Johann “John” Dunker
Johann “John” Dunker
Johann “John” Dunker (Opa), 90, the patriarch of the Dunker family, passed away peacefully on June 23, 2012, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Born on Oct. 30, 1921, to Heinrich and Marie Dunker, Opa was born and raised in the small towns of Beppam and Verden, Germany. At 17, he was known as “Johann from Bepam,” the feather-weight champion boxer who was headed to the 1940 Olympic Games, which unfortunately were never held because of the start of World War II.
After fighting in the war, Opa began working with his older brother as an operating engineer. On the weekends, there were always local festivals being held, and Opa, who was a great dancer, would be the last one on the dance floor. One evening as he was dancing at a festival in the small town of Otteson, he met his future wife, Hilda Greta Meyer.
Johann and Hilda were married on June 8, and had two daughters, Brigitte and Rita, who were born in Germany. Times were difficult and when an uncle from the United States offered to sponsor them to become U. S. citizens they decided to make the move. Johann, Hilda, and the girls boarded a ship in May 1955 and went to work on Uncle Willie’s apple farm in Graton. They worked hard, picking apples, cherries and raspberries earning enough to pay the $700 ship fare back in record time.
In October 1955, they moved to San Francisco where they met and became friends with other German immigrants who they are still friends with today. Opa began working for the Operating Engineers Union and in 1957 the family moved to Daly City. The small family continued to visit with Uncle Willie in Graton and the Russian River area, enjoying the great weather and in April 1961 they decided to move to the small town of Sonoma. Sonoma brought them a new home, warm weather, weekend parties with their city friends, and the births of their unexpected children, Gerd and Vera. The family had grown and Opa couldn’t be happier.
With the move to Sonoma, Opa continued working with Operating Engineers Local Union #3, and he also began working with a neighbor learning welding and the building of ornamental iron gates and railings. In 1964, Opa opened his own business, Dunker Ornamental Iron Works, which he worked on weekends and nights in addition to being an operating engineer. Opa was a very hard worker and even with working two jobs, he found time to enjoy his family and friends and his love of dancing at Little Switzerland here in Sonoma. You could always find Opa dancing and twirling Oma or any of their friends or family around the dance floor with the women’s shoes flying off their feet.
Opa continued to prosper and to make the U.S. his home. It was difficult with the long hours but it also gave him the opportunity to travel the world and to visit his friends and family who were still in the homeland of Germany. He retired in 1983 from Operating Engineers and turned over the iron works business to his son in 1987. Opa was finally able to take some time to work on his bountiful garden, work in the yard, and to enjoy swimming in his pool. He continued to travel with Oma and returned to Germany 21 times over the years. Even when his Alzheimer’s kept him from making another trip, he would still ask if he could go back just one more time.
Opa is survived by his wife, Hilda Greta Dunker; his four children, Brigitte Dunker/Gassner (Paul), Rita Dunker (Richard Reichmuth), Gerd Dunker and Vera Severson (Seth); grandchildren, Krista Adams/Purdom, Brian Adams (Heidi), Shawn, Austin and Shayla Dunker, and Ashley, Dylan and Luke Severson; and six great-grandchildren.
Opa will be remembered for his creative ornamental gates and iron railings throughout Sonoma and Northern California counties. As well as his love of nature, fishing, music, dancing, joy of socializing with friends, family and neighbors, along with many memories of family and friends in his homeland of Germany, who brought him laughter and contentment.
“Opa” will be missed by all who knew him.
Duggan’s Mission Chapel
Mission Cremation Service
525 W. Napa St.,