For Roland Link, building is ingrained in his blood. The construction trades were passed down from his father to him and also to his brothers and cousins. So in his life time, it’s no surprise he has built a successful surveying business and also a loving family.
Roland was born September 29, 1940, in Hausen, a small German town in northern Bavaria. His father, Joseph, was a cabinetmaker who emigrated to the United States in 1924. In Brooklyn, he met and married Elisabeth (Muller), also from Germany. They returned to Germany for a visit in about 1925 and ended up staying longer than they had planned. When they were finally ready to return to the U.S., they couldn't because World War II had started. Roland was born just before his father was inducted into the German army. He was sent to Belgium, then France and finally Ukraine and returned home to Germany after the war ended.
“Our town was close to the Russian Zone, which was too close for comfort,” Roland says. They put the wheels in motion to emigrate to the United States, aiming for Mahopac N.Y., where his father’s sister was living. Before they left, each of their children was baptized, confirmed and had their first communion in the church of St. George in Hausen. In May 1952, 11-year-old Roland, 13-year-old Dietmar, and 6-year-old Brigida and their parents sailed for seven days to New York on the SS America. Roland recalls getting seasick from waves that were 30 to 40 feet high. He was so weak on arrival, he had to be carried off the boat.
On May 20, 1952, they moved in with Roland's aunt, uncle and cousin. His father, using carpentry tools he had brought from Germany, earned money making furniture and later got a job as a union carpenter. After a year, a widowed neighbor offered them a free place to live in her home in exchange for help maintaining her property, which was solely Roland's and Dietmar's responsibility. Their father and uncle built an addition to her house to make room for the four of them.
When they arrived, Roland was immediately assigned to fifth grade at school, knowing about three words of English. The school gave him no special treatment. A classmate who knew German translated for him that spring. In the summer, two new American friends helped him learn English. By the end of sixth grade, Roland was up to par. He became another son to the family of his friend Freddy Barton. They biked everywhere, played baseball in the summer and swam in Lake Osceola.
In 1955, his father bought a small piece of property to build their own house. Cousin Billy had studied construction technology and helped with the design, and Roland and Dietmar helped build the three-bedroom ranch house. While they worked long days on the house, a "flock of girls" used to sit giggling on the bridge down the road nearby. “They’d leave us little notes in our toolshed,” Roland recalls. He was still shy around girls, but Dietmar was more mature. He started dating one of the girls named Helga, but she wasn’t allowed to go out alone with him. So Helga's 14-year old cousins, Renatta and Trudy, and eventually Roland tagged along. The next summer, Roland and Trudy started spending time together. By then he had a car —a yellow 1954 Mercury Skyliner with a green and Plexiglas roof, which he fixed up with help from Freddy Barton and his brother. It was snazzy enough to squire his girlfriend to drive-in movies and dances.
Roland’s parents became citizens five years after arriving. Roland had to wait until he was 18. But his last year of high school, a judge made him a citizen of the United States. After he graduated in 1959, he enrolled in a two-year construction technology program at Westchester Community College, graduating in 1961. He got jobs surveying for a couple different companies and, in 1962, began a 32-year stint in the survey department of New York-based Title Guarantee Co. That same year, he married Trudy Jonke in the church of the Miraculous Medal in Ridgewood Queens. On November 17, 1962, the newlyweds celebrated with 250 guests, 200 of them from Trudy's large family, at Ridgewood Hall.
The couple settled down in Ridgewood and went on to have three children: Heidi was born in February 1964. Erik came in January 1965 and Joseph arrived in September 1969. While the children were young, Roland went to night school at City College of New York finally earning a B.S. in civil engineering nearly a decade later. In 1972, the family left Ridgewood and built a bigger house in Mahopac. By then, many of Trudy’s relatives had also moved there, and a clan of 25 helped build. “We started on Saturday morning, and, by Sunday afternoon, we had the framework standing.”
As their children grew, their lives revolved around family. Holidays of all types meant large celebrations with Trudy's family, who hosted 50 or 60 people at their homes. The children loved to spend summer days on Lake Osceola and visits to the Jersey Shore. They were also raised in the Roman Catholic church.
Surveying wasn’t always easy for Roland. The jobs didn’t pay much in the beginning. In 1962, he earned $62 a week. But he made a good living over time. By 1994, larger companies had bought out Title Guarantee and Roland started his own company. Erik and Joe, now themselves licensed surveyors, mostly run the business.
In recent years, Trudy and Roland have become active in the German Club. They also love to travel, taking annual trips to their timeshares in Aruba and Singer Island, Fla. They’ve visited other warm climates, taken cruises on the Danube, Rhine and Rhone rivers and gone to visit relatives in Europe. They enjoy spending time with their grown children, and their ten grandchildren.
For Roland, faith has become an increasingly important part of his life. In addition to the rituals of Sunday Mass and the celebrations of Christmas, Easter and other holy days, he tried to follow the commandments and obligations of the church as best as he could. During a particularly difficult time, he found new strength by reaffirming his belief in Jesus Christ. "He forgave me and restored my life," he says. He keeps a copy of the poem "Footprints" next to his crucifix in his room and it offers him comfort.
Life has been good for Roland and Trudy. They started with a readymade support circle and it’s continued. Roland has advice for a happy life: “Always do the right thing. You know what that is because your heart always tells you." His other advice for his children and grandchildren: "Put your trust in Jesus - He is always at your side to see you through the darkest hours and His light will shine upon you. He will bring peace and love to your life".