It’s strange to read an obituary of someone you knew in high school. It is particularly poignant in the wee hours of the day after Memorial Day.

I learned about his death from a friend on Facebook, who was understandably shocked. Sadly, I know of a few other classmates who have died as well. I even went to a service for one of them, Troy Sikel, another talented man and fellow actor, despite my aversions to crowds and strangers.

The latest, Daren VanDewalker, I knew from wandering into the high school theater one day. What I was doing there I really don’t know. It was probably partly my brother’s influence, who had caught the acting bug a few years before.

I remember one day our teacher, who I can still hear bellowing my name as if I’m in some sort of trouble, wanted us to do some improv. Daren was sitting in a big circle with a group of us students. Everyone was having a raucous, good time. I was mostly just watching that day. I don’t recall doing much improvisation myself. I do remember being fascinated by the camaraderie.

Another memory is one time being given the task of acting the part of a man who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I had no idea what to do, so I just reacted to what my compatriot, the doctor, said. It was amazingly effective. I’ve heard famous actors say that the key to acting is listening. It’s very true.

Understated is often best, I learned. Our drama teacher had given me that assignment, at least in part, because I was often very prone to comedic buffoonery, rather than serious drama. Many of my roles in the various plays during my four years offered comedic relief, and I loved doing it.

Now, however, I’m much less the attention seeker, though I cherish those memories. I’ve reverted back to my introverted self. Today, I’m more of a recluse.

Life is certainly fickle. His death is a reminder that we are temporal. We must live in the moment and cherish every minute. I need to remember these harsh life lessons.

Daren, a mere 42 years old, barely more than a year older than myself, died from a stroke. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, his wife and four kids, and his sister, Denise.


The battle flag of the 103rd regiment.

Today — Memorial Day — one of the men I’m remembering is Hiram Goodell, one of my great great uncles.

He joined up with the 103rd Illinois Infantry Volunteers during the Civil War, serving in Company D. While in Tennessee he came down with dysentery, like many of his comrades. He apparently died in a makeshift army hospital in Memphis in December of 1863, leaving behind a wife, Elizabeth Frances, and three surviving children, and was, or may have been, buried in Fairview Cemetery, Dyer County, Tennessee. I’m still working on confirming these details.

Hiram was a farmer who lived in Cass Township, Fulton County, Illinois. He was about my height, five feet, nine and a quarter inches tall. He had blue eyes, brown hair which he often kept long, flowing over his ears, and a full beard with a neatly trimmed mustache.

His brothers, James and Levi, served as well, in the 55th Illinois, but thankfully survived the war.

I’ve written about Hiram, and others who have served, before. I’m trying to make a tradition out of it, writing every Memorial Day about family who made that ultimate sacrifice.


The Decline of Class

bemoans the decline of class among today’s pop stars.

“It is like they are all in competition with each other. Who can wear the skimpiest outfit? I mean come on. These young girls are talented singers, they don’t need that, but they feel they have to be in competition to have the least covering. That’s the saddest thing.”

Shirley sure got that right.

Of course, it’s not limited to celebrities. Society has been degraded continually for the past few years. Why do I need to know about people’s private lives? There’s a reason for that phrase. It used to mean something.

Today, I am inundated with proud gays outing themselves, girls revealing way too much, and a general lack of boundaries.

I wrote to a man the other day on Facebook. My message: I don’t care who you’re hooking up with. I don’t need to know that you prefer guys or gals or both.

Just leave me out of your bedroom, please.


After learning about the untimely passing of a former fellow actor from the drama program at my alma mater, Douglas McKay High School in Salem, Oregon, I did a cursory search of his name and discovered the obituary of his father, Steven Hugh VanDewalker, who also died relatively young, in 2012 at the age of 61.

Steve VanDewalker was born in Ashland, Oregon, attending college there and marrying his high school sweetheart, Rebecca MacCollister, before eventually moving to Salem. He worked for Morton Salt for 24 years.

I didn’t know the family well, but we did attend the same church, Morning Star. His two children, Daren and Denise, and I also went to the same high school during that time.

Daren and I were active in the choir and drama. That’s where I got to know him. He had a major role in my first play, the terrific musical West Side Story. It was a great experience, for the most part. I’ve rarely seen so many incredibly talented people gathered together in a cast before.

I, however, was a shy, introverted, skinny, naïve nerd. Going on stage, slowly brought me out of my exile and into other worlds.

It was shocking to learn that Daren had died, through a Facebook post by one of his friends, Joe Litke. I got to know Joe via the youth group at Morning Star and various mission trips, including one to Modesto, California.litke

Life is, indeed, short. For most of us, way too short.


The Infamous “Dark Day” of 1780

Today I happened upon some background on a strange day in New England, back in 1780. May 19, 1780. It was a Friday.

A Dark Day PoemOn May 19, 1780, New Englanders awoke to find a murky haze drifting over the morning sun. An early twilight descended over the next few hours, and by noon, the skies had turned as black as midnight. Night birds sang and confused chickens retired to their roosts. People were forced to light candles to see. It would be centuries before scientists finally determined the cause of the otherworldly darkness, but at the time, many bewildered Americans feared that nothing less than the biblical “end of days” was at hand. Two hundred thirty-five years later, take a look back at the confusion and awe that greeted the infamous “Dark Day” of 1780.


The Passing of Gilbert

The Sudden, Untimely Death of an Actor Reminds Many
of the CBC’s Excellent Production of Anne of Green Gables

A friend from high school who worked with me on the student newspaper recently posted on Facebook about the death of an actor.

What grabbed my attention was the mention of Anne of Green Gables, a Canadian television miniseries that aired on PBS. Like my high school friend, my sister adored it. Us boys were often stuck watching it.

Of course, it was quality programming — what they call wholesome, worthwhile, family-friendly — with terrific actors, including some of my favorites, such as Richard Farnsworth and Colleen Dewhurst, the ex-wife of George C. Scott. I didn’t know all of these details at the time nor did I recognize the value of such a high quality production. After all, I was just a kid.

Sadly, I soon learned the reason why my friend was writing. She was reacting to the news that the gentleman who portrayed Gilbert, Jonathan Crombiehad died.


Mrs. Estella Thomas


A kind gentleman sent me a copy of an obituary of my great grandmother’s aunt, Mrs. Estella Thomas. Her full name was Estella Almeda Boal Foster Thomas. She died in May of 1960 in San Diego.

She was born a Boal, adopted by a family named Harrison after her parents died, raised by her maternal grandparents, the Fosters, and then married a man named Thomas, Edward Samuel Thomas. I guess she technically has one more name to add,  Harrison, though I’ve never seen evidence that she used it. So her name could grow to Estella Almeda Boal Foster Harrison Thomas. Of course, she shortened it to Estella Thomas, or simply Stella.

She had two sisters, Jennie and Nettie, my great-great grandmother. Nettie had one daughter, my great grandmother, Geneva Estella Darling.

Despite researching the family tree for many years and asking numerous, pesky questions of my grandmother, I didn’t know much about Jennie and Estella. They married brothers, named Thomas.

I was hoping for a picture, but . . .

I’m very thankful for volunteers who search and send. They are much appreciated!



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