My Dear Father

By Vic Kohring, January 9, 2013

My father, Heinz Herbert Kohring, went to be with his Lord and Savior at the stroke of midnight on January 1st while ushering in the new year. He was 91 years old and suffered from Alzheimer's disease for the last five years. Even though my family knew the end was near, to receive that terrible call he was gone was the same as being stabbed in the heart. The passing of a loved one is never anything you can fully prepare for. With the exception of a week in the hospital, my dad's last days were spent at the veterans and pioneers home in Palmer, which provided him excellent care.  

My dad was an incredible human being. He was easily the most honest person I've ever known. I never knew him to tell a lie. He never cheated anyone and always saw good in everyone. A kind, generous man. My dad was completely sincere in his business dealings with others and never took advantage of anyone. He never fudged or cheated and always treated others with respect. My father taught me through his decency, constancy, total honesty and mostly through his devout faith in God. He was a man of few words, but rather taught by example through his kindness, generosity, loyalty and work ethic. In his own quiet way, he showed me not by words, but deeds. He also showed me he loved me more times than I can remember. 

My dad dealt with people in a trustworthy, straightforward way and always with a strong handshake. He would speak straight to the point - even be a little blunt. But always sincere. He was frugal and strove to live within his means. Along with his honest thrift was an enduring sense of decency. These ideals were burned into me, which set a high standard in our household. My dad was a strong and caring parent who worked as a team with my mother. He the breadwinner and she the homemaker and rudder of the household. 

I have a ton of great memories of my father all the way from my youth. I will always treasure them and carry them in my heart for the remainder of my life. I remember my fourth birthday on August 2, 1962 when he hoisted me on his strong shoulders and carried me around. I felt like I was a mile in the air, but felt safe. I remember him leading my family in prayers in my room when I was bedridden from a basketball injury in high school. I remember him attending all of my sporting events from football to baseball, basketball to track. And graduations to band concerts. 

Dad was always there to show his support. He encouraged me with my school work and insisted I try different things such as electronics as a potential career. I even recall my dad punishing me when I needed disciplining. I can still feel his size-16 boot planted in my rear-end on a construction job when I talked back. My only regret is he didn't kick me harder as I deserved it. But he never punished me because he wished to hurt me, rather because he loved me - the reason a parent punishes a child. I'm sure it caused him more pain than me. Another time he knelt with me beside my bed to pray that God help me with a particular discipline problem. Thinking back on these moments brings tears to my eyes.   

I worked on many construction jobs with my dad over the years, mostly installing and finishing drywall. His craftsmanship endures in hundreds of homes throughout Anchorage and the Valley. I've always been proud that he passed the drywall trade to me, something his father passed along to him. It's hard work, but honorable and requires lots of effort and skill. I've never known anyone with the talent my dad had to beautifully apply custom, artistic hand textures, especially with his unusual, enormous hands. He was the best.

My dad also had the most keen wit and delightful sense of humor of anyone I've known. Even when hospitalized recently and on the verge of dying, he managed to get the doctors and nurses to laugh often. It was amazing. He commented in the emergency room that the wires, tubes and all the fuss over him were "no big deal, because all the pretty ladies working on me makes it fun!"

My dad was part of Battery A, 501st Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the 14th Armored Division during World War II, known as the "liberators." Without hesitation, he enlisted in the Army in 1942 and fought in the front lines on the battlefields of France against Hitler's German forces. It's the freedoms he so selflessly fought and risked his life for that we as a people enjoy today. Despite the death and destruction witnessed during the war, my dad told me just last month that he never gave much thought about the risks on the battlefields because, "I had a job that needed doing."  

When I ran for the legislature and campaigned door-to-door, I frequently met people who knew my dad. I often heard, "Aren't you Heinz Kohring's son?," instead of, "Aren't you Representative Vic Kohring?" I thought it was neat because my father was far more significant than my job and political title. Hearing these words instilled pride in my heart. My dad was well known in the Valley and even viewed as a folk hero. He could often be seen riding his bicycle along Wasilla area bike paths and roads as recently as two summers ago. He loved the Carr's deli a mile from home where he often drank coffee and read the newspaper. 

My dad was super loyal to our family. He would give me anything I asked if it would make my life better. Even in his final days and with a clouded mind racked by Alzheimer's while stooped over with a cane, he offered several times to help me any way he could. All I needed to do was ask he said. 

The last days spent with my dad were priceless. I wanted to be with and comfort him in his time of need, not really expecting he would soon pass away, yet somehow knowing deep down. I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed for the opportunity to visit him daily during his short, seven week stay at the pioneer's home in Palmer. Talking with my dad, pushing him around in his wheel chair which he enjoyed, helping feed him his favorite foods, watching war movies together, holding his hand and keeping him calm are now very precious memories.

Most special was on November 18th when my family joined dad for lunch at the home, six weeks before his passing. My dad offered to lead us in prayer that was so clear, articulate and heartfelt, he unmistakably had a connection with God. I could not contain my tears. Being with him in the hospital a week before he died was special for me too as I sat with him in the Intensive Care Unit while he made a miraculous, although short-lived recovery. We developed a special bond during that brief time, beyond what we ever had before. 

My father bravely fought his illness and refused to let it faze him. I never heard him complain. Not once. I told him I loved him the last time I saw him and said a prayer that God keep him in His hands before I left his room. His eyes were closed, but I know he heard me. He was gone less than a day later.

It was my honor and I'm very proud to have been known as Heinz Kohring's son. He was a great man and my life was enriched to have him as my father.  

I love you dad and already miss you terribly. I cherish your memory. You are my hero.