John Marx

The idea for today's sermonette comes from Jon Gremmels, an ink-stained veteran and top-notch idea man. I have respected his work as a writer and copy editor for decades.

"Have you ever read the obituaries?'' Gremmels asked me a couple of weeks back. "Really read them? Every one of them — in some kind of fashion — tells a story.''

I told him I'm a throwback, that after I check my phone for breaking news when waking up, I go through the print version of the morning paper, but I only scan the obits. I'm OK with a digital world, but I still need a paper in my hands to begin my day. But I only read with any kind of interest the obituaries about those folks I knew.

But for the past week, I've read lots of obituaries. Some recent, some from a few months back.

Amazing stuff.

We all have a story, and I find it troubling that we wait until someone has passed to share the tale of the impact that person had on the world while still with us.

Had I not taken a minute, I never would have learned that Milan's Rene Rangel, after years of living in the United States, working and raising a family, became a United States citizen in 2004.

Rangel, it should be noted, was a youth baseball umpire who had the pleasure of dumping (kicking out of a game) a friend of mine one night decades ago. We often talk about the class with which Rene handled the situation.

No matter what our path in life might be, we all have a skill. When I started checking the obituaries each day, I learned about great bakers, amazing gardeners, world travelers, women who were the best cooks, those who made clothes, those who knitted the coolest sweaters, and those who had a knack for brightening the lives of many.

Then there were the "fix-it'' guys, those who brought cars to life, remodeled rooms, handled plumbing duties, and could paint anything. Everyone has a someone they call when facing a "fix-it'' emergency.

I learned that Irene Smolenski, who recently passed, had a flair for flowers and loved decorating her home for the holidays. I read that Connie Sue Rodriguez was "The Mother of the World'' and dedicated her life to her family, but also shared her love and patience with those she taught at the Black Hawk Area Special Education Center. It takes a special person to give her all to youngsters with special needs, and Rodriguez was that person.

I loved reading that grandmothers and grandfathers loved spoiling their grandchildren. My late parents were amazing at that.

I read with admiration about the many who served our country, such as Harry Sandoval, who enlisted in the Navy at age 17. He survived a variety of event-turning battles aboard the USS Richard P. Leary.

And like so many of that era, Sandoval carved out a career of 41 years with International Harvester. I read about many 30-plus-year careers at IH, John Deere and J.I. Case.

I chuckled at the February 2019 obituary for Mike Vandekerckove, having known him for years. It brought to light the amazing typing skill he first mastered in eighth grade, and how it served him well in life. During the Vietnam War, Mike served as a general's aide at the Pentagon because he could type.

I chuckled because I was a child of a similar typing class in those days, and I was horrible at it. If not for the forgiving keyboards of computers, I never would have had the gig I have today. The fact that Mike loved baseball legends Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial also made him OK in my eyes.

I read the obituary of 15-year-old Ryder Schnowske, who passed recently as the result of injuries suffered during a motocross competition. I cannot imagine the pain his family is going through, but I took solace — if there is such a thing to be had when a young life is cut short — in the fact that he died doing something he loved. He was competing in a motocross event and was in sixth place out of 80 competitors when tragedy struck. He must have been an amazing young man.

Most of the obituaries I read indicated a passion for a variety of sports or the love of the outdoors, whether it be hunting, fishing or camping. The number of final photos that featured someone wearing something from a favorite team was jaw-dropping.

Robert Proehl, who passed recently at age 79, was a Cubs fan. The photo used for his obituary had Robert in a Cubs hat and T-shirt.  The Northsiders  winning the World Series in 2016 was a big part of his eight decades in life. 

For some, the Cubs winning the World Series completed their lives.

I'm glad I was able to find that out about Robert Proehl and lucky to find out so many neat things about so many others who made an impression in their time with us.

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.


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