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Carl Nicholas Karcher

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KARCHER, Carl Nicholas
More Than a Star

Carl Nicholas Karcher was the very definition of a man of the people. Perhaps it might be better to say that he was a man for the people. Once you met him, you would always remember him, and he would remember you. He would greet you with that strong voice of his, large sincere handshake, and expansive countenance that seemed to enclose you with him in a private conversation.

"How are you?" was his calling card. He always looked right at you, never intimidating but evoking a warmth that seemed to come from some inner reservoir of good will. It bespoke his true character: "How are you?" is what he said. For meeting Carl Karcher was not so much about him as it was about you. And you remembered.

He had a remarkable memory for recalling names and could usually recite the exact date of a previous encounter with almost anyone he ever met. Of course, you would also walk away with a personally signed card entitling you to a free Carl's Jr. Famous Star Hamburger that was placed inside a card that expressed his personal philosophy, his gratitude, and a favorite family prayer: the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi. He never left home without those cards that he loved to pass out, and many people kept them as a memento and never redeemed them for a meal.

For many, the experience of meeting Carl Karcher might have happened at a community event, perhaps at a business lunch or a charity event. Over the years it seemed that he could be seen at most of the big Orange County and Southern California events, especially those dedicated to charity. This was the man the public saw, and it was certainly part of who he was. But the true measure of the man is what he did for others when he was away from the public eye. Carl lived first and foremost in the certitude of Family. It was within his family that he anchored his true self, and he cannot properly be understood apart from this fact.

Friends, relatives and anyone who visited the Karcher home were thrown right into the family mix and felt very comfortable. Carl was smart and quick. He enjoyed conversations, telling stories, and being a "ham" with plenty of jokes and pranks with a good sense of humor. He also played a mean game of Ping Pong and loved card games. One card game called Casini was played with the children and grandchildren. It was part of the Ohio legacy and he enjoyed playing it for hours at family gatherings.

Born on January 16, 1917, in the north of Ohio, Carl Karcher hailed from the pure farm country of America's heartland, and the seeds of that land were always in his soul. From his birthplace he took the deep, sincere values of the traditional American hearthstone: honesty in dealing with others, perseverance, hard work and the stable framework of the nuclear family. And he had faith -- a deep, abiding, penetrating faith in a God who directed and guided him through the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church, the type of faith that has fallen out of favor for many, but was, for him, always his bedrock, his core.

When he finally came to California to stay, it was for the person whom he would love with all his heart and for the rest of his life, Margaret Magdalen Heinz. It was in her that the values of his young life were to be realized. It was in Margaret that he truly found himself and was able to achieve his vast potential. It was with Margaret that he raised twelve children and immersed himself in their upbringing. Family was, literally, his life. He deeply respected the most important woman in his life, his beloved wife of 66 years whom he lost to cancer in June 2006 and missed every day of his remaining life. Margaret was not only his partner in family life, but in business as well. She operated his first hotdog carts when Carl was in the service during WWII and served on the Board of Directors when Carl Karcher Enterprises became a world-class corporation. She was a stay-at-home mom and the center of support for Carl and their children.

If you wanted to see Carl on any given day, you had to rise early. You would find him at Saint Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim attending Mass every day at six thirty in the morning. That was usually after two hours of personal work at home in the wee morning hours. He would go to the office only after time in prayer in the church. It was the same parish church at which he met Margaret, married her, and brought their children every Sunday for Mass. When Carl returned home at the end of the day, never missing family dinner, it was to the same home in Anaheim that he and Margaret purchased in 1949 when they had five children. Seven more would follow in that same home. Each night after dinner, the entire family would spend half an hour in family prayer around the dinner table.

In the last few years of his life, living with Parkinson's disease, Carl experienced a diminished ability to speak clearly. This made him a bit quieter in the public eye. At home, however, he continued to be a communicator, even when he could not get the words out easily. Every grandchild knew that three knocks on the table meant "I Love You," and then he would wrap his large hands around their little ones to complete the message. Such love ennobled his life and ours.

Carl Nicholas Karcher was not a great man because he had success in business; rather he had success in business because he was a great man.

Carl passed away last Friday evening January 11, 2008, five days before his ninety-first birthday, surrounded by his children and grandchildren. He is survived by eleven of his twelve children: Anne Wiles, Patricia LaGraffe, Margaret LeVecke, Carl Leo Karcher, Kadie Karcher, Father Jerome Karcher, Janelle Karcher, Rosemary Miller, Barbara Wall, Joseph Karcher and Mary Miller. His daughter, Carleen Karcher, preceded him in death in 1993. He is also survived by forty-eight of his fifty-one grandchildren, forty five great-grandchildren and four brothers Albert, Leo, Bernard and Frank.

Visitation is Thursday, January 17 at Hilgenfeld Mortuary in Anaheim from 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m. A Vigil and Rosary Service will be held on January 17 at 7:00 p.m., followed by a Funeral Mass on Friday, January 18 at 11:00 a.m. at Saint Boniface Catholic Church in Anaheim. Burial will be January 19 at 11:00 a.m. at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Orange. A Memorial Mass will also be celebrated on Monday, January 21 at 7:00 p.m. at Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Huntington Beach.

In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Carl N. Karcher can be sent either to Mercy House, founded by Father Jerome Karcher, which serves homeless men, women, children and families in Southern California (PO Box 1905, Santa Ana, CA 92702 www.mercyhouse.net), or Providence Speech and Hearing Center (1301 Providence Avenue, Orange, CA 92868).
Published in the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 16, 2008
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