Someone just sent me this, an obituary for one of my ancestors, Maria Wolf Van Note. The genealogy community are great people!
Today while connecting up relatives on Find A Grave, I discovered a copy of my great grandfather‘s obituary. It’s probably from the Lake Preston Times, the paper serving the community where he lived and farmed. His son Everett, my great uncle, is still living, going strong at age 100. He looks just like him.
Unfortunately, his father George, as Everett explained to me a few years ago, had taken up a bad habit, passed on by his father Frank: chewing tobacco. Of course, today there are warning labels and such. But back then who knows how much they knew about the terrible consequences of tobacco. Sadly, the habit caught up with George Hay in 1941. It had taken his father Frank prematurely, too, in 1903.
In 1939, Everett had moved west, to Seattle. He was chasing after a girl, Grace, whose family had moved to Oregon. They were married the same year his father died. One day he got a call from his older sister Lois. She explained how sick there father was. So Everett packed up and returned home, taking over the family farm after his father had passed.
The move west would have to wait.
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.
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.
Life is, indeed, short. For most of us, way too short.