Okanagan man who gave his all to the community fondly remembered

Eric Kutschera's friends are riding in his memory to raise money for the SickKids Foundation, which Kutschera raised $22,000 for over the years. (Contributed)
Eric Kutschera was a loved and generous member of the Okanagan community. (Contributed)
Eric Kutschera loved cycling and giving back, including through the Great Cycle Challenge. (Contributed)

With friends everywhere he went, and a spirit of community, the memory of Eric Kutschera is not likely to fade soon.

The long-time Okanagan resident and volunteer died suddenly on June 16 at age 63 while out doing one of his favourite pastimes of cycling.

The celebration of Kutschera’s life brought around 300 people together to share their memories of the kind and generous man.

“My dad was the best. He was a kid at heart and was all in for everything he did. My sister and I even bought him a shirt fashioned after the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster that says ‘Keep Calm and Let Eric Handle It,’” his daughter Kaylee told the Western News. “His laugh was so loud and infectious, it was hard not to join him. He cared so much for everyone he knew and everything he did.”

His friends are set to pay tribute to Kutschera’s memory in the way that best suits him, in giving back. Every year since 2018, Kutschera rode in the Great Cycle Challenge to raise funds for the SickKids Foundation, raising over $22,000 so far. This year, his cycling friends are set to do his next ride for him, and put forward all the money they raise in his name.

“Eric’s many cycling friends would like to keep Eric’s legacy alive and will be riding in his honour this August. All those that knew and loved Eric are invited to support the charity dearest to his heart,” said Gary Denton. “Help carry on Eric’s legacy by supporting SickKids to allow them to continue their work in developing treatments and finding a cure for childhood cancer.”

Kutschera worked at the ValleyFirst Credit Union right out of high school, starting as a bank teller and working his way up to assistant vice president of retail credit and then technology and service alignment manager before he eventually retired in 2009. The job took him and his family across B.C., including to Oliver where he met his wife, Lucy, and to Keremeos to live and then Penticton. He possessed a curiosity that never faded with age, and a drive to tinker with all things digital and physical, said Kaylee.

“When he first joined the credit union, he actually broke their computer system twice because he was curious about how it worked and always had a perpetual need to fiddle with something,” said Kaylee.

In Keremeos, Kutcschera was a volunteer firefighter and even after moving to Penticton, he continued to help them by doing their bookkeeping.

Making friends was something he had a talent for, and more rare was his ability to keep those friends. At his celebration of life, his friends from high school were there, and they spoke to how they continued to stay in touch and do regular activities every year together.

While cycling was one of his favourite activities, it was not the first or only sport he enjoyed. When his kids were younger, he enjoyed golf, squash and swimming, alongside the biking. He was also an off-ice official for the Penticton Vees for over 20 years, starting when they were still the Penticton Panthers.

Even after he stopped volunteering, every Vees game he went to he would have a pocket full of Werther’s candies with him to hand out to anyone he thought would appreciate it.

Kutschera also participated and organized the ValleyFirst team for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, and after retiring worked with the Canadian Cancer Society’s Penticton branch until it closed. He even co-organized the Penticton Relay for Life one year which included using his charms and many connections in town to get sponsorships and corporate donations.

Cycling though was one of his biggest passions, next to giving back.

“He loved the challenge of a big hill and of going farther and farther. His longest ride was over 300 km,” said Kaylee. “But he also loved the camaraderie he found within the cycling groups in town, regularly finishing rides by chatting over a cup of coffee at the local Prague Cafe or Tim Hortons for hours.

“Once my dad heard about the Great Cycle Challenge to raise money for SickKids, he did what he did best: challenged himself to ride farther than he ever did before and reached out to all his friends and family to ensure they knew about the kids with cancer that needed their support.”

On Aug. 9, Kutschera’s friends will be in Penticton for a group ride. The ride in his memory has already raised over $5,500 for the Great Cycle Challenge and the SickKids Foundation.

To contribute, you can go to the Great Cycle Challenge’s website and search for Eric Kutschera’s page at greatcyclechallenge.ca/Riders/EricKutschera.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

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