December 18th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 51
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Tales from the Cookie Box – Let’s Go See the World
Looking Back
courtesy of Gunter Koci
Gunter's mother Selma posing by 1950's Chevy
When we left off last week I promised to wrap up this now four part series on the one and only Gunter Koci. To do so I would be remiss if I didn’t share another serendipitous story about how he came to live in the house his is in today.

Going back, you will remember that Gunter and Doris had been living above his bakery in an apartment for some time. In 1970 Gunter became aware of an unfinished house that was available, strategically located at the base of the Blairmore Ski Hill. According to Gunter an ambitious immigrant from Germany by the name of Korbinian (Korby) Graf had also set his sights on this property.

Korby Graf came to Canada in the early 1950’s from Bavaria, from a town in the very south of Germany. Korby passed away at the end of September at the age of 90 and was a well known businessman and craftsman who owned and ran CNP Plumbing and Heating for many years. Korby’s crowning achievement was a solar house he built in Bellevue.
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But I digress, as usual. The story goes that Korby chose to drive to Calgary that winter’s day to make an offer to the then bankrupt contractor for that house. He was informed, when he got there, that it was out of the contractor’s hands, that is to say, it belonged to the Town of Blairmore now for unpaid taxes. The house had been put up by the town for auction and that very same day as Korby went to Calgary Gunter went to their office to inquire as to what was owed. He was told $3500 and since he was the only one there to bid, promptly and prudently offered $3510, which was accepted.

So it was that Gunter and Doris came to live on the house on the hill and where they raised their three children, Gunther, Peter and Helga. They both worked hard for many years and in 1992 Gunter, who was almost 65, decided to retire. He said then in an interview, “I am going to miss this place. It’s a part of me… I built this place… it’s a part of my soul.”

A couple from Blackie, Alberta, Anne and Norman Whillans bought the bakery business from him. Norman Whillans said after 55 years of living and working on the prairies it was time for a change of scenery. While the Whillans were experienced in food preparation and service they only lasted three years before giving up the bakery business and auctioning off the old equipment.

Eventually in 1995 Gunter sold the building to Bonnie Harry who opened up a classic line of contemporary women’s clothing store there. Bonnie’s Fashions stayed open until October of 2016 when it finally closed its doors.
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Gunter, at one point in our many conversations about his run of luck, casually mentioned to me that he had beaten cancer. I was astounded at his flippancy about it after he said: “I got rid of it in seven weeks.” In his inimitable style he shared that following a major checkup the doctor told him he had cancer. His comment to her was, “How come I don’t know, I don’t feel nothing”. She apparently said: “If you don’t feel anything, it’s good, if you feel it, then it is probably too late. Seven weeks of targeted radiation in Calgary and Gunter walked away from an emerging prostate cancer and never looked back.

Shortly after retiring Gunter turned to Doris and said, “We gonna see the world now. We gonna spend da money.” And so they did see the world. His house is full of memorabilia collected on their many trips abroad. Mexico, Costa Rica, back to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy and Holland. Paintings and sculpture that caught their eyes as they travelled were brought home. A little bit of each country to remind them of where they went and what they saw.

He toured me through all their travel mementos scattered around their beautifully appointed house. Whether it was a magnificent painting of Nefertiti on papyrus or an intricately woven Chinese bamboo hat, each one had a story.
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I asked Gunter what was his most memorable trip. He said the last one, to China in 2002. It did not go unnoticed by him that the Chinese are a very clean people; at least it was in the myriad of places they visited. He brought back two VHS videos of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. The dam is also integral to flood control of the Yangtze River and shipping navigation. The downside of its construction was that it displaced 1.3 million people.

Time and time again the same words seemed to come out of Gunter’s mouth. “I was very luck all the time. All my life.” Lucky indeed. He found a new country that he loved. He built a successful business. He found the love of his life in the most unusual way. He raised a family with grand children and great grand children. He saw the world and then stayed home to look after his beloved Doris whose health was failing. He lost her in 2013; six years ago and I can tell he misses her terribly still.
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I asked Gunter about his childhood Christmas memories back in Germany which according to him were very spartan times. They were just glad to have what little they had during the war years. I pressed him for a single memory that stood out and he finally relented by recalling a Christmas present made by his Uncle Hermann Walter, his mother’s brother. It was a train set made out of logs and he cherished it. He said Hermann was like a father to him and that when word came back in 1942 that he had been killed in Russia, fighting for Germany, he cried for a whole day. He was just 14 that Christmas.

Gunter’s life unfolded as it should. Always it comes from him these same words, over and over again. “I was always lucky you know. I guess I was born under a lucky star. You know, that’s the way it was.” Gunter has asked me to extend on behalf of him and his family, to you the readers, a wish for a very Merry Christmas.
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December 18th, 2019 ~ Vol. 89 No. 51
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