Jürgen Hapke was born in Berlin in 1940, and at the age of 14 attended an apprentice school to become a commercial painter. Five years later he left Germany, alone, for Canada, found work in Vancouver, and soon after met a fellow German, Helmut Mende. Hapke left Canada for California a year later and was joined the following year by Mende. The two would become business partners, forming Colorfast Painting, and the closest of friends.
Those relationships ended tragically in the early morning of December 14, 2005, when Hapke was fatally stabbed by a man who moments before had attacked Mende, for no apparent reason, in the parking lot of a Beverly Hills bank. Hapke, Mende, and another man in their crew were just completing painting the bank’s exterior. Mende was stabbed several times, not fatally, before Hapke came to his aid. For his heroic actions Hapke was posthumously awarded the Carnegie Medal in December 2006.
The medal was presented to Hapke’s widow, Joyce, at a private ceremony in February. Also present were other members of Hapke’s family, Mende and his family, and several friends. It was an occasion mixed with sadness since it recalled for all what they had lost that fateful day, but also of reflective joy as they remembered how positively Hapke had touched their lives.
Said Mrs. Hapke, “He was always ready to help anybody. He helped neighbors with chores, and did what he could for friends experiencing difficulties. He was a man always with a smile, a sense of humor. He was the life of the party. Jürgen had many friends. Once you were his friend, you were always his friend. I think he still had every friend he ever made when he died.”
Overhanging the medal presentation was the reality of the assailant’s trial, then underway in a Beverly Hills Superior Court. He was found guilty of second-degree murder of Hapke, and attempted murder of Mende, and later was sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms.
Mrs. Hapke gave a statement at the sentencing part of trial, telling the judge how much their family and friends loved and respected him and how deeply this “devoted and caring, big-hearted” husband, father, and friend will be missed. One of her last comments was that he had been awarded the Carnegie Medal, and she pointed out the inscription on the medal: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”