“I wanted to build something beautiful” – remembering Gerhard Blenk
The developer and founder of Wilden, Kelowna’s largest master-planned community, passed away on Monday, March 28, 2022, at the age of 81. Gerhard Blenk was originally from Germany. He immigrated to Canada in 2004 and lived in Kelowna, BC. Gerhard was the loving husband of Maria, former husband of Esme, and father of Martin, Karin, Daniel and Andreas, who tragically passed away in 2017. Gerhard was a proud grandfather to Vincent, Lucie and Jonas, a great-grandfather to Bobbie, and father-in-law of Michael and Chrissy. He is greatly missed by his sister Monika and her husband David, as well as many friends and relatives in Germany and Canada.
Left to right: Gerhard, Rudolf, Monika, Marianne
Gerhard was born in Karlsruhe, Germany on September 4, 1940, to Erna, a sales assistant in a sports store, and Rudolf Blenk, an upholsterer with his own bed and upholstery business. After World War II, the family moved to Rudolf’s hometown, Wertach, in the foothills of the German Alps. When his parents split up in 1946, Gerhard lived with his dad, who meanwhile had started a successful hotel and restaurant business. His mom died at age 39 and he was raised by his stepmom Marianne.
Growing up in the rural alpine region, Gerhard developed a passion for outdoor adventures, winter sports, wildlife and hunting from a very young age. Aged 18, he moved back to Karlsruhe, where he had been born and where his father still owned an upholstery store. Gerhard managed the shop for a few years but soon realized that his calling was to be found elsewhere. After a couple of successful years as a manager and CEO in the German and American oil business, he decided to become a business owner himself, founded a consulting firm for oil tank technology and – as a side business at first – invested in land.
Together with his wife Maria, he bought building lots in the suburbs of Karlsruhe. While raising their children, the two of them built and sold single
family homes. By 1985 they had accumulated a decent amount of savings when an opportunity arose to purchase a mid-sized hunting rifle factory in the south of Germany. They invested everything they had. Over the next 15 years, Gerhard and Maria turned the hunting product manufacturer Blaser into one of the world’s top brands in the hunting industry. By the time they sold the company in 2000, the number of employees had grown from roughly 70 to over 200.
During these years, Gerhard combined his greatest passion with his professional ambitions, traveled the world as a hunter and businessman, inspired and patented many great inventions including the revolutionary straight-pull bolt action R93 rifle, and discovered his talent for developing real estate on raw land in Canada. Gerhard and his hunting buddy Hans “Atze” Oehler bought a piece of land in Sherwood Park near Edmonton so that they could keep their horses over the winter. Years later, when a developer offered a million dollars for the land, Gerhard and Atze decided not to sell, but to become developers themselves.
On a road trip through Western Canada, Gerhard discovered the beauty of the Okanagan Valley. When a piece of land north of downtown Kelowna became available to purchase in the mid 90s, Gerhard didn’t hesitate. Over the course of five years he assembled, piece by piece, what would later become Wilden. It is a challenging topography to develop, but Gerhard did not rest until there was a master plan in place that satisfied the family’s vision.
“For me, the challenge is finding the right balance between creativity and beauty on one side of the scale and regulations and economics on the other. I know at the end of the day […] there will be some financial profit, but the greatest profit will be to look at some beautiful subdivisions surrounded by preserved green space. I am really looking forward to that day,” said Gerhard Blenk when he laid out his vision for his team and future residents in 2003, the year the first homes were built in Wilden.
He wrote down the cornerstones of his vision for Wilden as follows:
Build a charming, alpine-style family community with winding roads
Make nature accessible from every home
Always be predictable and reliable
Maintain closed-pocket development, not spreading out over large areas
Follow topography instead of leveling it
Leave as many trees, rocks and outcrops integrated into the lots as possible
Develop and sell without pressure
Only work with very few selected builders
Make quality visible – in home and subdivision design
Keep sales in-house and have personal relationships with prospects and residents
Gerhard Blenk was the first developer in British Columbia to incorporate geothermal heating and cooling technology for single family homes on a large scale. As a shareholder of GeoTility, a provider of heat-pump based HVAC systems in Kelowna, he encouraged residents to reduce their carbon footprint by avoiding fossil fuels for heating and cooling. Many in the regional building industry followed in his footprints.
In 2017, Gerhard retired and handed responsibility for the Wilden group of companies to his two older children, Martin and Karin. They have been following his legacy ever since. Today, Wilden is approximately 30% developed.
Gerhard’s biggest wish was to take his final breath in his beautiful home in Wilden with his family by his side. By mid-March 2022, when doctors confirmed that further treatment could only be of a palliative nature, his wife and children decided to honour this wish, keep him comfortable at home and stay at his side. He passed away peacefully on March 28.