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Founder of CY Farms who loved aviation and serving his community dies at age 97

By Virginia Kropf

The loss of Carl Yunker is one which will be felt in many arenas – by his family, his friends, agriculture, his church, the community, and aviation.

Yunker, 97, died at his home near Elba on March 13, after being in failing health.

Born at the family farmhouse in Sheldon, Yunker was raised by his mother and two older brothers. He learned the meaning of hard work at an early age, helping to run the farm with his mother and brothers and a pair of horses.

He attended a one-room schoolhouse until sixth grade, then went to high school in East Aurora, where his ag teacher convinced him to go to college.

He entered Cornell University in 1940 and worked his way through college by working at the Curtiss-Wright plant in Buffalo, building P-47s. He received awards for marksmanship as a member of ROTC. He joined the Alpha Zeta, the agricultural honor fraternity, where he met classmates in the field of agriculture who would become lifelong friends. 

Pete Lockner, flight instructor at Genesee County Airport, told of Yunker’s love of aviation. Lockner said Yunker told him he would get up early in the morning and milk the cows, then go to Buffalo to build airplanes, and come home in the afternoon to milk the cows again.

Yunker had wanted to learn to fly at a young age and enrolled in classes at GCC in 1969-70, but his wife, Bernice, was so afraid of airplanes he didn’t pursue it any further. At the age of 70, however, with her approval, he approached Lockner in June 1993 and said he wanted to learn to fly. He got his pilot’s license in December 1993, and started building his own airplane – a Kitfox, in January 1994.

Bernice was at his side, documenting every step of the procedure as he went along. He built his own airstrip on a piece of land on North Byron Road. He became a member of the Vintage Aircraft Group at Pine Hill Airport, where he spent several years helping to restore three PT-19s.

Myra and the late Wayne Phelps, of Indian Falls, were lifelong friends of the Yunkers, along with three other couples who got together every month for years.

Myra was dating Carl while he was at Cornell and once took a train with another girlfriend to visit him. The other couples were Myra’s brother Richard Rudolph and his wife, Jean, the late Henry and Norma Calver, and Fred and Gloria Pletzker.

Carl met Bernice through their churches in Bennington and Sheldon, where Bernice’s father was pastor of both congregations. 

Myra said Carl was one of the most faithful and sincere persons she ever met.

Carl and Bernice were married Dec. 7, 1947, and their honeymoon to Key West was one of many trips they would take together throughout their lives. In 1951, with two young children, one tractor and a handful of cows they moved to the Merriman Farm on Transit Road, where they lived for the last 70 years.

Founder of CY Farms, Carl was known for his progressive farming and was active in both farm and community affairs. He was past president of Genesee County Farm Bureau, treasurer of Upstate Milk Cooperative and was named the “Outstanding Young Farmer of New York State” by the Jaycees.

A lifelong Republican, Carl was friends with the late NY Congressman Barber Benjamin Conable Jr. and helped him win his first election.

Along with Bernice, Carl was active in the campaign to establish Genesee Community College and he served on the board of Genesee Valley BOCES.

The Elba Presbyterian Church was an important part of Carl’s life, where he served on the session for 18 years of their 70-year membership.

The Yunkers had five children, including the youngest, Heidi Yunker Dorpfeld, of Medina/Middleport, who shared memories of her dad.

“My dad embraced me with absolute, unconditional love,” Dorpfeld said. “Even when I failed, he believed it was just another opportunity to grow. He supported me and my siblings in any endeavors we decided to pursue, which game me the drive to thrive.

"I watched him embrace life with positivity and perseverance. My dad reflected the love of God by intentionally looking for good in every person he encountered, believing man is created in God’s own image. I’m thankful to have been a part of his life and the legacy he is leaving us.”

Surviving with Dorpfeld are Carl’s wife, Bernice, who is receiving nursing care at home; children Gail (Bruce) Bartlett, of Baja California Sur, Mexico; Craig (Kimberly) Yunker, of Elba; Cyrus Yunker, of Virginia: Joy (Mark) Mistur, of Ohio; 16 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

There are no calling hours. Private graveside services will be held at the convenience of the family in Springvale Cemetery, Elba.

A public memorial service will take place in the summer at Elba Presbyterian Church. Memorials may be made to Elba Presbyterian Church, 23 N. Main St., Elba; HomeCare and Hospice of Genesee County; or the Yunker Family Fund for Excellence at Cornell University, #0002768, Ithaca, NY 14850. 

Arrangements were completed by H.E. Turner and Co. Funeral Home. 

For Carl Yunker's obituary, click here.

Previously: CY Farms grew from the good land

File photo of Bernice and Carl Yunker from 2013.

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