28 July 1933 - 11 December 2020
We are saddened to announce the passing of our Dad, Ralph Gutwald, after a long struggle with health issues. Throughout the past few years, he was the epitome of strength, courage, grace, and of course, the stubbornness of his German heritage.
Dad was born in Brux, Republic of Germany in 1933, which later became part of Czechoslovakia. When World War II broke out in 1939, his family was shipped on trains to internment camps with nothing but a suitcase, where they lived in squalor for over a year. There were many years of hardship living in Nazi Germany, including a period living in another camp post-war. The horrors he witnessed left an indelible impression, yet he managed to find ways to be a typical boy, with stories of stealing “artifacts” from sleeping Russians and digging underneath the internment fence into the forest to explore--much to his mother’s consternation and worry. And worse, collected and disassembled grenades and other acquired weapons in the back shed. Imagine his mother’s surprise when that was discovered during an inspection.
When he was 14 years old, he commenced his journeyman mechanic training and became a full-fledged mechanic by the time he was 18. At the young age of 19, not knowing the language and just after WWII, he decided to immigrate to Canada to find work. He docked in Montreal in December 1952 and made his way by train to Saskatoon where he was employed as a diesel mechanic for CP Rail. Dad’s deepest desire was to become an aeronautical engineer. However, a faulty furnace in his boarding house resulted in carbon monoxide poisoning. It impaired his memory, studying became difficult, and he was unable to pursue that dream. He made up for that loss by achieving his private pilot licence in his 40s, and his passion for aviation stayed with him until the end.
Dad moved to Edmonton in 1956 when he was offered a job with M&P Trucking, and concurrently, attended St. Joseph’s High School to improve his English. He met Mom while attending school and he was smitten. They married in 1958, and being good Catholics, started their family soon after.
Dad was always resourceful and resilient. They moved to Drumheller in 1963 after accepting a position as an automotive teacher at the new high school. Conditional upon employment was that he pursued his teaching certificate, travelling back and forth to Edmonton to attend University of Alberta classes for four years while still teaching school. He received his teaching degree in 1968. During the summer months, he worked in the oilfields as a diesel mechanic to supplement their income.
Mom and Dad loved travel, new experiences and entertaining, and they had the best backyard pool parties. Dad taught all of us the value of hard work. He told us if we wanted a swimming pool, we would have to help dig it. By hand. And we did. But we had decades of enjoyment in that pool…even skipping classes and bringing friends over during hot June days. And the pool was a magnet for our large family, right down to his grandchildren. Dad was a real renaissance man: in addition to tinkering with anything mechanical or technological, he loved to cook and sew, often to the chagrin of his daughters who had to confess their Dad made their dresses. We didn’t appreciate this about him until much later in our lives.
Dad was so proud of his family and they were always his priority. His children are left to mourn his passing and rejoice in his life; Craig (Judy), Catherine (Patrick), Shelley (Dale), Licia, and daughter-in-law Dixie. He was Opa (and sometimes Santa) to his 12 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren, with another on the way. Dad is survived by his younger brother Volker in Germany and is predeceased by his parents Eduard and Aloisia. Dad’s saddest moments were when he lost his eldest son Mark, daughter Alyson, and grandson Brenon. He never recovered from the sudden loss of Mom in 2014 after 56 years of marriage. We are overjoyed he is with her and the rest of his loved ones now.
Due to the pandemic, so many of our family and close friends were unable to see Dad in his final months, including his very special friend Lisa. Being a humble man, he underestimated the impact he had on young students as an educator, and so many people have reached out to tell us how he made school worthwhile and inspired them to pursue their own goals. We have therefore decided we will plan for a large gathering when restrictions on group events are lifted. The specifics of his Celebration of Life will be announced at a later date.
We must acknowledge and recognize the exceptional care Dad and our family received during this challenging pandemic period, and the past few weeks. We are forever grateful for the outstanding professionalism, compassion and caregiving of Dr. Amanda Randolph, Pharmacists Kevin and Carmen, Nurses, Aides, and LPNs, especially Jennifer, Lise, Kathy, Kim, Jolene, Helen, Asha, and Hazel. Although we may have missed a few names, your contributions to Dad’s comfort and the relationships you formed with him are appreciated from the bottom of our hearts. It is important to us that for those who wish, memorial donations may be made in Dad’s name to The Drumheller Area Health Foundation, specifically directed to Continuing Care.
Courtney-Winters Funeral Home in care of arrangements. 403-823-2666.