C. Kent Kunkel

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Kunkel, C. Kent C. Kent Kunkel, a father of four sons and Dallas fundraiser and community activist, died on November 28th at the age of 52. Kunkel died on Thanksgiving Day - his favorite holiday - after a valiant, two and a half year fight with cancer. Kent was born on February 20, 1961, in Berkeley, California, to the late Nancy Skaggs Kunkel, a nutritionist and dietician at Ohio State University, and George Robert Kunkel, a retired California state employee. Kent worked hard his entire life. His earliest jobs as a young boy included working at the local Winn Dixie, stuffing newspapers for a paper route, and pulling tobacco. A 1979 graduate of Franklin County High School in Rocky Mount, Virginia, he acted in school plays, participated in student government, and excelled in track and field. He earned a BS degree in 1986 in marketing education from Virginia Tech University. After graduating from Virginia Tech, he moved to Charlottesville, Virginia where he began his career by managing UVA's campus bookstore. This career led him to Texas and bookstores at San Angelo State and UNT, among others. Later, he worked in telecom sales management. Kent was charismatic, handsome, articulate, intellectual and happy; he attracted those around him with his enthusiastic spirit, zest for life and golden smile. A life-long learner, Kent loved and respected the value of education, and was constantly learning, reading, and improving himself. In San Angelo, he participated in Toastmaster's International and became an accomplished public speaker. In Dallas, he began a master's degree program at UNT in early childhood education, which was interrupted by the birth of his second son, Trey, who was born with birth defects so rare that only one other child in the world has been found thus far with the same genetic abnormality. Against tremendous odds, Kent kept Trey alive with intensive love and care throughout the many nights and days of hospitalizations and surgeries. Kent was engaged in the world around him and in the city in which he lived. Along with his partner of 18 years, he was a member of the DFW Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Federal Club. During HRC's breakthrough years of the late 1990s, Kent served on the DFW Black Tie Dinner Committee. This Dallas fund-raising event is one of the most successful and prominent events in the country for raising awareness and money: generally, about half of the funds raised stay in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area and the other half goes to the national HRC. It was from a hospital bed that Kent followed the landmark Supreme Court ruling repealing DOMA. Kent and his partner Vaughn were married in Washington, D.C., at the Tidal Basin between the Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials. But their lives had already changed irrevocably with the birth of their three sons, Trey, Luke, and Zachary. Big brother Ross is a chemistry major at SMU. As their family grew, Kent conveyed his love of learning to his children. He wanted nothing more than to rear his three small sons. Kent was actively involved in his children's school, The Lamplighter School in Dallas, where he served on the Board of Trustees. He helped implement the first Lamplighter Trick or Treat for UNICEF and served on various committees to raise money for the school. Kent contributed the initial seed money to establish the school's new science facility. He read books at Highland Park's Armstrong elementary school in the special needs class attended by his son, Trey. Kent loved auctions, 80s music, entertaining, housing construction, interior design, board games, making pizza from scratch, Rachel Ray, HGTV, bungee jumping, roller coasters, and "The Chronicles of Narnia." He had a passion for early American history, Lewis & Clark, Thomas Jefferson and Monticello. In his final months, he continued his admiration for Jefferson and recalled the pride he felt, so many years ago, walking into the great libraries at UVA. As he lay dying, he had one of his nieces read to him Jefferson's words about the promise of American democracy to make things better. His love of cooking traces back to when, as a child, he and his brother Kelly were responsible for preparing family dinner every day for his working parents and siblings. Hosting a beautiful Thanksgiving Day dinner in his Dallas home was an eagerly anticipated, special event for family and friends. More than anything, he took his professional appreciation for books with him, though in a much more personal way, to his young sons. He read to them every night, for nearly an hour, before illness prevented him from doing so. In some of his final advice to his oldest son and nieces - and to anyone who would listen - he encouraged them to pursue challenging, indeed the hardest, subjects in school. While they may be difficult, he said, their rewards could be the most satisfying instead of being content with the "easy" route. He was an extraordinary father and spouse and his family is devastated by their loss. He loved every day of his life and desperately wanted to continue that life with his beloved Vaughn of 18 years and four sons. His survivors include his spouse, Vaughn Vennerberg, and their children, Trey, Luke, and Zach Vennerberg of the home, and a son from a previous marriage, Ross Kunkel of Dallas. Other survivors include his siblings, Kelly Herrick, of San Francisco, Lola Nancy Reece of Peterstown, West Virginia; Keith Kunkel, of San Francisco, Karl Herrick of Daytona Beach, Florida, and former wife, Sharon Kunkel Beninghove of Richmond, VA, and 11 nieces and nephews. Kent was a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church in Dallas and enjoyed attending First Unitarian Church of Dallas with his young sons. The family is especially grateful for the tremendous care that Kent received from Dr. Luis Diaz, M.D., Dr. Joseph Herman, M.D., and Dr. Jonathan Efron, M.D., at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, who always offered - no matter what the prognosis - a sense of support, hope, comfort and optimism. These professionals always welcomed the asking of questions or challenging treatment plans. The family is also grateful for family friends Anne Marcom, Tim Umholtz, Sandy Diamond, and Joe Dyer, who sat with Kent nearly every day of the last seven months of his life. Kent appreciated the love and support from his nieces and nephews, in particular, Evelyn and Lily Boettcher and Emily and Mathew Herrick. A special thanks to Kent's private duty nurses who provided such loving care for months to Kent both in the hospital and at home: Tracy Spencer, Linda Davis, Pat Meshack, and Yetagesu Hurisa. In lieu of flowers, anyone who desires to make a gift in his memory may donate to a special fund being established in Kent's name at The Lamplighter School and Armstrong elementary school, both in Dallas. A project at each school, to be determined at a later date, will honor Kent's love of books and passion for early childhood education. Despite the local medical naysayers, Kent's life - at his direction - was extended by compassionate physicians at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. For that, the family will always be grateful, as it gave him and his family and friends a beautiful, final summer at home. It was Kent's desire to establish a foundation or speaker series at a university teaching hospital regarding medical ethics with terminally ill patients who desire advanced, aggressive treatments. It is hoped that such a foundation will help patients and physicians wade through the conflicts posed by both aggressive care and quality of life, and the philosophical boundaries imposed on those who promote and advocate no advanced or cutting edge treatments for terminally ill patients. Kent loved the philosophy of Nichiren, a 13th century Buddhist, who wrote: "One extra day of life is worth more than all the treasures of the universe." A memorial service will take place at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, December 18th, at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas.

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Published in Dallas Morning News on Dec. 8, 2013
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