Memorable Manitobans: Jerry Wilbert “Red” Funk (1929-2022)
Baseball umpire, hockey coach.
Born at Winnipeg on 22 November 1929 to Tena and Dietrich Funk, he grew up in the Mennonite farming community of Altbergthal in southern Manitoba. At the age of 14, he quit school to take over more responsibilities on the farm. Because his father coached the local senior baseball team, he was often subbed in when there was a shortage of players, and it was there that he learned to love the sport. His hockey skills were honed on the rink the locals created on the creek that ran through their village. In 1948, he married his former classmate, Sally Dueck, and they went on to have six children. In August 1953, after working on the family farm for five years, he moved to nearby Altona for a job at the Co-op Vegetable Oils refinery, beginning as a crushing operator and eventually earning the position of maintenance supervisor. He retired in 1989.
For 20 years, he played fastball as a pitcher on rural teams and in Altona, before losing his hand in an industrial accident in 1970. However, he was able to continue fulfilling his passion for baseball as an umpire, participating not only in local games and tournaments, but also in provincial meets. He was appreciated by the home crowd and visitors alike for his sense of humour and the entertaining and expressive show he put on while officiating, despite the lack of a right hand. He umped over 2000 games, and the year he turned 73—his last year as an umpire—he officiated at 73 games. In 2014, he was inducted into the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame.
Hockey was another of Funk’s passions, and by the time he was 14, he was playing as a forward for the adult team in Altbergthal, where they competed against teams from other villages on outdoor rinks. In 1949-1950 he played defense for the Altona team, which a year later became the Altona Maroons in the South Eastern Manitoba Hockey League, winning the inaugural championship in the 1951-1952 season. By 1960, they had won four championships. He played more than 500 games in the SEMHL, and when his playing days were over, coached over 1000 games in 30 years.
He was recognized in various ways for his contributions to community. As early as 1960, he and his family were honoured at an event called “Wilbert Funk Night,” attended by over 1000 fans from Altona and surrounding area; in 1983, he was named local Sportsman of the Year; in 1997, he was the recipient of Baseball Manitoba’s Umpire Award of Merit; and in 1998, named as Altona’s Citizen of the Year, he was invited to throw the opening pitch at a Goldeyes game at Winnipeg. He was widely known for his fairness, dependability, and positive influence on generations of sports-minded youth.
He died at Altona on 18 January 2022.
Obituary, Wiebe Funeral Homes Altona.
Wilbert Funk, Death Notice, Canada Obituaries 2022.
Wilbert Funk, Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Manitoba Hall of Famer, Wilbert Funk, Remembered,” Pembina Valley Online, 22 January 2022.
This page was prepared by Lois Braun.
Page revised: 25 January 2022