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Franz (Frank) Gehmacher.Supplied

Franz (Frank) Gehmacher: Paterfamilias. Outdoorsman. Builder. Gardener. Born June 12, 1925, in Bergen, Germany; died Oct. 1, 2018, in Calgary of natural causes; aged 93.

Frank was guided into the world by a midwife aunt in the alpine village of Bergen in Bavaria. The oldest of eight children, he was perhaps more mischievous than one might expect of a firstborn. An episode of lobbing stink bombs from the church balcony and his habit of questioning authority did not endear him to the village priest. An excellent student, he spent his high-school years away from home at a prep school near Munich, anticipating university and an academic career.

The Second World War, however, altered the trajectory of his life. Drafted at 19, in the last months of the war, Frank never completed his education in Germany. His positive experiences with the easygoing American occupiers, first as a prisoner of war and then as an employee on a U.S. base, opened his mind to life’s possibilities. He loved their camaraderie and lack of rigid hierarchy. One supervisor offered to sponsor his immigration to the U.S., but he ultimately chose Canada for its more accessible immigration system.

In 1947, in the town of Freising, near Munich, Frank met his dance partner for life, Elisabeth Hensel. That Frank chose to marry a Lutheran refugee from East Prussia was considered scandalous in his Roman Catholic village, but they spent 67 happy years together until Elisabeth’s death in 2014. Two of their daughters were born in Germany; two more followed after the family immigrated to Toronto in 1952.

Like many “displaced persons,” Frank first found work with the Salvation Army. Throughout his working life he advanced his prospects with continuing education in subjects such as electronics and chemistry. He spent the last 25 years of his career with Ontario Hydro, retiring in 1990 from a management position normally held by professional engineers.

A keen outdoorsman, Frank hiked portions of the Bruce Trail, fished in Georgian Bay, sailed on Lake Ontario and skied in the Rockies, often accompanied by his daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. He was an avid gardener, with an encyclopedic knowledge of flora and their Latin names. He was also a gentle man. A pesky rabbit that destroyed his vegetable garden, escaped execution when he could not bring himself to shoot it.

Indoor time was spent reading, working on projects around the house, as well as designing and helping construct four of the family’s homes. Our father liked to grumble, often targeting politicians with his disdain, but it was evident to all that he enjoyed playing devil’s advocate. And he was often kind and empathetic – a rebellious daughter, caught sneaking into the house, received only a lecture on the concept of “curfew.”

Frank was not an attentive driver, especially when surrounded by interesting scenery. On one occasion, his white-knuckled navigator, Elisabeth, stopped them from hurtling off a bridge into a lake in Montana!

In 2002, Frank and Elisabeth moved to Calgary. They comprised the heart of a family which included five granddaughters and their partners and five great-grandchildren. After Elisabeth’s death, “Opa” remained our family’s beloved centre. Independent in spirit to the end, he slipped away alone in the wee hours, in the comfort of his home.

Evelyn Gehmacher, Cordelia Hare, Doris Gunnell and Arlene Gehmacher are Frank Gehmacher’s daughters.

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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go to tgam.ca/livesguide

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