Roger Knackstedt Thalacker, departed this earth peacefully on November 30, 2020, rising up to join his sons, Brian and Kent, along with God in heaven. He took his last breaths surrounded by his close family that loved him immensely. Roger was born to the late Reverend Chester Thalacker and Leona (Knackstedt) Thalacker on September 5, 1939 in Iron Mountain, Michigan. The youngest of three, Roger was somewhat of a passive child, however that all changed in his teenage years. With his older sisters, Patricia (Meier) and Karen (Menzel) out of the house and his father busy running a large Lutheran congregation in Detroit, shy Roger developed into quite the extroverted character as part of Detroit Lutheran High School’s Class of 1957. How the guy voted “noisiest” and “biggest feet” landed Carole (Dahel) Thalacker, the love of his life and voted “most popular,” is still a mystery to all of us! Perhaps she was drawn to him because he tied her shoelaces together when she fell asleep on the high school bus trip, or because he got her kicked out of class for lobbing a snowball at her one cold winter day as she sat innocently at her desk. Whatever it was that drew them together, they knew it was certainly true love and they soon began their 63-year journey together. Everyone would agree they were a match made in heaven. Their ability to laugh with, at and about each other and especially at themselves was the hallmark of their life together.
Roger was a Detroit all-conference football player in high school and also played at his alma mater, Valparaiso University. 1961 was a big year for Roger as he graduated college in May, began his job as Assistant Alumni director the following day (a job he held for two years before becoming Valparaiso’s Alumni Director) and married Carole three months later. Baby chatterbox and troublemaker Kent arrived on the scene 10 months after that, followed by Kent’s aggressive but loving bodyguard, Kevin, 15 months later. Gentle and good-hearted Brian arrived in 1967. Unfortunately, Carole and Roger’s aspirations for starting a boys’ basketball team were abruptly shattered when they were surprisingly blessed with a daughter, Brenda, in 1971. The family lived in Valparaiso for ten years before making the move to Connecticut in late 1971.
The Thalacker home was never quiet. In those early years, many nights were spent with little boys running in circles through the house as Carole tried to catch them and discovering Roger, perched up on the washing machine, hitting them with a squirt gun as they ran by screaming. The years rushed by with Roger leading the Thalacker charge, and a blur of crazy times and continuous laughter ensued. Building dad forts with the couch cushions, long car trips to Florida in a car too small to fit all of them, camping trips at Misquamicut, sporting events with dad coaching while mom worked the snack bar all proceeded. The family even had a wood burning stove in the house (like the colonists) and the whole family was forced by Roger to cut down their own trees to fuel this stove like “Abe Lincoln did” as he would say with laughter. Christmases were always a hilarious commotion with Roger having a hard time giving the fun new toys back to his kids after he played with them. The Thalacker house became the place all the kids’ friends wanted to be at as Roger and Carole was known as “everyone’s parents” for all that visited. Roger tried to never miss a sports game for his kids, even if he was kicked out by the referee for being a “passionate spectator”. The family, along with the only dog in America named Dorcus (aptly named by Roger for reasons unknown) had spent many happy years in their split-level yellow home on a wooded cul-de-sac in Coventry, Connecticut. Roger spent his free time building go karts and treehouses for the kids, constructing multiple decks off the back of the house and dressing with Carole as crazy characters for the infamous Halloween parties spent with friends. Carole and Roger’s fun-loving friends were wonderful companions, especially their buddies Roy & Barb Awe, whom they were close with for over 70 years. Roger, Carole and their countless friends (too many to mention but never forgotten) spent most of their time laughing when they were together. No one will forget his infamous mystery punch nor the crazy pranks he would play on them.
After a successful ten year stint at Valparaiso University, Roger spent twenty-three years as Alumni Director for the University of Connecticut. He spearheaded the effort to design, fundraise and build the Alumni House at UConn as well as raising money for the renowned Johnathan husky statue that has since become the symbol of UConn. Roger was named Honorary Alumnus in 1981. He was the Chairman of CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) where he received the Distinguished Service Award in 1987. He also was the recipient of the State of Connecticut Legislative Service Award in 1991. Upon retirement, UConn named Roger Director Emeritus in 1995.
He moved to Florida at the age of 55 where he enjoyed 25 years of well-earned retirement. He liked to paint beautiful landscape art, enjoyed outdoor work around the house, and watch (but always fall asleep to) Disney movies with all his grandkids. He was always cracking jokes and was the best Hand and Foot card player one would ever meet. He loved eating breakfast at the diner, working at the crack of dawn, napping after lunchtime, and putting ketchup on almost everything. He wouldn’t hesitate to help with anything anyone needed and always took the time to do so. He was a deeply religious Lutheran church member and served on countless church committees as well as serving as an elder at his church in Punta Gorda. He enjoyed history and could outwit anyone at presidential trivia, and loved visiting as many Presidential libraries as humanly possible. Roger and his grandchildren made Disney World their special place even though he only liked three of the rides. He would spend his day running around to obtain fast passes to ensure a perfect day was had by all. Roger and Carole would hilariously race around the park in their rented scooters by day and treat everyone to spectacular overnights at all the various Disney park hotels. In the summers he would simultaneously listen to the radio while watching his beloved Detroit Tigers on television so that he didn’t miss a play. He could build, wire and fix anything he could get his hands on. He made it his first priority to take amazing care of Carole, always wanting to stay one step ahead of her so he could help if needed. He was a man of great strength and conviction and made everyone around him laugh. He was the guy everyone always wanted to be with. The guy everyone loved.
He spent every summer since childhood on gorgeous Mullett Lake in Michigan. There, in his quaint log cabin cottage with sweeping lake views, he and Carole hosted his children and grandchildren, and countless friends with open arms. Summers were spent riding wave runners and kayaks, playing on the beach, taking long boat rides, and going on adventures to Mackinac Island, Petoskey, Harbor Springs and Bay Harbor for shopping and dining (with white tablecloths of course). He loved counting the deer he would see while driving the dirt roads in upper Michigan. He was an avid boater, and kept a boat docked at the cottage as well as in the canal behind his Punta Gorda, Florida home. The family will all miss his trips across the lake to Indian River, Burt Lake or even through the locks into Lake Huron. The long days with sunsets by the dock and all the fires he made for them under the beautiful Michigan summer stars, they will never forget. The cottage was the place he loved best and where he will have eternal rest.
Roger is survived by his loving and devoted wife, Carole. They had a love that was a light for all. Also left with decades of fond and colorful memories are his children, son Kevin Thalacker (Denise) daughter, Brenda Thalacker Morrison (Richard) and Daughter-In-Law Denise Thalacker. His sons, Brian Thalacker and Kent Thalacker predeceased him in death as well as his sister, Karen (Menzel). He is also survived by his sister Patricia (Meier). He relished his role as Papa to his seven grandchildren: Alison, Kate, Ryan, Jordan, Avery, Tiffani and Finley as well as five step grandchildren: Patrick, Marie, Michael, Chelsea and Bradley.
Roger had experienced the deepest grief possible when he lost both sons during his lifetime. Yet, he had an amazing way of looking at life. When asked by his daughter how it’s even possible to “go on” after someone close dies, Roger matter-of-factly said, “Well, what you do is you put your shoulders back and you live with the living.” This statement is a simple yet powerful reminder of our purpose here on earth. Every time a family member would have to part after a vacation with him, he would jokingly say, “Well, if I don’t see ya, have a good life!!” We will have to take those words and try to fulfill that, for Roger and for the love he gave and taught us. However, we know we will never ever forget Roger nor will we forget how much we all love him. As Roger would most certainly have said after reading this long tribute, “this obituary is way too many words!” so perhaps it is more fitting to simply say “Until we meet again Dad/Papa/Roger….”
Memorials can be sent to Lutheran High School Association of Detroit (https://www.lhsa.com/ways-to-give or mailed to: 1100 Bagley, Rochester Hills, MI 48309) or Faith Lutheran Church (https://faithlutheranpg.com/ or mailed to: 4005 Palm Drive, Punta Gorda, FL 33950.
The family would love to hear from you! Please feel free to sign the guest book below and share a memory of Roger.