On a fine spring morning, Bill Dunder died peacefully at age 91 after quite a life’s journey. He was born Vilho Cyril to Vilho Pehkanen and Sylvia Nilsson in Seskaro, Sweden, a remote island near the border between Finland and Sweden about 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. His father died while Bill was an infant, and his mother married Karl Dunder, with whom she had 8 more children. Bill had the opportunity to leave Seskaro at age 16 to study in Vasteras, near Stockholm and far from home, and he lived independently thereafter. He studied to become an electrical engineer having decided on that career after witnessing electricity being brought to Seskaro. He served on a destroyer in the Swedish Navy during the closing stages of World War II. He was the ship’s electrician, and often shared tales of his experiences, which included climbing the ships’ mast to change a light, on a rolling ship in a storm at night. Bill often retold the story of climbing that mast.
After completing his studies he was working as a draftsman in Stockholm when he met Terttu (Terry) Valkola, a young Finnish woman also working in the city. They fell in love, and he told her of his ambition to leave Sweden for a place of greater opportunity. They were engaged in 1954 and he sailed to Canada days later. Once he had found a job and home in Toronto he sent for his fiancé and she sailed to meet him the next year. They married shortly after her arrival, on his birthday, March 5, 1955. He got a better engineering job offer in New York City, and in 1957 immigrated to the US, again leaving his now pregnant wife behind as he found them a new home in Brooklyn. She joined him there where sons Thomas (1957) and Erik (1959) were born. Increasingly better jobs brought the family to Staten Island and then Succasunna, New Jersey where they lived for 27 years. Bill rose to the head of electrical engineering for Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, where he earned the nickname “Mr. Watts” for his work on energy efficiency during the energy crisis of the 1970’s.
People who met Bill at various stages in his life knew him by different names. In Sweden and Finland he was Vilho or Ville, in Canada he was Cyril, and in the US he was Willy and then finally Bill. He legally changed his name to William Dunder, and he and Terry became proud American citizens in the late 1960’s. They honored their ethnic heritages by being long time members of the Vasa Order, the Triangle Finnish Association, and the Friends of Scandinavia.
Retirement brought Bill and Terry to Chapel Hill, North Carolina where their sons had settled with their families. They traveled extensively throughout Europe and North America, visited Asia and Central America, and loved the North Carolina coast. They doted on their grandchildren. After Terry’s death in 2006, Bill moved to Croasdaille Village in Durham where he lived his final years. And so ends the saga of how Vilho and Terttu from Scandinavia became Bill and Terry from Chapel Hill. Bill is survived by sons Thomas and wife Kathe, Erik and wife Diane, grandchildren Myles Dunder and Eva Rose Dunder, step-brother Henry Dunder in Kiruna, Sweden, and step-sister Gunvor Dunder in Haparanda, Sweden. His ashes will be interred next to Terry’s in the Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery. There will be a memorial in his honor in the Chapel at Croasdaille Village on May 30, 2015 at 2 PM. The family invites all who knew Bill to attend. Online condolences may be expressed at CremationSocietyNC.com
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