In previous articles, we have focused mainly on the owners of vintage cars, but as Herman Kovacs is now specializing entirely in vintage motorcycles, this story will be a little different. Having an in-depth interview with our members always seems to turn up many details of their interesting lives that we did not know of before, and Herman and Kathy did not disappoint.
Herman was born in Austria in 1940 and because of the war, he was brought up by his grandfather and aunt. In 1943, Kathy was born in Ukraine, which had become part of Germany at that time. After the war, an uncle of Herman’s in Edmonton sponsored his family to immigrate to Canada and they boarded a ship in 1948. Coincidentally, on the exact same day that Herman’s family was landing in Halifax, Kathy and her family were boarding another ship to Canada, eventually ending up in Regina.
After arriving in the Edmonton area, Herman’s family took up residence in Stony Plain and his father, who was a shoemaker specializing in boots and orthopaedic shoes, opened his shop. At nine years of age, Herman was taken under his father’s wing and began learning the art of shoemaking. Several years later, disaster struck and the shop burned down and Herman’s father moved the family to Vancouver where he opened another shop in the Village on the U.B.C campus. While attending high school, Herman continued to work in the shoemaker shop and upon graduating, he intended to carry on working there, but his father knew that there was no future in the shoemaking business and encouraged him to further his education.
Herman took his father’s advice, enrolling at U.B.C. and graduated with a degree in psychology and began working for the Province as a mental health social worker at Essondale. As fate would have it, Kathy had grown up in Regina, becoming a Registered Nurse, and when she came to Essondale to take a course, she met Herman. They were married in 1967 and their wedding car was a 1966 Rambler Classic 660.
Herman’s next job was as a supervisor in the City of Calgary Child Welfare Department, then to Financial Services and then the Probation Department counselling teenagers. In between two more stints at U.B.C. to obtain his masters degree, Herman and Kathy drove to Ontario in a 1969 Dodge Dart for a few months of work there. Upon obtaining his masters degree, Herman and Kathy put down roots in Dawson Creek, where he was Supervisor of Social Services for 15 years. It was during this time their son was born.
One car owned while there was a ‘63 Ambassador 880 and later Herman commuted to work every day in a 1970 Ford ¾ ton pickup truck, which was not very efficient, so Herman purchased a 250 cc Yamaha motorcycle from a neighbour. He rode it to the office instead of the truck and this kindled his interest in bikes.
After 15 years in Dawson Creek, the family moved to Merritt where Herman and a friend started a BMW motorcycle club that has since expanded to include 150 members in B.C., Alberta and Washington state. While in Merritt, continuing his love of American Motors vehicles, he bought his first vintage car, a very rare ‘65 AMC Ambassador 990 convertible he saw advertised in Calgary. This car was originally black, but he had it repainted red and it was gorgeous.
The Kovacs final moves were to Cranbrook, where Herman retired and then to Kamloops where they have resided ever since, joining the Vintage Car Club in 2003.
The Ambassador was the subject of an article in the CANADIAN CLASSICS magazine and was the feature car in our 2004 Easter Parade. This car was sold about four years ago to a couple in Kelowna and Herman now concentrates on his three BMW motorcycles.
His first BMW, an 800 cc R-80 was purchased in Dawson Creek and was traded for a brand new (red) ‘86 750 cc K75 RC. Later, he also became the owner of a blue ‘83 800 cc R80 and an ‘85 650 cc R65.
Although his bikes are licensed with collector plates, Herman believes in using them and a couple of years ago, along with his friend from Merritt, they drove their vintage bikes up the Dempster Highway to the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, his Merritt friend passed away, but Herman continues to make solo trips including a two-week drive to Manitoba, a month long excursion to the Maritimes and another two-week trip to Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
Since joining the Vintage Car Club, Kathy has spent many years as our “coffee lady,” serving refreshments at our meetings, and Herman has taken on the job of introducing our new members with articles in our Club newsletter. Herman’s other talents include being an accomplished accordion player with the Old Time Fiddlers group and he was a ski instructor at Sun Peaks for 13 years. At 80 years of age, Herman still does all of the maintenance on his bikes and continues to take them for drives, just like yesterday when he tooted his horn as he and a friend rode by our house. Ride on, Herman!