We remember Fred Kunze in images and words. Like the striking image of him standing on the beach. The recent passing of Fred Kunze on November 6th, 2022 brings to mind so many wonderful images and memories.
Fred is survived by his beloved wife Patricia, his daughter Laura Harris and son-in-law Russ, grandson Russell Morgan Harris III (aka Stinkweed), sister Nancy DiFabbio and [Joe], brother-in-law Michael and Annette Tetto, sister-in-law Phyllis Compierchio, and many treasured nieces, nephews,grandnieces and grandnephews, as well as dear friends Ed Zyck & Suzanne LaRusso.
Fred Kunze was born on August 20, 1949, and grew up in West Orange, New Jersey. He attended West Orange High School and continued his studies at college in Tennessee. Fred’s career spanned 30 years (1970-2000) working for NJ Bell telephone company in various positions as repairman, supervisor and ultimately on staff. Fred built many deep friendships that lasted a lifetime and his “Ma Bell” stories provided much entertainment for co-workers, family, friends – and for Fred, who loved reliving and laughing as he told his NJ Bell stories. Fred’s “R“ rated artwork, which he quietly left behind in utility boxes in Essex County, NJ, will live on to entertain many new hires.
Among his siblings, Fred was a rock of stability and support. Fred will be lovingly remembered by his sister Nancy – how he always wanted to be there for her. Even when they could not see each other often, Fred would spend hours on the phone with her where he always listened, and they would laugh together. Fred admired Nancy’s many talents, and she admired his, always considering him a renaissance man for his many artistic abilities.
In meeting and later marrying Patricia, it was clear from the beginning that Fred brought a new spark of joy, energy, wit, and love into her life. This warm spark of joy and tenderness would not fade throughout their decades of marriage and was evident to all who knew them. This undying spark would also serve to make their relationship a model of the kind of long enduring mutual support and loving care that any couple would envy or aspire to have. Their love and tender care for each other proved a rock-solid foundation which truly sustained them through better or worse, in sickness and in health. In marrying Patricia, Fred not only entered into a loving marriage, but stepped willingly into his role as parent. Fred, from the very beginning, loved Laura as his own daughter. They weathered the rough teenage years and over the decades built a loving relationship & friendship with each other. His unmatched love and pride for his daughter Laura, and later his grandson Russell, was self-evident. Fred took great pride in his family, daughter Laura and son-in-law Russ. Grandson Russell was his buddy and brought him joy; a smart lad with a quick humor, just like himself. Fred’s greatest regret was that he had hoped to have much more time with his grandson - to share with Russell his love of reading and history.
In marrying Patricia, Fred also entered into a whole new extended family. He seamlessly won the hearts and affections of a large extended Italian American family – a sprawling group of in-laws and cousins, nephews and nieces which, overnight, so naturally became his own. As a witty comedian, Fred naturally stepped into the role of a favorite Uncle who would brighten any family gathering with his humor and storytelling. In a more serious way, he seemed aware of his role as counselor and confidant, sought after by family for advice and for the unique way in which he could bring objectivity and his own life wisdom to bear on family issues. In a large Italian American family, these were big roles to fill, but Fred did it heroically, and he seemed to know and relish the role he played.
To all the family and friends who were blessed to know him, Fred painted a unique and unforgettable portrait of a man. Every encounter with Fred, from the first to the last, left a vibrant image in one’s memory, offering a unique snapshot of his multifaceted personality and talents. To know Fred over the years was to collect these images, which over time become an album of snapshots showing his many characters – a photo montage of a life well lived. One might recall an image of Fred as an expert mechanic with a love of classic cars, hunkered down underneath his deep red Pontiac GTO or Porsche, while a Beach Boys song played on the radio. The mechanic Fred would also help fix all manner of car troubles for his family, or teach Laura, or a nephew how to drive stick. Another snapshot would show an ocean-loving Fred, fishing on the pier or setting crab cages on Long Beach Island – this was a solitary love and private joy, but one which he often delighted and shared with a nephew in tow. It is the image of him patiently teaching a nephew how to fish. Another snapshot captures Fred as an artist, meticulously hunched over a scrimshaw carving, which he would expertly etch into a shark’s tooth over many weeks. He never had any formal training in the arts, but he had a natural ability to create beauty in many mediums, including metal and wood – building his first rifle when he was only 15, and later a handmade Pennsylvania rifle as an adult. In another image, Fred might be painstakingly restoring an antique in his basement workshop, taking joy as he restored a weathered piece to its former glory. There is the image of Fred as historian, lounging in his museum-like study with a hefty book about the Civil War, while surrounded by glass cases displaying his collection of war memorabilia and relics from wars over the centuries. He was an encyclopedia of historical knowledge, with the uncanny ability to expertly recall historical facts, or the strategy of a particular battle. There is a snapshot of gardener Fred, perched atop his riding mower as for hours he tended to a perfect lawn and landscape. The snapshot of Fred seated at a family gathering, excitedly telling a story as nephews, nieces and in-laws all looked on, eagerly waiting for the punch line. And of course, countless images of Fred vacationing with his wife, daughter and family on Martha’s Vineyard – one of their favorite places where they returned again and again through the decades. In an image of Fred standing on the beach at Martha’s Vineyard, Fred cuts a striking figure, but also blends seamlessly into the surrounding ocean scene – showing how much this one place, and the family he went there with, had become a part of him and come to define him.
But it is not only this mental photobook of vivid images which Fred has left to us. One might say he has left to each of us a book of stories as well. Fred was an unparalleled storyteller and comedian. And his trove of stories and jokes, numbering in the hundreds and repeated again and again at family gatherings to an eager audience, became the stuff of legends. The story of a cat shooed away by a firecracker… which arguably launched the cat clear into the sky. The story of a bathroom mishap in the back of a Jeep. The legend of a homemade clown head torpedo bringing chaos to the otherwise peaceful waters of a wooded lake. The story of the “schweinhund” – a childhood reprimand coined by his mother which, although meant to be a scolding, always brought Fred to laughter. “It means pig dog!” The story of an acquaintance who would always say goodbye to just about anyone with the oddly memorable phrase, “You’re a beautiful dude – don’t ever change.” These stories – repeated over the years to the point where nephews could excitedly recite them back word for word – these stories became the “Quotable Fred,” a book of tales and legends and quotes which he has left to all of us. As to this endless collection of stories, Fred himself would often joke that his mind was like a large hotel, each of its many rooms occupied by quirky and whimsical guests who would all burst out into the hallways to tell their crazy stories.
Indeed, as we look over this album of images and this book of unforgettable stories Fred has left us, there is no doubt that Fred will be remembered most of all for his great sense of humor and quick wit. No one could escape his humor – whether you were family, or friend. Not even the doctors and nurses who cared for him in the most serious of times could escape his one liners. No one was spared. Fred was inspiring and brought a smile and laughter to everyone. Often during times that few could find any humor in; Fred could.
We love you Fred. We will miss you. But we know you are in a place of perfect joy; no more pain. You are no longer defined by a body that hasn’t served you well. You are now free to breathe deeply and run freely. You’re a beautiful dude – don’t ever change.
Funeral: No formal funeral service will be held.
Committal: Fred’s ashes will be spread by his wife and family on Fuller Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, between Fuller Street entrance and the Edgartown Lighthouse. This will be done on a sunny day during Fred & Pat’s favorite time of year on the Vineyard, the last week of June (2023). A place that is full of wonderful lasting memories and with an amazing view that is hard to beat.
Memorial Gifts: In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Fred’s name to the COPD Foundation Let's Fight COPD Together | Support the COPD Foundation in honor of Dr Byron Thomashow (NY) (https://www.copdfoundation.org/Take-Action/Donate/Donate-Now.aspx). Our deepest gratitude to Dr Thomashow for caring for Fred over 25 years and for valiantly fighting for Fred to give us many more years with him than we could have anticipated. Dr Thomashow’s devotion to Fred, especially during CoVid years, will forever be appreciated. Special gratitude to Dr. Wilson Quezada (NY), who treated Fred this past year with his expertise, compassion & kindness.