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Tech Mourns Loss of Alex Thyssen

SOCORRO, N.M. September 11, 2015 – New Mexico Tech and the Socorro community are mourning the sudden passing late Wednesday night of Alex Thyssen, a 33-year University employee and lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). Thyssen was 71.

He died at Socorro General Hospital with his wife, Gladys, and two LDS brethren at his side. Other survivors include four children, 11 grandchildren, members of the New Mexico Tech and LDS communities and a host of friends.

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Alex Thyssen as a young man

 

Services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, Sept. 14, at the LDS Church, 1112 El Camino Real. Burial will follow at 12:30 p.m. at Vista Memorial Gardens in Truth or Consequences, N.M. New Mexico Tech and the family will host a special reception from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday at Macey Center. Everyone is welcome. 

University President Dr. Daniel H. López expressed his condolences to the family on behalf of New Mexico Tech. He said Thyssen was a personal friend and will be missed by many people.

“Alex Thyssen was a longtime employee of New Mexico Tech, but more fundamentally he was a friend to all of us and a particular friend of mine,” López said. “He served competently and loyally for many years, both as director of the research foundation and internal auditor for New Mexico Tech.

“We as a Tech community will miss him dearly,” López said. “He was faithful and loyal to the institution for many years and his dedication did not lapse at the time of his retirement. He continued supporting the institution financially with personal donations. We loved him and we’ll miss him and we’ve lost a true friend.”

Thyssen was born in East Germany to the late Guenter Arnulf Thyssen and Kathe Marianna Krausse, and attended clandestine LDS services with his parents, often in building basements, moving from one place to another to avoid being caught by the Communists.

                Following the end of World War II and at the age of 15, he immigrated to the United States with his parents, settling in Provo, Utah, where Thyssen received a degree in accounting.

            In 1976, he moved his family to Truth or Consequences to be near their grandparents who owned and operated the Ace Lodge there. His daughters recalled stripping beds and cleaning rooms as “free maids,” living onsite in the Lodge’s room 22.

            Alex, meanwhile, joined the Plaza corner office of Bookkeeping and Tax Service owned by the late Arvilla Knight, the legendary first lady of accounting in Socorro. He grew tired of the 90-minute commute and moved his family here in 1978, later purchasing the business from Knight.

Thyssen once ran for the Socorro City Council at the urging of local townspeople, but he was not a politician and lost the race.

            But he was a gifted financial advisor, keenly tuned in to the fine-point details of accounting principles. He personally reflected the moral values and professional ethics so vital to the accounting profession.

            Thyssen officially retired from New Mexico Tech in 2014 and remained on contract until his passing, although the time he spent in his office in Brown Hall was closer to full-time.

On the day he died, he made his usual office rounds, greeting staff and looking quite fit, giving no hint that he was not feeling well, although he had been dealing with health issues over the past several years.

Alex met Gladys Diemecke during a vacation to Guatemala on June 6, 1992, and the couple married on August 14 of that year. They celebrated their 23rd anniversary last month and were looking forward to hosting a party for their silver anniversary.

He took his wife to visit her Guatemalan family every year, and one year they made two trips because Alex wanted to experience the Christmas holiday there.

She has since retired from the University’s Office of Facilities Management.

Alex is remembered as a kind and loving husband and a good, albeit strict, father to his children, who recalled his efforts to teach them basic mathematical principles. He loved math, amazing them by coming up with the correct answer when they tried to trip him up with complex multiplication questions.

Thyssen embodied the characteristics of his Germanic upbringing – he was efficient, disciplined, well-organized, punctual and traditional (some would say old-fashioned). His children dared not raise controversial issues with their father, but he was often described by their friends as someone easy to talk to.

As a grandfather “he was a real softie” who enjoyed reading stories to his grandchildren and telling them stories.

Thyssen was honest to a fault, a dubious quality when it came to asking his opinion of a new haircut – or hair color, according to one red-headed granddaughter not born with red hair.

A senior administrator at New Mexico Tech echoed those words in describing Thyssen’s professional service.

“Alex was a good personal friend and a friend of Tech and the Socorro community,” said Lonnie Marquez, who as Vice President for Administration and Finance worked closely with Thyssen over the years.

“Because of his background, coming here from Germany after World War II, Alex appreciated everything he had here ... and he will be sorely missed,” Marquez said.

Both his family and colleagues noted Thyssen’s sartorial style. A tall and slender man, he took pride in his appearance, often wearing elegant silk ties with long-sleeved shirts in shades of lavender, pink, powder-blue – and yellow on the day of his death – but he wouldn’t wear brown, and it was only in recent years and at the urging of his wife that he began to wear short-sleeved shirts.

And he enjoyed seeing his wife dress up. Her petite frame complemented his.

Thyssen also was quick to compliment his female colleagues on their attire and always with respect, Gladys added. “He praised the ladies and was always a gentleman, such as opening doors and other courtesies,” she said. “He was a gentleman and a gentle man.”

            “Alex was one of the most generous men I knew,” said Reid Grigg, a university colleague recently retired and fellow LDS church member. “People who only knew him casually wouldn’t know this,” Grigg said.

            His children remembered leaving food at the doors of families who needed assistance – but always without them knowing. Thyssen never sought the limelight, choosing to give anonymously, be it financial assistance or other gifts.

            At home, he loved to read and relax – and enjoyed nothing better than a good nap. Gladys said he found great pleasure in re-reading the German books his parents brought with them to America, especially history.

            “It was very important for him to know what was going on in the world,” she said. International politics was a strong interest; and, for a man who never played organized sports, Alex knew the rules and statistics of every major athletic endeavor, from baseball to soccer and tennis.

            He was, in fact, a stickler for rules to the point that he would not turn right on a red light, even with no other vehicle in sight – and he made sure that others followed the rules, be it a traffic ordinance or financial minutiae.

            “His mind was always working,” Gladys said. “He was always coming up with ideas for different things.”

            Good manners were de rigueur. He found it especially annoying when people yawned without covering their mouths – same for coughing, sloppy speech or other disrespectful behavior.

            Eclectic comes to mind in describing Thyssen’s television tastes. He never missed “60 Minutes” or Fox news reports. Thyssen enjoyed Wheel of Fortune and was an excellent Jeopardy! player.

On the other hand, he was a closet fan of the WWE who often took his children to matches at Tingley Coliseum in Albuquerque to watch Ric Flair, Randy Savage and other wrestling icons of the era.

            His memory was excellent. A traditionalist to the end, he eschewed speed dial, having memorized key telephone numbers – and he knew all his children’s and grandchildren’s birthdays and those of their respective spouses.

            Thyssen also was close to the LDS church, its values and beliefs. “Jesus Christ was his savior and friend,” Grigg said, adding that Thyssen often was asked to speak at services for church members who had died.

            He was instrumental in securing financing for the LDS Church in Socorro, from working with church officials in Salt Lake City, Utah, to ensuring that the facility was constructed according to specifications; he served as the first Bishop for the church when it opened in 1980.

            Ironically, Thyssen also was involved in plans for the church’s 35th anniversary commemoration scheduled for Oct. 11.

            He enjoyed public speaking and prayer came naturally to him. Thyssen did not work from notes, but spoke from the heart.

            The two most important things in his life were his church and his family, and both dominated his final thoughts.

Thyssen asked Grigg and another church elder for a healing blessing at his hospital bedside. Afterward, he spoke his own prayer, asking his savior to accept him and to take care of Gladys and his family.

            Then he turned to look at his wife and was gone.

            In addition to his widow, survivors include four children: Martina and husband Freddie Apodaca of TorC and their children Clinton, Felix and Katie Apodaca; Todd Thyssen and wife Ofelia of Scottsdale, Ariz., and their children Alexis, Carlos and Maria Thyssen and Juan Trujillo; Nicki Hanna and husband Eugene Chavez of Rio Rancho and their children Daiqori and Christopher Chavez; and Pablo Diemecke and wife Anna of Killeen, Texas, and their children Emma and Beatrice Diemecke.

– NMT –

By Valerie Kimble