John (Mike) Ulric Thurnheer
November 16, 1926 – December 11, 2021.
Our King is Gone. Daddy took his final breath on the Day of Rest, Saturday, December 11, 2021, three weeks after celebrating his 95th birthday.
Daddy grew up in Long Island, the son of Swiss immigrants Hans and Angeline Thurnheer. He hated school and was often scolded for paying more attention to the Grumman aircraft test flights visible from his classroom window. He quit school at 16 but never stopped studying and reading. He had a beautiful, brilliant mind that was clear to the end. He could talk physics, chemistry, or electricity with the best of them.
He always wanted to be a farmer and in 1943 he convinced his parents to buy a farm in Ithaca (Danby), New York. He was 16 years old when he and his oldest sister first moved to the farm and prepared it for the arrival of his parents and his other two sisters. He worked the land his entire life. He knew every tree, every spring, and every rough spot in the fields.
He met his only girlfriend, Madeline Harris, in 1953 on a church outing and they wed in 1955. Together they worked the farm—first a dairy, and later beef cows. They ran an upholstery business for 30 years and later renovated rental houses that provided a retirement. For the past decade they spent winters in Sebring, Florida. A year ago when Parkinson’s took away Daddy’s ability to walk, they moved permanently to Sebring. His wife of 66 years took amazing care of Daddy which allowed him a dignified and full life at home right to the end.
Daddy had incredible stamina, often running around the 75-acre cow fence before sitting down to breakfast at 7am. He was extremely self-sufficient and shared that skill with his children, teaching them useful, life-sustaining skills. He often said he could fix anything but a broken heart, and he was right.
The lessons in self-sufficiency started early. Before the two oldest children, Karen and Daniel, were teenagers he helped them build a two-room playhouse complete with electricity and gravity-fed running water from a catch basin on the roof. When the playhouse was complete, the kitchen had cupboards, the living room had hand built furniture and a working woodstove, and the sleeping loft easily accommodated several kids.
When his youngest child, Kitty, wanted to build a house as a young adult, he spent a year giving the same lessons. They went into the woods, cut trees, sawed them on the sawmill and began the slow process of building the house, with electricity, running water, a septic, a porch, and a woodstove. Daddy’s patience was infinite and his desire to share his knowledge had no end. As adults, all four children would live in houses built by hand on the family farm.
He showed his sons, Daniel and Andrew, how to work on cars, trucks and tractors and how to weld—skills that gave them the ability to design and build the vehicles they drive.
He built several windmills with his oldest son, Daniel, designing each a little better and more efficient than the last. He created many useful inventions that solved everyday problems.
Daddy was an explorer and several times loaded his wife and four kids in the1961 Buick and drove out to California. He took the family to most of the national parks as well as many Adirondack hiking trips. He encouraged his children to be observant, to notice that nature vines usually wrap counter-clockwise, that the grass packed down in the morning is from the deer sleeping the night before, and so many other things. He approached life as an adventure, and he passed on his curiosity and wanderlust to all of his children.
Daddy was a bit of a wood hoarder. Growing up in the Great Depression, he knew what it was to go without. When he went into the woods to get firewood, anything straight for 8-feet didn’t go to firewood but was dropped off at the sawmill. He sawed more lumber than he knew he could ever use, and carefully stacked and stickered it in the barns. At 93 he climbed the rickety ladder into the haymow to admire his inventory one last time. He built tables and trunks and cutting boards and bowls. He remodeled the kitchen in the farmhouse for his bride and built all new oak cabinets from wood harvested on the farm.
Daddy managed his forest with care and precision and minimized waste. There were no trees rotting on the ground. It was Daddy’s living room: tidy and tall and well groomed. Every decade or so when he sold standing timber, he insisted on accompanying the forester to approve each tree individually. Every time when they requested to take the largest tree on the farm, an oak, Daddy said no, because it was the largest.
He was frugal and respectful, aware that resources are finite. He washed his hands in a trickle of cold water and shut off the water in the shower while he soaped up. He still had, and used, his 1947 Farmall H that he bought brand new.
He had extremely high morals based on his unwavering faith in God. He lived a clean life, abstaining from alcohol or tobacco, and he never uttered a single curse word. He was a Seventh-Day Adventist and truly lived a life of example. He was kind to everyone. He never uttered a mean word about others. He helped everyone. He read his Bible daily and was working his way through the Bible for the fourth time. His favorite book was Luke.
Daddy was determined to take his final breath on God’s Day of Rest. He was the greatest husband, father and friend someone could desire.
His ashes will be buried at a private ceremony in the family cemetery on the farm in Danby. He was part of that soil and to that soil he will return. Upon his belief, he will wait, knowing nothing, until the return of his savior.
When he gets to heaven, hopefully God will have a new International 1466 for him and a lot of fields to work.
Daddy is survived by his wife of 66 years, Madeline Thurnheer; two sisters Denise (Leo) Wisseman and Ruth (David) Riedlinger; four children: Karen Thurnheer, Daniel (Veronica) Thurnheer, Andrew Thurnheer and Kitty (John) Hall-Thurnheer; grandchildren Shelly Covert, Branden (Mindy) Bacharach and Stacey (Amy) Becker; great-grandchildren Vanessa Covert, Valerie (Thomas) Knight, Ethan Covert and Samuel Becker; and great-great grandchildren Lillyanne Bacharach and Logan Knight.
He was predeceased by his parents, his sister Ursula Dence, brother-in-law Calvin Dence, and grandson-in-law Daniel Covert.