By Ted R. Lingle
I had the pleasure of knowing John Rapinchuk for more than 35 years. I first met him in 1981 when SCAA was in the formative stage. At the time he was working with Marvin Golden at Golden Food and Beverage in Boston. In addition to selling fine wines (both Marvin and John had excellent palates), Golden Food and Beverage was also selling specialty coffees. Marvin was the key “player” in bringing together specialty coffee people from the East and West Coast, acting as the go-between for the two groups that were at odds with each other in forming SCAA. His business commitments limited his travel, so John represented Golden Food and Beverage at most of the SCAA meetings, including serving on the Steering Committee that drafted SCAA’s first charter. It was during these meetings that I got to know John on a personal level and grew to respect his keen insights and rye wit.
During these formative years, SCAA was very active in the Coffee Development Group, a Washington D.C. based agency for the International Coffee Organization, through which substantial amounts of the ICO’s promotion funds were spent in the United States. CDG operated through a series of Task Forces made up of industry trade members and had two groups focusing on the specialty coffee industry: a Reference Manual Task Force whose task it was to develop educational materials for the specialty coffee industry; and a College Coffee House Task Force whose task it was to open Coffee Houses on all of the major universities across the United States. John served on the Reference Manual Task Force, where he met the love of his life, Erna Knutsen. Before we knew it, John had moved from Boston to San Francisco to be close to Erna, and he remained there for the rest of his life.
Over the years I spent many days working and traveling with the “Knutchuks,” as John and Erna came to be known as a couple. They were great fun to be with, as John was very knowledgeable on food and wine. I think his wine knowledge came through his work with Marvin Golden, but his knowledge of food and cooking came from his personal experience working in restaurants, instead of taking a more conventional career path by going to college. From knowing the details about any entree or dessert to knowing exactly how to prepare them, John had a wealth of knowledge on virtually every gourmet dish you imagine, and he would talk about them in depth any time a question was asked.
But the thing that set John apart from any other individual I have ever known was his capacity at “care giving.” In the later stages of Marvin Golden’s life, when Marvin was battling Parkinson’s disease, John was constantly with him, preparing his meals, helping him around in his wheel chair, and looking after the finances and estate planning for Marvin’s ex-wife and children. When SCAA gave Marvin a Distinguished Service award the year before he died, John was the individual who assisted Marvin to the stage in his wheelchair in order to accept the award.
John displayed the same devoted care giving to Erna in the later stages of her life. In the last five years, John made a point of taking Erna on virtually every cruise ship he could find, as the cruise ships provided an excellent vacation for Erna who was loosing her hearing, eye sight and mobility as one would expect of a 90 year old individual. As heart breaking as it was to see the “grand old dame” of the specialty coffee industry fade into old age, it was just as heart warming to see her “boyfriend” thirty years her junior, dote after her. I doubt there are many husbands who will take care of their wives in old age as well as John took care of Erna.
John was a special person, with unique talents, a great love of life, and extreme devotion to the people he cared about. In short, he was a “piece of work,” and a great friend to both Gale and me. I will miss him forever.