for my mother to  make the decision to put him in a memory care facility here in Fresno in August 2016 but she could not care for him. A few months later, she decided she no longer wanted to live alone and they moved to a room in a retirement center in Reedley, about 45 minutes from Fresno. That was hard on her, as they downsized from a lovely three-bedroom home to a single room. Added to the difficulty for my mother--she did not have memory issues but she was now living in the memory care unit. She never complained but I know it was harder than I could even imagine. Yet she wanted to spend whatever time she could living with my dad. Shortly after she passed away in August 2018, he required care beyond just memory issues and he was transferred to the skilled nursing section. He always recognized Mark and me when we visited, but if you asked him later that day when he last saw his daughter, he would tell you that I had not come by to visit him in years. 

He was well taken care of, but he was so lonely and missed my mother so much. The pandemic only served to make him even lonelier. He never understood what was happening, why we could not come see him in person, and when we finally could, why we always had to wear masks. 

On Monday, February 13, he was taken to the hospital. He was still somewhat responsive when Mark and I arrived. We were able to Facetime my brother in Washington, DC, so he could say goodbye. Then he lapsed into unawareness. I'm so glad we were able to spend time with him before he passed away peacefully. 

He reached the age of 95, although if you asked him how old he was, he would tell you that he was born in 1927--he never forgot what year he was born--and that he was 101. "YOU do the math." We never argued with him, but he would not have liked this photo (taken in 2020), because when I took it, he would never have believed that he was only 93! I'm sure he thought he was at least 96 by this time.

My father was one of 14 siblings, although by the time I was born, three had passed away (one at age 2, one under a year, and a sister at age 18), so all of my life he was next to the youngest of 11.

9 of 11 siblings: Dad, Marie, Pete, Eva, Ray, Grandpa, Jack, Grandma, Ernie, Caroline, Alma (missing: Lydia and Rubena)

He grew up on a farm, with little money but a lot of love in his family. He went to seminary and pastored his first church in City Terrace, an Hispanic area of Los Angeles. He went on to pastor churches in Enid, Oklahoma, Phoenix, and Seattle, before retiring from the ministry and moving back to Fresno. 

My father loved music, and I know my love of classical music comes from him. One of my fondest memories is when he built his own amplifier from a kit. I remember him sitting at a card table for hours at our home in Oklahoma, with all the small pieces in little sections of egg cartons. He was also a master woodworker and built many pieces of furniture in our home. His wood of choice was always maple and he and my mother loved the "early American" style of furniture, so he became an expert at using a lathe. I remember later that the amplifier he put together was installed in a beautiful console he built that also housed a turntable and speakers. 

He went through many creative phases. I still have a few pieces of decopage. One of my prized possessions is an absolutely exquisite needlepoint picture. He earned extra money during retirement by doing upholstery. I like to think that one of the best things I inherited from him was the love of creating. 

He was a writer, and spent several years writing a book called The Waters Run Deep: A Family Story of Triumph Over Adversity, a book that went back six generations and traced his family's migration from western Europe to Prussia (modern-day Poland) and from there to Russia and then to America. It told the story of his parents and how they moved from Oklahoma to Kansas, Michigan and California, and finally the story of his personal boyhood years, growing up on a farm near Dinuba, California. 

He loved his family, and I'm grateful that the youngest, Ella and Gabe, have memories of him, as he spent hours playing games and doing puzzles with them while Levi and Charlotte took piano lessons from my mother. 

I don't think he would ever have anticipated being the last of his siblings. He lived a long life and I'm glad that he passed away so peacefully. 


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Bonney said... #

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I'm sorry for your losses.

Yvonne from Quilting Jetgirl said... #

I'm so glad that his passing was peaceful. Sending you, your family, and everyone who cared for him a lot of love.

Karen Hoekman said... #

Thank you so much for sharing this! We love all the pictures. We loved your mom and dad! They were always so welcoming! Your dad was a great brother to my mom! I remember visiting them in Enid as a kid and then in other places where they ministered. We loved their home in Fresno where the piano almost took up one room. I remember the bird house on the fence line. I think we overnighted one time in their home in Fresno. Then we last visited your folks just aftwr they moved into the memory care unit....I could see how much they loved each other. I think I have read your dad's book is a rich history of our family also! Again, thank you for sharing since we live too far away. Love and prayers for you, Mark and your family

Cathy O said... #

Thank you, Cindy for this beautiful tribute and photos of Uncle Wes and family.
I appreciated so much that he spoke at both my dad, and mother’s funeral services. He was a gifted speaker and had a tender and kind way about him.
He came to St Agnes when Terry had his cancer surgery, prayed with us together before surgery. That meant so much to both of us.
I so appreciate the Gunther family history and stories written by uncle Wes, in “Still Waters Run Deep”
Hugs and prayers for you and family.

Linda Kucera said... #

Dear Cindy, you have written so lovingly of your father, and your parents together. What a wonderful inheritance you have from them in loving kindness, faith, devotion, creativity, and so much more.
Love to you and all your family.

Anonymous said... #

What a great read. I can see, both gone but never forgotten.

Charlotte M. said... #

What a wonderful life he had. I was so fascinated by all the things he created. And wonderful, after all he endured in later years to pass peacefully in his sleep. My mother died with Alzheimer's, so I get what you mean about losing him earlier on. May he rest in peace and may you find comfort from your sorrow.

Rochelle aka Bella Quilts said... #

Blessings on you and your family, Cindy. A beautiful memorial to your father. I can see what an impact he made in the lives of all his family and his friends. Blessings to you and your family.

Sandy Wiest said... #

Thank you so very much for your call. I don’t know if I’ll make it because of the unusual snow conditions in Oakhurst.
What a special life he lived and your story is so explicit.
I have his book which is a treasure of history.
We went to visit a few months ago and he looked so cute with his butch haircut.
I bet Rubena is showing him around and giving him great advice. 😊

Anne / Springleaf Studios said... #

Cindy, this is quite a lovely tribute to your Dad. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I'm glad he had a peaceful transition to eternal life with your Mom. The book he wrote is a wonderful way to know and pass on your family heritage. I wish you peace and prayers my friend. Hugs.

Anonymous said... #

I know I am way past the date but we just came across this last night. I am so sorry for your losses. Your family played such a huge roll in our neighborhood family. I think of them often. Lori Bianchini shoreline Washington.