A few days ago I got word from a friend that one of the most important people in my life had passed away, and I am still reeling from the shock. Years ago I was married to a wonderful lady, but like many marriages do, ours failed and we divorced and went our own ways. It was my fault. While we were together, her parents took me in as one of their own, and for some of the proudest moments of my life I was part of their amazing family.
My father in law Reinhold Tischler was the single most incredible person I will ever meet in this lifetime.
Mr.Tischler was born in Transylvania and grew up in Traunkirchen, Austria next to the Traunsee River in the shadow of the gorgeous Traunstein mountain. His father Martin Tischler was a prolific artist who was responsible for a great deal of religious artwork in many churches and cathedrals throughout Europe. Reinhold’s family had to flee this idyllic town during World War II, and at one point lost contact with his father. Grandma Tischler made it out of Europe with two small boys in tow, escaping the work camps of the Nazi war machine. The stories were so horrific, if anybody ever dare ask her about it she would simply well up with tears and stop talking.
Grandma Tischler made it here to the United States of America with Reinhold and his brother Ralph where they all started a new life. Reinhold Tischler went on to achieve an advanced degree in engineering from General Motors Institute (Kettering-BS) and University of Detroit, and became a self made businessman at the very highest levels of the global automotive industry and beyond. He was a member of Mensa. Powerful, intelligent, successful and affluent and he started from almost nothing – the American Dream personified.
I had the distinct privilege of getting to know Helen Tischler back in the 1980’s when she lived in Ann Arbor, and my former wife and I were helping to take care of her. This woman was the absolute strongest, most focused and most determined person I have ever met in my life. But it is not because of her extreme acts of heroism when she rescued her babies from the ravages of war all alone that I say this. In her later years she suffered a stroke which impacted her cognition and mobility. It was the type of brain injury where she just could not speak well enough to explain what was going on inside her. “It’s not me, It’s not me” she kept saying, but the doctors wouldn’t listen and everybody assumed it was the natural progressions of old age. It was not. This woman fought as hard as I have ever seen anybody fight, to regain her speech, and to be able to walk with a walker again. I will never ever forget the sight of her coming down the hallway when she finally pulled out of her stupor, walking with that walker, and saying over and over “I TOLD you, I TOLD you I would do it”, with a proud, defiant smile. Grandma proved to everybody that she was still strong and sharp as a tack. Helen Tischler died not so long after that and she met death on her own terms, as an equal. It is because of this woman that I understand the word “dignity”.
Last week I found out that Reinhold Tischler had passed away. He died at the age of 77 1/2 years, on New Years Day. The thing that came to my mind in the midst of grief and the flood of memories is that I needed to find one of his father’s artworks to hang in my home. I went on eBay and found this simple inlay piece, signed by the artist.
Mr.Tischler was not just some big shot business guy. He did the thing most successful men are never strong enough to do – he quit working and came home to his family, to be a husband and a father and the best grandfather ever.
Because his father was an artist, he valued me as an artist and understood what an important occupation it actually is. When I was part of his amazing family, he literally took me through the art museums of New York and taught me first hand how to understand sophisticated artwork. Then he put me through art school at Center for Creative Studies College of Art and Design in Detroit. He sent us to Europe so I could see all the great van Gogh and Rembrandt works in person. Hell, he even took me to Disneyworld.
All of his children who married, married artists. His children are all incredible people; artists, writers, musicians and accomplished successful business people in their own right, and I miss every one of them. My former brother in law Michael taught me everything I know about Motown, and the Funk Brothers, which is where the title of this website originated. Their mother Judy is the bedrock that raised these brilliant people and held this incredible family together during the years Mr.Tischler was flying the globe doing business. Judy taught me how to dress and how to behave like a human being. Neither one of them ever treated me like the bumpkin that I was. There are no words for how much I owe to these people.
Mr.Tischler played the electric guitar, wrote songs, and had played the violin since he was a child. His father made his first violins, and when one would get damaged he would make him a new one. We both loved the band Pink Floyd – who ever heard of a father in law like this ? The father in law I have today is the exact opposite sort of person, and has never showed any interest in me.
Readers of this website and Detroit Area residents may well remember that incident back in 2013 where some misguided person decided to erect the Nazi work camp sign “Arbeit macht frei” on the Packard Plant Grand Boulevard overpass. Now that I have told you about Mr.Tischler’s experiences, and how it is that he came to the U.S.A., perhaps you can understand better why I was so personally enraged by this damned sign.
I went up into that building and destroyed that sign, and I did it for Mr.Tischler and his family. They certainly are not the only people I know who would be affected by this sign, but that is my direct personal connection, and why that sign was NOT going to remain hanging in the great City of Detroit on my watch.