Funeral: 10 a.m. Saturday at Grace Lutheran Church, 7900 McCart Avenue, Fort Worth, the Rev. David Anderson and the Rev. Laird Duran officiating. Interment: Greenwood Memorial Park. Visitation: The family will receive those who also loved Rolf 4 to 6 p.m. Friday at Thompson's Harveson & Cole Funeral Home.
Active pallbearers: Eric Bries, Paul Calvin, Charles Eklund, James Johnson, Paul Shuga and Jaret Tilley. Honorary pallbearers: Ray Barto, Jon Bradford, Norval Crabtree, Franklin Earney, Horst Krause, Bob Lopez and Ray Russell.
Memorials: In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests that expressions of love for Rolf be made to the Rolf Eklund Memorial Scholarship Fund, to provide the opportunity of a college education to needy and deserving students, at the Birdville Independent School District Foundation, 6125 E. Belknap, Haltom City, Texas 76117, Attn: C.A. Sanford.
Rolf Alfred Eklund was born in Kimo, Finland, on Aug. 7, 1936, to Eric Eklund and Katarina Kullman Eklund. The family of five, including Rolf's older brother, Edgar, and little sister, Louise, fled their home in Finland during World War II and sailed to America in May 1942 aboard the MS Gripsholm. The New York Times ran a feature on the Eklund family on the day they arrived in New York City, N.Y., as they were the largest family aboard.
The Eklund family settled in Jersey City, N.J., where Rolf attended school. He earned his bachelor's degree in history at Jersey City State College and also did undergraduate work at Princeton University. Rolf graduated as an United States Air Force cadet in 1956 at Lackland Air Force Base, where he completed his pre-flight training. He then completed navigator training in Harlingen and served in the United States Air Force as a C-141 navigator until his retirement as a lieutenant colonel in 1985.
Rolf earned his master's degree in history from Texas Christian University and completed graduate work at Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford Universities.
Rolf married Janelle McNair on June 19, 1959, at Broadway Baptist Church. Rolf and Janelle had two children, Charles and Katherine. Rolf and Janelle were teachers at Richland High School, Birdville Independent School District, for their entire careers. Rolf began teaching at Richland High School in 1965, where he taught advanced placement American history, advanced placement economics, and humanities until his retirement from teaching in 1997. Rolf never really retired, though, as he spent the last few years as a substitute teacher at Fort Worth Country Day School.
Rolf's love of his family was equaled only by his love for the students he taught with great joy for so many years. Learning of his sudden passing, one student remarked that "Mr. Eklund was one of those rare birds who did it right, did it well, and left a bit of himself in each student. I know he left his mark on me, and the older I get the more I appreciate it." Another, writing from the naval carrier on which he serves, said that "He made each student feel important, even if he was calling us 'cloth ears' or giving us 'a zero for the day, sport.' His unique phrases and unforgettable mannerisms made an otherwise dreaded subject something to look forward to for countless thousands of teen-agers, all of whom are grown now, most with kids of their own. So to say his impact is immeasurable is an understatement. He really embodied all that Hollywood would have us believe about teachers, that theirs is a noble profession and that they truly change lives. He did."
Rolf was preceded in death by his mother and father, Katarina and Eric Eklund; his brother, Eric Edgar Eklund; and nephew, Karl Eklund.
Survivors: He leaves behind his beloved wife of nearly 45 years, Janelle McNair Eklund; beloved son, Charles Eklund and daughter-in-law Suzanne, and Suzanne's children, Rachel and Paul; beloved daughter, Katherine Tilley and son-in-law, Jaret, and grandsons, Eric and Rolf Tilley, all of Fort Worth; beloved sister and brother-in-law, Louise Eklund Anderson and the Rev. David Anderson of Lakeville, Minn.; and thousands of friends and former students enriched by his gift of teaching with love and tremendous wit.