Holly Dinkel, school counselor, vice president at Dinkel’s Bakery, dies at 67

Written By BY MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter Posted: 07/15/2014, 02:19am
Array Even though she worked as a school counselor, Holly Dinkel was up to her elbows in stollen every Christmas, packing up gift baskets with the traditional German treat to be shipped all over the nation from the famed Dinkel's bakery in Lake View. | Family photo

The stollen from Dinkel’s Bakery is the anti-fruitcake. Studded with pineapple, cashews, almonds and golden and dark raisins marinated in rum and brandy, it’s a Yule log bursting with buttery goodness — instead of a holiday punch line.

Even though she worked as a school counselor, Holly Dinkel was up to her elbows in stollen every Christmas, packing the traditional German bread to be shipped all over the nation from the famed bake shop in Lake View.

“I’m talking about thousands of packages,” said her husband, Norm Dinkel. “She did it every Christmas.’’

“She was literally packing up boxes, taping the boxes, and putting the labels on the box,” he said. “Besides being a great educator and mother, she was a great worker.”

Mrs. Dinkel married into the family that started the bakery more than 92 years ago. A vice president of the company, she was a recipe taster, quality control officer and marketing specialist, said her husband, a third-generation baker at Dinkel’s, 3327 N. Lincoln Ave.

She bedecked the Dinkel’s booth at Chicago’s Christkindlmarket. Two years ago, she helped create Dinkel’s first cafe. “She was instrumental in the design and the decorations and [selecting] the furniture and the floor,” her husband said.

Mrs. Dinkel also had a hand in developing the cafe menu of sandwiches and breakfast items named for Lake View history makers, including the Goldblatt’s spinach artichoke melt and the Wieboldt’s tuna sandwich. “She was the chief taster for six months,” her husband said.

Quick-thinking and detail-oriented, she was in charge of Dinkel’s gift boxes, determining which containers and tissues cushioned the journey but still looked pretty.

And she supervised photo shoots for the bakery catalog featuring stollen, strudels and cakes.

Mrs. Dinkel, who worked as a special education counselor at Chicago’s Gray Elementary School and Von Steuben High School from the late 1980s to 2007, died of stomach cancer June 27 at her Evanston home. She was 67.

When the Dinkels learned her diagnosis last August, Norm Dinkel left the hospital in tears. He wanted to cancel their dinner plans with another couple and go home and cry.

Mrs. Dinkel responded with positive energy and hope, he said. “Look, I don’t have any dinner prepared,” she told him. “They want to us to come; we’re going to go.”

“She did not want to die,” her husband said. Last April, at the Debbie’s Dream Stomach Cancer Symposium in Florida, she met other patients “and she was helping them cope.”

As her illness progressed, she found comfort in two books, “The Gift of Peace” by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, and “Proof of Heaven’’ by Dr. Eben Alexander.

Her first name was bestowed by her parents because she was born just before Christmas in New London, Conn. Holly Schwab moved 23 times before she finished high school, followed by stops in Paris and Germany. Her father was a captain in the U.S. Navy.

After two years of studying in Munich through the University of Maryland, she switched to Loyola University’s Rome Center. She dated a Chicago area student and followed him when he returned to Illinois. The relationship fizzled, but she landed a teaching job at Stagg High School in Palos Hills.

“I happened to meet her on February the 13th, 1972, at Butch McGuire’s,” her husband said. “She tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘You look like someone I know.’”

The shy Norm Dinkel turned to face a German-Swedish vision. “When do I get a beautiful woman wanting to talk to me?’’ he thought. “She was absolutely gorgeous.’’

“It was a great date for 41 years,” her husband said. “I loved her more now than at the beginning.”

They wed June 30, 1973. When she became pregnant, Mrs. Dinkel quit her job at Stagg and stayed home nearly 20 years to raise their three children.

After obtaining a master’s at Northeastern University, she started work at Gray. She worried about her students with learning difficulties. “She made sure the teachers were aware, the parents were participating, and the resources of the public schools were being utilized,” her husband said.

Donna Pemberton stayed in touch with her favorite teacher since 1971, when Mrs. Dinkel taught her at Stagg.

“I can still see her in front of the classroom, reading us poetry, and we did a reading of ‘Our Town.’ She assigned us roles,” Pemberton said. “She was fun. A little quirky. Always had a twinkle in her eye and a little smile.”

The Dinkels took vacations in February and March because they couldn’t leave the business at Christmas, or in summer, when employees requested time off. They toured Argentina, China and South Africa, where they saw hippos, hyenas, lions and elephants, her husband said.

She spoke French, Italian and a little German. “I just had to have my suitcase and be at the front door at the appointed time,” he said. “I’ve lost my love, my confidante, my travel guide.”

In 2010, Mrs. Dinkel was gripped by vertigo as they visited Peru’s mountainous Incan city, Machu Picchu. “She said, ‘I can’t look down,’” her husband said. He eased her through the panic, saying, “You’ve got to look up, look down. You’re never going to be here again.”

The family used to joke she had AIP disease — “ants in the pants.’’

“We’d get on the beach. We’d be there eight minutes, 10 minutes, 12 minutes at the most,’’ her husband said, “and she’d say, ‘OK, what are we going to do?’ ”

She played golf in the summer and was a director of the Women’s Western Golf Association, where she helped administer scholarships for young women. In winter, she bowled and played paddle tennis.

Mrs. Dinkel liked the music of Neil Diamond, TV’s “House Hunters International” and Dinkel’s praline-pecan Danish pastries and chocolate chip cookies.

She also is survived by her daughters, Jennifer Hartzell and Sandgren Karl; her son, Eric Dinkel; a sister, Trudi Jung; a brother, Donald Schwab, and five grandchildren.

Email: modonnell@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimesobits

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