In Williams Lake there is a street that few people know about. It has a sign that says Rolf’s Strasse and is on a trail on the golf course. The sign was paced there in 1988 by two of Rolf’s brothers, Alfred and Theo. They had decided that Rolf had built so many houses that he deserved a street named after him and where else but on the golf course. What began as a family joke was in reality true. Rolf lived in Williams Lake for 52 years and as a contractor the houses and buildings he built helped change the face of the city.
Rudolf Gerhard Thuncher was born in Kitzingen, Germany. He was the eighth of 10 children born to Vitus and Hedwig Thuncher. Rolf’s stories of his early years focused on the love and devotion of his mother to her children.
They had a large garden, fruit trees and raised rabbits and chickens to feed their large family. In spite of rationing and a lack of many supplies, his mother always made special treats for each child on their birthday and at Christmas.
The older children looked after the younger ones and all helped in the garden and with all the chores. Although Rolf’s schooling was interrupted during the war years, he was an excellent student. His report cards showed top marks in all subjects. In his teen years he belonged to a church youth group where he formed lifelong friends. This group went camping and hiking together and learned folk dances and songs that they performed at many events. He was active in the rowing club with another lifelong friend, Karl Reiner.
Rolf began his apprenticeship as a carpenter at the age of 14. He had top marks throughout his three-year apprenticeship. The excellent training he received gave him the skills to be a master builder. Jobs at that time were scarce in Germany so a few years after he completed his apprenticeship he immigrated to Canada to join his brother Alfred and his wife Gerlinde. Rolf arrived in Williams Lake in July 1955 and never left. Rolf loved to tell the stories of his adventures on the trip to Canada and of his arrival in Williams Lake. The travel agent in Germany had booked his trip by ship from Bremerhaven to Montreal, then across Canada by train to Vancouver and then by PGE to Williams Lake. The PGE at that time started in Squamish and the Union Steamship which went from Vancouver to Squamish was on strike. There was Rolf in his trench coat, with his suitcase and briefcase — stranded in Vancouver.
Another recent immigrant recognized him as a fellow countryman and helped him get from Horseshoe Bay to Britannia Beach on a boat full of miners returning from a weekend in Vancouver. It certainly made him wonder what kind of country he had landed in. But the scenery from Squamish to Williams Lake impressed him and made him appreciate the beauty of the country. Rolf arrived in Williams Lake in the early hours of the morning. Walking along Oliver Street a stranger stopped his car and said you must be Fred’s brother, hop in and I’ll take you to his house. With this introduction Rolf knew this was where he wanted to stay.
For a few months he tried logging. His logging career ended when winter and -40 degree weather arrived. Fortunately he was able to get work in his trade as a carpenter. By summer he saved enough to buy his first new car — a 1956 Ford Fairlane. For the next two years he worked to save for another dream — marriage. In the summer of 1958 he flew to England to marry Susanne whom he had met several years before in Germany when she was visiting relatives.
After a brief honeymoon in Europe, he returned to Williams Lake and Susanne joined him a few months later when she completed her nurse’s training. In July 1959 their son Glen was born, followed by daughters Heide in 1962 and Sally in 1964. During this time Rolf built their new home on Western Avenue next to the former Lutheran Church and in 1966 Rolf started his own construction company, Rolf Thuncher Construction. In 1968 Susanne and the children left for a new life in Merritt. Rolf continued to be a devoted and loving father although he only saw the children on holidays and vacations. When the golf course opened new lots, Rolf sold his home on Western Avenue in 1979 and built a new home on the golf course. In 1985 Rolf married again. He and Elaine had a very happy and loving relationship for the rest of his life.
Rolf had been active in sports and travel all his life. In Germany he was active in swimming, rowing, skiing, and folk dancing and singing. In Canada he played tennis and badminton and belonged to the curling and tennis clubs.
He enjoyed skiing for many years. In the mid 70s he started to play golf and was a member of the executive of the golf club for many years. Rolf was known for his straight drives and his excellent putting. He won many tournaments over the years. The last trophy he won was the Club Senior Championship in September 2006.
Although Rolf only lived in two places — Kitzengen for his first 21 years and Williams Lake for almost 52 years he loved to travel. He began his sightseeing with two long bicycle trips with friends in 1952 and 1953, biking and tenting as they toured Austria and Switzerland. In 1954 he went with his brother Werner by motorbike to tour Italy visiting many places including Pisa, Venice and Capri. With Elaine he made many trips to Germany to visit friends and relatives. Each time they tried to visit another country as well. After Elaine retired they went every winter for a few weeks to visit Glen and Heide in Hawaii. In the VW van they travelled across Canada, made two trips to Alaska and California and numerous camping trips through B.C. and Alberta.
Rolf began to have health problems in 1983 when he had a heart attack followed by by-pass surgery. In 1990 he received a heart transplant. Rolf’s strength of character and faith in modern medicine helped when he was fortunate to receive a second heart transplant in 1997. His positive outlook and optimism helped him to face many health problems. Rolf faced each new challenge without complaining. He made many new friends in the support group and was always ready to help others who needed advice and support both pre and post transplant. His health problems strengthened his belief in living life to the fullest. He spent as much time as possible with his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Koa, Boston and Gabrielle loved to ride around the yard with him in the golf cart. He enjoyed gardening. The red petunias in front of the house were his signature except for one year when he accidentally bought snapdragons. Fishing, including ice-fishing, was another favorite pastime. He enjoyed conversations with his many friends and could be found at the “Wisdom Table” having morning coffee and discussing world and local events.
Rolf passed away peacefully at home on April 1, 2007 from complications of heart disease. Rolf is survived by his wife Elaine, son Glen (Lisa) in Texas; daughters Heide (Konrad Winder) in Hawaii, Sally (Stuart McAninch) of Tumbler Ridge; stepson Dan Real (Barbra) of 100 Mile House; grandchildren Mandy (Ben Pierce), Koa McAninch, Travis Thuncher, Matthew and Renae Real; great-grandchildren Gabrielle and Boston Pierce, Kaitlyn Real; sisters Elfriede, Inge, Ruth, Gerlinde in Germany, nieces Christine Mallette and Jasmine Burton of Williams Lake, Denika Thuncher of Abbotsford and nephew Mykel Thuncher of Vancouver and many nieces and nephews in Germany. He was predeceased by his parents and five brothers Erich, Werner, Theo, Alfred, and Elmar.
Rolf Thuncher was well respected for his honestry and strength of character. The legacy of the quality homes he built, his love of family and friends, his good humour and strong personality will always be remembered.