My Dad would have been 100 yesterday and my thoughts about him included a lot of memories that are both vivid and meaningful. In my 75th year, I have now lived ten years beyond what he was given. During those 42 years that I knew him, loved him and was guided and inspired by him, much of what I learned remains of value for me to this day and thus I want to honor not only his life but so much that he gave to me and many others.
He and my mother started their life together just out of high school. Neither of them went to college and they worked together in a butcher shop and grocery store in West Manchester, Ohio. A few years later, my Dad went to work as a salesman for a wholesale grocery company, Westerfield Brothers, and they moved 14 miles north to Greenville, Ohio. That is where I was born in 1937, and my brother appeared 4 years later. I remember Dad settling up his accounts on a card table in our living room and he advanced in that business to become Vice-President in charge of Finance. The business liquidated after World War II with the advent of large chain grocery stores that replaced all the Mom and Pop stores that Westerfield’s serviced. Dad went on to become the GM of a car dealership and finally was the city auditor in his later years. When he was appointed, and later elected, I recall a friend saying that it looked like he was going to be on the public dole. My Dad responded with, “If I can’t save you and this city enough to pay my salary several times over, then I shouldn’t have the job.” Needless to say perhaps but he was successful not only in managing the city’s finances efficiently but also in building new water and sewage treatment plants, in improving public safety and fire protection, and in taking care of the city’s infrastructure that included streets, utilities and parks.
Here are a few selected highlights of my memories of my Dad.. He loved to fish, finally bought a small 12′ Sears fiberglass boat and a Johnson 10 horse outboard motor and we would haul that thing all the way to Ontario every summer for many years to enjoy a week in a cabin at Twin Pines on Lake Mississagagon. My brother still returns there from time to time with his son and grandson although I haven’t been back but once after we stopped going as a family. My Dad also taught me to hunt, mostly rabbits and pheasants and squirrels, and for him it was more for food than sport as he was a product of The Great Depression and knew many survival skills. He was also a great DIY guy and had a small wood shop in the basement complete with table saw, jig saw, sander and many hand tools.
Not only did he know how to butcher both big and small animals, but he could build things, paint houses, plant gardens and fix just about anything. I was often surprised by how much he knew and how he had learned all that he did including accounting and bookkeeping.
My Dad was active as a Boy Scout leader, as a Sunday School teacher and both he and my mother sang in the church choir. They had many friends, many of which emanated from their church community and we often visited with other families and celebrated many holidays with several families or relatives. Trips to grandparents homes for Sunday dinners were frequent as well. My Dad’s big trip was to Hong Kong, a trip that my mother won on some radio contest. He wrote a letter to me and one to my brother, said we were only to open them in the event of power failure while aloft or some other unforeseen event that might prevent their return. I never saw that letter but I can easily imagine that it said everything was in order, they owed no one anything and that we would find directions for how their estate was to be handled. For that is how it was when he died and later on as well, when my mother, at 96, also left this world. He was always prepared.
There were many life lessons that my Dad gave to me one way or another. I know that I often challenged his and my mother’s parental prerogatives and usually, instead of just being punished for some infraction or misstep, he included a learning experience. When I was caught smoking cigars behind the garage with Harvey Wilt, I had to write on a yellow legal pad, 500 times, “I will not smoke until I am old enough to know better.” I never did acquire a taste for tobacco. When I lifted a comic book from the G.C. Murphy 10 cents store, he made me take it back and confess my transgression in person to the manager. I was both ashamed and embarrassed sufficiently not to try that one again.
One Sunday, sitting in those hard, oak church pews, I saw the ushers passing large brass plates into which people were putting real money and envelopes with money in them. We had a box of those envelopes and every week as much as $10 or more went into that envelope to be placed in that offering plate. I asked my Dad if I could take some money out and he, with his characteristic wisdom and candor, said, “Yes, you can take some out, but remember always to put in more than you take out.” That was a life lesson that extended far beyond church!
Dad lived his life in service to others whether as a public servant, a member of a local service club or as a community leader. He was a Civil Defense Air Raid Warden during World War II, he helped other people with businesses and farms with their taxes and accounting, he helped his own family of origin with their own needs and projects and gave unselfishly of this time and talent to many causes which he believed to be important. He seemed to me to be someone who wanted to make things better and he was very good at finding ways to do that. I know he made me a lot better and for that I am both blessed and grateful.