Family is the central theme in my life. When I think about why that is, I trace it back to my grandfather, John Kuntz. He knew the importance of family and instilled it in future generations.
Gramps came from Poland in 1907 as a 17-year-old. Not long after his family settled in South St. Paul, his father left them. Gramps stepped up to be head of the household, taking care of his mother and four siblings. As a young adult, he once went west to search for his father but never found him. Gramps continued to be the head of the extended family for decades.
In the 1910s, Gramps built the Lincoln Hotel. It sat across from stockyards and meat packing plants, housing single men who worked there. The bottom floor of the hotel had a bar/restaurant, where the boarders ate their meals, and the top two floors had small rooms with common bathrooms.
My dad and his five siblings grew up in this hotel, not only living there, but working there. They made lunches for the boarders, served food, and cleaned rooms. When Gramps retired, four sons took over the business.
In the late 1960s, the brothers had a somewhat unreliable maid who was supposed to clean each Friday. When she didn’t show up, my siblings and cousins and I spent our Saturday mornings cleaning bathrooms and changing linens. While we didn’t love giving up our Saturdays in exchange for a couple of dollars each, it built a camaraderie. We started calling ourselves the Kuntz Corp — a name that stuck for a long time.
Most of our strong family ties and traditions started at that hotel and continued long after the family sold it in the late 1970s.
Gramps was quite a cook from his time running the hotel restaurant. He liked to make kiszka, a Polish blood sausage. We made it annually as a family for a long time. A cousin of mine still has Gramps’ grinder and recipe.
For years, we had a birthday party for Gramps every year in a local park. Even after he died in 1988, we kept the party going. We also had a big Christmas party each year that rotated between my dad’s and uncles’ houses until the family grew too big with too many obligations to other sides of families.
The Kuntz Corp boys would spend a weekend each summer at one uncle’s cabin on Lake Kego in northern Minnesota. It was a rustic place with no heat, water, or electricity. Everyone looked forward to that guys’ weekend. As we got older, the cousins vacationed together with our families. In the spirit of Lake Kego, our families rented about half the cabins in a resort outside Park Rapids for many years.
Becoming head of the household as a teen and a widower by 60, Gramps was devoted to his kids and grandkids. When I was young, he would visit each of his kids regularly, stopping in for a drink or dinner or to watch TV together. He was at our house most Mondays and Saturdays to watch All-Star Wrestling.
The Kuntz family is still close-knit — a result of the importance Gramps put on family. Not only am I close with my cousins and siblings, but our kids are close with the others of their generation. They too know the importance of family and tradition.
We have a nice circle of friends who developed out of the family. We are all so close that sometimes our kids don’t know which people are relatives and which aren’t.
We treat everyone like family, just like Gramps did taking care of all those men who lived at the Lincoln Hotel.