(All the photos below were taken within the past year)
I’d like you to meet my Dad. He was born at home, on a farm, July 15, 1921. The eldest of seven children, six of whom reached adulthood, he remained on the farm after high school graduation, assisting in the livelihood of his family. In 1945, my grandparents purchased a farm and moved their family to northern Iowa. My parents were married June 28, 1947, continued to farm, and raised five children of their own.
Being raised during the Great Depression gave Dad a keen sense of economy and management. He was a consummate reader, and enjoyed learning about and discussing numerous subjects. He and mom loved playing games such as Scrabble, Phase II, and Boggle. If you chose to participate in a game of Boggle, you would soon learn they did not record three-letter words. Their vocabularies were immense and they wore the letters off the dice on four games over the years.
Dad was 5’9,” muscular and fit, due to the amount of physical labor he performed on the farm. As an illustration, in 1960, after having moved to a farm north of Clear Lake, he climbed the hanging rope, without the use of his legs, to the ceiling and back down again, in our domed gymnasium! He raised hogs, cattle, sheep, chickens and the normal corn, beans, oats/straw and hay. He tore down buildings and built buildings. Yes, he was hard-working. He never expressed displeasure with his life, worked tirelessly and very hard, all the while whistling as he went about his chores.
Yes, Dad was 89 years old at his death; nearly 90. However, had you met him even months prior to the onset of the cancer and its complications, you’d never have believed it. He possessed the energy and looks of a man in his mid- to late- 70s. Many people guessed this and he considered this a source of amusement and pride.
You would have liked my dad. He was fun, kind, considerate, and a gentleman; a man of integrity. He rarely criticized – more often stating simply “He/she does the best they can.” He respected the authority of special training; and he expected the honesty and conscientiousness that he, himself, offered. He was trustworthy and was “as good as his word.” If he said he would do something, it was finished to his best ability and in a timely manner.
Dad possessed a gregarious nature, a love of people, and a fine sense of humor. Dad laugh was infectious; often helping me, as a youngster, to locate him in a crowd. My dad was not perfect. But he was fun, interesting, fair, and a gentleman. He had a strong personality. He and each of his brothers employed a firm handshake and would often offer others a hearty clap on the back.
My dad was a family man. His family (and mom’s) was our extended family. There were family reunions and softball games. As a father, he was strict but fair. He was a very considerate husband, and he worked very hard to provide for his family.
My father was very artistic, but had little time, as I was growing up, to indulge interests of that sort. He once or twice mentioned that it might have been fun to work as a cartoonist for Walt Disney. It was after his retirement, that he began to enjoy many artistic endeavors. Many years ago (30?) he took one calligraphy class, purchased a book and taught himself to perfect the art. He practiced diligently; filling notebooks with many of his favorite sayings. He painted signs for many people, businesses and special occasions in the area.
For a few years, he enjoyed creating and painting Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs. He took painting and ceramics classes at McNeider Art Museum. While he didn’t pursue the ceramics, he continued to paint pictures for awhile.
He loved both wood-working and whittling. He made many intricate items such as model cars, plate hangers, fancy folding doll-sized rocking chairs, etc. from a variety of woods including oak and walnut. He graduated to intarsia; a form of woodworking picture-puzzle creations using several types of wood in each project – usually incorporating hand-carving alongside his various tools. One of his personal favorite creations was a hand-carved (including the bill, legs and claws) wren that he attached to a twig. It hangs on a wall at home.
Dad loved researching and recording our families’ genealogies. At nearly 80 years of age, he began working with, and becoming fairly proficient on the computer. Dad finished the book on his paternal family several years ago, including photographs and a few stories. He possessed a wealth of stories and information. He and Mom traveled around Iowa and several other states to visit cemeteries and photograph headstones. A few years ago, he began his mother’s as well as my mom’s families.
Dad was once a member of a local school board; a member of a local community club; faithful church-goer and long-time (from the early 1960’s until the present) member of their adult Sunday School class from Manly; a Mason City Men’s Garden Club member for several years – putting in many hours in East Park; a member of the First United Methodist Church of Clear Lake for many years; and for the last several years, a volunteer in the “fix-it” department of the Opportunity Village store (where you could hear him whistling as he worked).
Advice I passed to children in my second grade classrooms included something he told me when I was young: “Watch your behavior. Every girl grows up to be a woman but not every girl grows up to be a lady. Every boy grows up to be a man, but not every boy grows up to be a gentleman.”
My father died Friday, April 29, 2011 of advanced pancreatic cancer that had metastasized in his liver and lungs. Although we thought he might yet have a couple of months’ time left, and had begun arranging for Hospice-home care, by Tuesday, April 26, the cancer (and more pain, despite the medication) had taken its toll. He was transferred to the Hospice House and rapidly declined.
You must know one more thing about my father. Although these past several months were so very difficult, my father retained his dignity. Throughout his stay in the hospital, he endeared himself to the doctors and nurses. On the day before he died, while in pain and distress, he was able to sit on the edge of the bed (with help) to address the doctor frankly. When the doctor asked him, “Howard, do you want me to be direct?” My father answered, “Yes, Doctor.” When he was told, “Howard, death is very near. Are you afraid?” My father answered, “No. Death follows life. Death is a natural occurrence. Death is the next step. It is the next step in life.”
My father was my hero. He taught me about life. And he has taught me about death and dying. And he did it all with dignity.
Photo was taken January 8, 2011