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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Community remembers Gerry Schinkel: former Mayor, businessman passes away





by Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative

A former Mayor of Essex, businessman, greenway and historic Essex Railway supporter, Gerry Schinkel, passed away on April 29 at 88-years of age, leaving behind a legacy of community involvement.

  Netherlands-born, Schinkel and his wife, Ruth - with whom he celebrated 62-years of marriage, made Essex their home for over 71-years. 

  In 1962, Schinkel and his brother, Herman, purchased Roberts Meat Market from one of C.W. Roberts’s sons, which had been in operation since 1912. The local shop continues as a staple in the community with his son, Greg, and his family continuing to operate the family legacy.

  Schinkel was a long-time devoted member of Essex Christian Reformed Church. He also served on Essex Town Council for 13-years. From 1980-1985 he served as Mayor. One of his major accomplishments in Essex was putting in the sanitary sewer.

  When the community celebrated the historic Essex Railway Station’s 20th restoration anniversary in 2014, former Manger of the facility and local historian, the late Bill Gay, warmly spoke about the Save our Station (SOS) Committee, which ensured the station would be restored and preserved for generations to come.

  One of those SOS Committee members was Schinkel. Gay credited Schinkel for gathering the many individuals who wanted to get in on the restoration together to join the SOS Committee. Heritage Essex took over the maintenance of the station in SOS’s footsteps.

  Schinkel was so involved with the SOS group, area residents began referring to the historic train station as “Gerry’s station,” Gay noted then.

  He was later awarded the Citizen of the Year Award – an annual fundraiser for Heritage Essex that maintains the historic Essex Railway Station – for his efforts in helping to save the facility.

  In 2010, Schinkel organized a Greenway Bike-a-Thon, with proceeds going towards helping the Essex Region Conservation Authority and the Essex Region Conservation Foundation to continue building the 26-kilometer former rail line into the Essex-Amherstburg Greenway trail that begins at Sadler’s Park.

  In May of 2010, the Essex Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion (Branch 201) recognized the 65th anniversary of Operation Manna with representatives of the Canadian Historical Aircraft Association Museum.

  Operation Manna took place from April 29-May 15 in 1945, The British and affiliated Canadian air forces dropped crates of food for the Dutch while it was still German-occupied.

  During this event, Schinkel shared memories of being a boy of nine at the tail-end of the Second World War. He was living in the City of Utrecht, Netherlands with his parents and ten brothers and sister.

  He recalled watching the crates drop down from the sky to feed his family and neighbours.

  During the famine, Schinkel spoke of remembering eating sugar beet pulp pancakes; a food he didn’t mind until after they got used to eating better tasting foods. He said then that his dad was always good at finding food for his family.

Schinkel also remembered a field that was located right behind his home that the Germans would use for training. He spoke of a time when he and his friends were playing in that field and found a dummy grenade.

  Two Canadians were traveling in a jeep and slammed on the brakes when they saw Schinkel walking around with the dummy grenade. The Canadians took the grenade from Schinkel, even after he explained that it was just a dummy grenade. Schinkel said that was his first personal contact with Canadians.

Nearly 30-years ago, Schinkel spearheaded a fundraising campaign for the Operation Manna mural that still exists on the exterior of the Essex Legion.

  Since his passing, his son, Greg, has been stopped many times by caring community members, all sharing a story about a man who lived an interesting life that embodied the spirit of giving back.

  “He touched the lives of many,” Mayor Sherry Bondy said at the beginning of the May 6 Council meeting, before a moment of silence was hosted as a way to reflect on Schinkel’s life and commitment to the community. His time on Council was spent, “helping to shape the community we all know and love.”

  She offered heartfelt condolences to Schinkel’s family and friends, and all who have been touched by his kindness and dedication.

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