ST. LOUIS - A man who became famous in the St. Louis community for his road-side pretzel stand has passed away. Joseph Kunkel Jr., a WWII veteran, died at his home on July 6. His funeral was held Tuesday and he was laid to rest in his U.S. Marine Corps uniform at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
After the war, Kunkel got married and bought a house in St. Louis. He worked as a postal clerk. When he retired, he didn't really stop working. That's when he began to sell pretzels. He didn't stop for decades.
People in the community called him the South St. Louis Pretzel Man. In 1980, he started working as a vendor on the corner of Jamieson Ave. and Fyler Ave. In 1997, he turned to Gus' Pretzels for his supply.
"People would go by there to see him," owner Gus Koebbe said. "I think he enjoyed it. If he didn't, I don't think he would have been out there."
Tom Kunkel is his son. He says his dad's work ethic was strong.
"He counted his money," Kunkel said. "He was very diligent about counting the money."
Eventually, other vendors set up their stands near Kunkel's corner, sparking what the Kunkel family calls "the Great Pretzel War of 2010."
"All of his loyal customers made phone calls downtown to try to get those guys moved," Kunkel's son said. "Naturally he says, 'If you move them, they're going to try to move me.'"
Kunkel says a city inspector bought a pack of pretzels from his dad and allowed him to stay in business. He continued to work for several more years.
When he wasn't working, he relaxed on his porch swing.
"He'd sit out here every day," Kunkel's son said. "Sunshine, rain, cold, snow."
He greeted neighbors just as he would his customers. Kunkel says his dad's morals were "off the charts."
Kunkel sold his last pretzel at 92 years old, which was soon after his wife died.
"He was taking care of her, taking care of her, taking care of her, and once she passed you could see his health went down after that," Tom Kunkel said.
Joe Kunkel died at 94 years old.
After he stopped selling pretzels, Tom Kunkel took over. He's not sure how long he'll continue, but says there's no better feeling than when customers stop by to tell him good things about his dad.
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