(Contributed) Jim and Tula 12 years ago, looking through photo albums, soon after she was diagnosed with dementia.

‘Papa Jimmy’ dies making daily trek to his wife

Maple Ridge 85-year-old made visits to New West for 12 years

For the past 12 years, Jim Gonczol, 85, travelled from Maple Ridge to New Westminster every day, rain or shine, to visit his wife in a care home.

He was on his way to see her again Tuesday around 6:30 a.m., when he was hit and killed by a van while walking on 228th Street to the bus loop in downtown Maple Ridge while it was snowing.

Dave Forstved called his late stepfather ‘Papa Jimmy.’ Gonczol moved to Maple Ridge to live with Forstved’s mother, Tula, in the 1980s. Papa Jimmy never had a family of his own, and embraced his new wife’s two sons and two daughters.

He was mostly a welder who retired on time 20 years ago.

Papa Jimmy worked on aircraft in Hungary after the Second World War, during the 1950s. His work launched a lifelong love of aircraft, and “head in the clouds” dreams about space exploration, said Forstved.

He was still as sharp as his old cutting torch, Forstved added, right to the end.

“He was on the ball. There was no cognitive deficit there.”

Forstved said everyone who knew his step dad knew him as a fun person with a way of getting people to lower their guard.

He got acquainted with people on the bus, which he travelled daily.

“A lot of people knew him.”

Twenty six years ago, Papa Jimmy married Tula.

They had a happy life together.

But 14 years ago, Tula is believed to have suffered a stroke, followed by dementia.

Papa Jimmy looked after her for two years at their home on 228th St.

Eventually, her needs demanded professional care, and they found her a place to stay in the Salvation Army Buchanan Lodge in New Westminster.

He travelled to be with her every day.

“Every single day.”

At first, he was able to drive. But failing eyesight made him surrender his driver’s licence about six years ago. So he would trek up 228th St., walking about a kilometre to Haney Place bus loop.

In the past two years, Papa Jimmy took a HandyDART – a door-to-door service provided by TransLink – on weekdays. But it wasn’t available on Monday and Tuesday because of the weather.

Lately, he needed a cane or walker, to steady himself. On Monday, his walker filled with snow, so he turned around to go fetch his cane.

On a good day, the trip to New West would take him about 90 minutes to two hours each way.

“He was determined to be there – I think the word is ‘driven.’” said Forstved. “He was driven to be there every day.”

Forstved tracked down his step dad at the care home on Monday. They stopped at a White Spot on the way home and he bought Papa Jimmy one of his favourite meals.

“He loved a large chocolate milkshake and fish and chips.”

He told Papa Jimmy not to walk to the bus stop the next day, adding his health was not great. A couple of months earlier, he had a fall while making his daily trek.

Getting medical attention, his doctor found his heart rate at only 30 beats per minute, below the 60-100 in a normal adult.

Papa Jimmy got a pacemaker placed in his chest to regulate his heartbeat.

Forstved took his step dad home. It had been a long day. He put him to bed. He gave him a kiss on his head.

The next day, Tuesday, as the worst winter storm of the year was blowing itself out, Papa Jimmy was up early.

He was out the door before dawn.

It was dark and snowing.

He was walking south down 228th St. in the vehicle lane. There was snow on the sidewalks.

Just before he reached Dewdney Trunk Road, he was struck by a panel van.

Witnesses told police it was a slow-speed collision.

Ridge Meadows RCMP said speed and alcohol were ruled out factors.

“Obviously, weather and road conditions were a factor in all this,” said Sgt. Brenda Gresiuk, and added police were considering a pre-existing medical condition as a possible cause of death.

“It was just a really tragic crash,” Gresiuk added.

Everyone who knew ‘Papa Jimmy’ knew where he was going.

That will be the memory of ‘Papa Jimmy,’ said Forstved.

“He was a dedicated husband, and an example to everyone who knew him.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

A recent holiday family photo.

Just Posted

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

During a scenic, but chilling ride on a sunny Saturday, Oct. 24 Ron Paley captured photos of the nearby mountains lightly covered with snow. (Special to The News)
SHARE: 26km bike ride nets mix of fall colours

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon

(Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay)
QUIZ: A celebration of colour

Fall in British Columbia is a time to enjoy a spectrum of vivid colours

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Mounties looking for teen boy ‘unlawfully at large’ from Riverview psychiatric hospital

Nolan Godron left the hospital, located at 2721 Lougheed Highway in Coquitlam, without consent on Saturday

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

BC Hydro map showing where power has been knocked out is dotted with over a dozen outages. (BC Hydro map screenshot)
Thousands without power in Lower Mainland on election day

One outage in Langley and Surrey is affecting over 4,000 customers

file
One dead after fiery crash near Agassiz

Agassiz RCMP report a 56-year-old man died Friday night

Most Read