I always think of my dad at this time of the year, because he was born on February 3, 1909. If he were still alive today, he would have turned an ancient 103 years old yesterday.
This year, I felt his presence a little stronger than I usually do because my wife and I were recently at Ft. Snelling Cemetery (where he and my mother were laid to rest) for ANOTHER funeral. Her mother, Marge Lennartson, was put in the ground there almost exactly two weeks ago. Sharon and I searched in vain for dad’s tombstone, which is in an area very close to where Dick and Marge are buried, but had no luck. I later learned that his plot is listed on the “Ft. Snelling grave finder” as “2,0,593”.
Dad had a heart attack in his kitchen on Halloween Day, 1994. He was half way through his lunch of a grilled cheese sandwich, which turned out to be his very last meal.
I recently discovered that a very famous person ALSO died on Halloween.
George “Papa Bear” Halas, the founder of the Chicago Bears football team, died on October 31, 1983. Ironically, his birthday (February 2) was a day before my dad’s, but he was born in 1895. Another gifted athlete, George Herman Ruth, was born exactly FOUR DAYS after George Halas. A little known fact is that Babe Ruth’s predecessor in the outfield for the New York Yankees was a guy named George Halas. The SAME George Halas.
October 31, 1994 was a miserable, sloppy, and wet day. I had been on my new job at CIGNA Insurance Company in downtown Chicago for roughly two weeks. After a business lunch in downtown Chicago, I was drying my socks in the microwave (seriously) when my mom called from Minnesota with the news about my dad. We later learned that dad had had a few minor heart attacks without realizing it in the year before his passing, but simply assumed that his shortness of breath was due to old age.
Dad had always been proud of his Irish heritage (as I am), and he came from a generation of people that always got a lump in their throat whenever the sound of “God bless America” came through the loudspeakers at some sporting event. At his funeral a few days later, one of the songs that the organist played was “Danny Boy”, and I’ll freely admit that I REALLY had trouble maintaining control of my emotions while the song played.
I didn’t present dad’s eulogy (although I DID give “the final speech” for both my mother and my father-in-law when it came time for their final goodbyes). I have no idea what the priest said during my dad’s eulogy, but I’ll always remember a comment that my cousin Jean Bobzien said during the funeral lunch:
“You know, he was a really good guy.”
Dad was shaped by two world wars and the Great Depression, and he managed to instill in his kids (my sister and I) the values of thrift, honesty, and compassion. He always stressed the importance of “doing the right thing”, even if that meant making some difficult choices, and he always led by example. To dad’s credit, he really did not have a lot of vices.
I watched him turn green a few times when he tried to smoke a cigar, and he enjoyed a Hamm’s beer on occasion, but that was about the extent of his alcohol consumption. However, I remember the look of ecstasy that came over his face when he had his first Rusty Nail when he came out to visit my in Virginia shortly after I completed my basic training. Needless to say, he was a HAPPY man!
Dad never made a pile of money, and nobody is ever going to erect a building in his honor. In today’s world, though, we’d all be better off if there were more people whose highest accolade was that they were a “really good guy”.