American Veteran 04

Gerhard "Gary" Kather

January 30, 1939 ~ June 19, 2022 (age 83)

Obituary Image

Obituary

Gerhard Kather was born in Allenstein, East Prussia (now Germany) on January 30, 1939, to Ernst Kather and Maria (Kempa) Kather. He was the oldest of five children and is survived by all his siblings. Gerhard and his brother, Reinhold (Ron), were born before WWII started, Helga and Renate after the war. Gabie, 14 years younger than Gary, was born in Portland, Oregon. Gerhard's early years were marked by the tumult of Europe in the build up to the war, then the years of WWII, and finally the challenges of post-war Europe. During those years, the family moved repeatedly and was sometimes separated. In those times, they were called "displaced people." However, they stayed connected and, after the end of the war and with the help of the Catholic church, were given an opportunity to emigrate to the United States. Emigrating required a full year of completing paperwork, physical exams for everyone in the family, and a 10-day boat ride across the Atlantic but in the Spring of 1952, they arrived at Ellis Island. Their US journey led them to Portland, Oregon where the family set up permanent residence. Gerhard became a naturalized US citizen in 1959. The family always noted that "the kindness of strangers" helped them make the multiple, major moves. In the US Gerhard was given the nickname "Gary" which stuck the rest of his life.

Faith, education, and work were important to the Kather family and to Gary. The Catholic church helped the family survive the challenges of Europe in the first 13 years of Gary's life and it remained a constant presence throughout the rest of his life. He graduated from Catholic Central High School in Portland in 1958. He obtained a BA from the University of Arizona in 1962 during his six-year stint in the US Air Force (1958-1964, Honorable Discharge). He earned an MPA from the University of Southern California in 1971 and a Certification in Personnel Administration from the University of New Mexico in 1987. Gary used his education to work personnel administration jobs for a series of Air Force bases in the US and for a few years in Germany. He was frequently honored for his skill and commitment in the workplace and was included in the 2003 Edition of Who's Who in America.

Gary married Carol Ann Knutsen on August 18, 1962. They had four children: Scott (Donna), Cyndie, Trace (Yula) and Chris, all of whom survive Gary. That marriage ended in divorce. Gary met Mary Elsie Frank in Albuquerque, New Mexico at a Cinco de Mayo ballroom dancing class in 1975. They began to date and dance and became engaged in early 1977. They married on October 20, 1980. Gary helped Elsie raise her two sons from a previous marriage, Paul and Steve Shager, both of whom pre-deceased Gary. From both marriages Gary has five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Together Gary and Elsie traveled extensively in the US visiting both the Kather and Frank families and places of beauty and interest to them, such as the Grand Canyon and Hawaii.

An event later in 1977 completely changed the trajectory of Gary's and Elsie's lives. On a skiing trip to Colorado with a friend the van in which Gary was a passenger hit a patch of black ice and careened off the road. Gary's neck was broken, and he never walked again. He returned to Portland to begin a rehabilitation regime that would be part of his life for the next 45 years. Gary and Elsie had to decide whether to remain engaged and continue their budding relationship or to go separate ways. After both individual and couple soul-searching, they decided to stay together and were married three years later.

On multiple levels, their lives were completely different than before the accident. Gary needed skilled nursing care to get up every morning and to be put into bed at night. Daily attention was needed to monitor his health status since his complete lack of feeling below his chest meant that any evidence of medical problems had to be identified and dealt with as soon as possible. In other ways, his life continued as fully and vibrantly as before. He drove in a van modified for his capabilities, skied and snorkeled with adaptive assistance, and continued to travel, including a trip to Germany with his son, Trace. He also gained a new focus on the needs of paralyzed and disabled people. He served as a Project Coordinator for Protection and Advocacy in Albuquerque, a State of New Mexico organization advocating for people with a wide range of disabilities and as a Board member of Paralyzed Veterans of America at both the New Mexico and national levels. He also became active in the Ankylosis Association of America, an organization that helps people with the degenerative bone disease that had been one reason for his leaving the Air Force when he did and was a critical factor in his particularly severe outcome to the automobile accident.

As their lives together unfolded, Gary and Elsie designed and had a house built in the mountains East of Albuquerque specifically for someone in Gary's condition. The bi-level house had a circular ramp (around a greenhouse atrium) that went from the ground level to the second story with windows at Gary's eye level so he could have good views of the surrounding mountains. When the management of their two-acre lot became too much, they moved to La Vida Llena (LVL) a complete care living community in Albuquerque. They were admitted to the Independent Living portion of LVL as long as they could continue to independently provide for all of Gary's care. Gary and Elsie became involved members of the community and participated in activities there.

For Gary's 80th birthday in 2019, Gary and Elsie invited family on both sides to a party in Albuquerque. The invitation noted that Gary wanted people to visit him while he was still alive rather than to come to his funeral - and they did. Almost all members of both the Kather and Frank families were present.

What no one knew or could have predicted was that it was Elsie who would die unexpectedly less than two months later. That departure dealt a devastating blow to Gary who lost both his wife of almost 39 years and his most consistent and devoted caregiver. Elsie's brothers stepped up to provide help to Gary in multiple areas, including caregiving. A skilled team of caregivers provided daily care and, near the end, 24/7 care. Gary's siblings, children and extended family also kept in touch with Gary letting him know he was loved. Gary was allowed to stay in his independent living apartment as long as the necessary caregiving was in place. Thankfully, such care continued for over three years and Gary died in his apartment early in the morning of Father's Day, 2022.

The family wants to extend our deepest appreciation to the Spinal Cord Injury Unit of the Albuquerque Veteran's Administration Hospital who conscientiously and skillfully provided essential care to Gary for over 40 years. We also are most grateful to Hospice of New Mexico who served Gary so well for over four months since the end of January 2022.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to one of two charities that Gary was committed to:

1)   Spondylitis Association of America; 16430 Ventura Blvd, Suite 300; Encino, CA 91436; https://spondylitis.org/
2)   Society of St. Vincent de Paul; Attn: Council President; 4120 Menaul Blvd.NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110; https://www.svdpnm.com/

To send flowers to the family, please visit our floral store.


Services

Visitation
Thursday
August 4, 2022

5:00 PM to 6:00 PM
FRENCH - Lomas
10500 Lomas Blvd. NE
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Rosary
Thursday
August 4, 2022

6:00 PM
FRENCH - Lomas
10500 Lomas Blvd. NE
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Mass
Tuesday
August 9, 2022

10:30 AM
John XXIII Catholic Community
4831 Tramway Ridge Dr. NE
Albuquerque, NM 87111

Private Graveside
Tuesday
August 9, 2022

Santa Fe National Cemetery
501 N Guadalupe Street
Santa Fe, NM 87501

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