Fred Brunke,who died on Nov. 19. Photo: Joseph Jacobs

Stubbornly, Frederic Brunke, who died on Nov. 19, never learned to drive. Walking one end of Berkeley to the other with his signature hat and rucksack, Fred knew more people than most of us. In earlier years he carried a beautiful wooden Japanese umbrella to shade his delicate exposed skin from the sun. I learned of his death from a mutual friend — Fred was one of the first people we met when we moved to Berkeley in 1968.

Fred was a born bookman: owner of Myths & Texts next to the old Serendipity Books on Shattuck Ave. in the early 70s; small press publisher, Shaman Drum; even one of the early copy shop workers at Carbon Copy on Solano Avenue, next door to our Sand Dollar Books, where the newness of copy machines became a vehicle for making art late into the night.

Fred was a fixture at Kinko’s for decades. Many went out of their way to bring work in during his shift for the pleasure of his company and wry conversation. Fred was quirky (in the best sense), well read, pithy, and a very loyal friend. He was kind.

As news of his passing circulated, many friends offered their own memories of Fred. He self-identified as a beatnik rather than a hippie; said that he didn’t really understand hippies — very old-school Berkeley in that sense. He was quite fond of the Grateful Dead and Tom Waits as well, especially “Nighthawks at the Diner.” When properly inspired, he could dance with Jules Feiffer-like abandon.

A private man, most who knew him didn’t know that in the early 1970s he helped poet and environmental activist Gary Snyder build his house in the foothills of the Sierra, and was a founding member of the WeiPa Land Association—the group of builders who worked with Snyder and later organized their own Land Association to buy adjoining property where they built small handmade houses, many of which still stand to this day.

Fred’s membership in that community was one of the enduring joys of his life. He was passionate about Heraclitus. He was gifted photographer and a gentleman, in the literal sense of that word. He rejected American ambition as a way of proceeding and preferred a quiet search for the pleasures of the daily and ordinary, and the wisdom that might gather around a considered life.

Fred’s brother Joseph asked him a few days before he died “How are you?…” Fred’s reply, “Tolerably grumpy”, was vintage Fred. Fred Brunke was 78 years old. He will be missed.

Feel free to share your memories of Fred Brunke in the Comments. 

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