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‘Humble, generous, hardworking’ owner of iconic bakery unexpectedly dies

Idaho Falls

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IDAHO FALLS – A longtime baker and beloved member of the community passed away unexpectedly Monday.

Carstens’ Bakery in downtown Idaho Falls announced on Facebook Tuesday morning that its founder, Willi Carsten, died at his Idaho Falls home.

“We will be closed for the next few days while the family grieves. We ask that you please respect their privacy at this time. Thank you for understanding,” the family writes.

In a conversation with EastIdahoNews.com, Carsten’s grandson, Ben Borsik, said the exact cause of death has not been determined but believes it was either a stroke or heart attack.

“He went outside to do his chores like he always does. It appeared he was just getting started and he sat down on some sacks of grain that he was going to feed to his pigs and he seems to have slumped over and died,” Borsik says.

Carsten, who was 86, owned a small farm on Rollandet across from Tautphaus Park. His wife, Shannon, passed away in 2020 and he had a great-grandson living with him.

Borsik describes his grandpa as one of the happiest people he’s ever known.

“He’s always had a very childlike spirit about him. He’s always been curious,” Borsik says, tearing up. “He will be sorely missed.

READ WILLI CARSTEN’S OBITUARY HERE

carsten and marty bakker
A recent photo of Willi Carsten, left, with a family friend, Marty Bakker. | Ben Borsik

‘He loved every minute of it’

Carsten grew up in war-torn Germany during the 1930s and 40s. He came to the U.S. seeking a better way of life.

Borsik says his grandfather was motivated to become a baker at age 16 after years of living in poverty with very little to eat.

“There were days when his mom would honestly tell him whatever he could find on his way home was what was for dinner,” Borsik explains. “At the time, the way the school system worked was you took your aptitude test to finish school when you were 16. If you were very smart, you went on to higher schooling.”

After taking his aptitude test, Borsik says his grandpa had three options available to him. He could become a shoemaker, bricklayer or baker.

“He learned that he could go live in a bakery for three years and signed up for that because he was hungry,” says Borsik.

He worked as a baker’s apprentice for three years and got his license when he was 19.

He eventually moved to America to be with his brother, Julius. Carsten landed in Norfork, Virginia where he took a greyhound bus to Laramie, Wyoming.

“He worked for a sheep farmer named Jack Boyer for a year to get all of his paperwork paid for,” Borsik says.

He finished his sheepherding sponsorship in California. With his final paycheck, he reconnected with some family members who had arrived in Salt Lake City. He came to Idaho Falls a short time later, where he met his wife.

“They got married and moved to Salt Lake for 10 years,” Borsik says.

willi and shannon wedding
Willi and Shannon Carsten on their wedding day. | Crista Valentine

But it was Idaho Falls where Carsten decided to finally settle down. Borsik says he liked the weather and the fishing in eastern Idaho because it reminded him of home in Nord Friesland, Germany.

He worked at several bakeries before starting his own in 1968.

Leaving his country and coming to America to start his own business and raise a family was Carsten’s proudest accomplishment, Borsik says.

“He loved every minute of it,” he says.

Memories of grandpa

Borsik has worked alongside his grandpa for many years as the manager of the bakery and is proud to be following in his grandfather’s footsteps.

When asked about a favorite memory, it was difficult for him to pinpoint one.

“We got along so well. We never argued,” Borsik says through tears. “I worked with him for 15 years and we never had a bad day.”

Borsik’s sister, Crista Valentine, describes her grandpa as “the most humble, generous, hardworking, kind man I’ve ever known in my life,” and she has a special memory of living with him on the farm as a little girl.

“He took care of me until I was about 6 years old. I lived with him on his farm and I just remember running around with him while he was feeding the hogs and playing with the chickens,” she recalls. “We used to go to the hog and sheep auction and he would buy me a bag of Twizzler Nibs.”

She started working in the bakery when she was 15 and has been involved off and on over the years. When her grandma could no longer walk and became homebound, Valentine ran the bakery for several years.

She’s planning to step in full-time again as her brother takes over the baker role created by their grandpa.

“The last two days of his life, he was so vibrant. On Saturday and Sunday, he was just so full of life and laughter. I got to spend all day Saturday with him and he was telling me all these jokes and all these memories he had from when I was little. He had a smile on his face and a pep in his step for his last two days. He was happier than I’d seen him in a long time. He got pretty depressed after grandma died,” Valentine says. “My last memories of him are just going to be of him smiling and joking, just full of life.”

carsten pic
A recent photo of Willi Carsten. | Ben Borsik

Grateful for the life his grandfather gave him, Borsik says he plans to “continue on doing it just like grandpa has,” and he hopes to see his grandpa’s legacy continue for many years to come.

“Grandpa was here for 50 years. I always tell people, ‘I hope I’m there for another 50,'” says Borsik.

Carsten leaves behind three sisters and a brother, one daughter, numerous grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Borsik and his sister are currently making funeral arrangements through Wood Funeral Home. A funeral date has not yet been determined.

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