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The Eulogy for Robert Mortensen

Filed under: Eulogies — Pastor Jeff at 2:09 pm on Monday, September 25, 2017

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Bob Mortensen was born on August 30th, in 1932 in Curacao in the Dutch West Indies, where his father Sigvardt Mortensen was working as a merchant marine.  Sigvardt was born in Denmark, and after retiring from the merchant marines would work on Project Hope, a hospital ship that travelled throughout the world providing medical care to impoverished people.

Bob’s mother was Maria del Roasario from Costa Rica.  Bob was preceded in birth by three years by his older brother Sig.  When Bob was two the family moved to Bergen County, and about the same time his sister Cookie was born.  Three years later his brother Ronald was born.  (Several years later a fifth sibling, Dennis would also be born)

Bob’s father was often away from home on a ship, and unfortunately his mother suffered from mental illness and was in and out of institutions before dying when Bob was a teenager.   Consequently, Bob and his siblings grew up remarkably self-reliant, riding the bus to get about town.  His father would keep accounts for his children at a local grocery store. There was a story Bob told about how on one occasion his father was not pleased when he and his siblings had run up one such account to $350 with cakes and other sweets being a major expense.  (Bob had a life long sweet tooth.)

For high school, Bob’s father sent him to Long Military Academy in New Bloomfield, PA where he learned the discipline of military life, though it is said he would sometimes sneak out after curfew to get pies.  He played quarterback on the football team.

Upon graduation Bob spent four years in the Navy, serving for two of those years on an aircraft carrier that travelled all over the Pacific Ocean. He worked in the boiler room where it was so hot the shifts were limited to four hours.

After being discharged from the Navy, Bob found his way to Parsippany where he found lodging in a boarding house, working part time assisting the manager.  He began attending the Parsippany Methodist Church – the little white church on the hill – where he sang bass in the choir.  It was there on Easter Sunday, 1959 that Bob and Marge first laid eyes on one another.  According to Bob, he knew then and there that they would one day marry.  Marge had previously sung in the choir, but was taking a break, but with this attractive young man now adding his voice she promptly joined back on to sing, though she made a point of playing “hard to get” in regard to Bob’s overtures.  From his friend Bob Dixon Bob got the low down on who the cute blond girl was, and where she lived.

Not long afterwards Bob happened to be driving in Marge’s neighborhood when he found her in the driveway washing her car.  Marge was wearing her short shorts, and she dashed back inside to get put on something more presentable become coming back out to talk with the young suitor.

Bob’s first attempt to ask Marge out on a date fell flat since Marge was already booked for a date with someone else, but Bob persisted.  Before long Bob got Marge to agree on their first date – they went bowling together. Beginning with the second date Bob began dropping comments in passing in which he would refer to some point in the future when they would be married.  At first Marge ignored these comments, not quite sure what to make of them, but before long it was clear where this romance was headed.

Bob and Marge had a lot of fun together.  They enjoyed going dancing at DeMao’s on Route 10.  Once in the summer of 1959 Bob and Marge went Square Dancing at a picnic at Mazdabrook Farm, and although they had never really square danced before, they won $50 that night as the couple that danced the best together. Interestingly, they used the money to open a joint savings account.  On New Year’s Eve of 1959 Bob and Marge stayed out so late at a party that exhausted they fell asleep in the driveway of Marge’s parents’ house.

In March of 1960 Bob took Marge out to dinner at Three Sisters on Route 46 in Dover, bringing along his sister Cookie and her husband Bubby.  Bubby’s job was to carry the impressive engagement ring Bob had bought for the occasion, which at the right moment Bob presented to Marge. “Will you marry me?” he asked.  Marge said “Yes!”

Six months later on September 3, 1960 Bob and Marge were married in the little white church on the hill.  Rev. Downing officiated, and afterwards 100 people gathered at the Birchwood Manor for a reception.  Following the wedding party Bob and Marge spent a romantic week in the Poconos staying at a honeymoon suite on Echo Lake.

Following their marriage, the new couple lived for a year with Marge’s mother and Father before moving out on their own to a house in Lake Parsippany at 100 Jacksonville Drive.  Bob had begun working for Sea Land in Newark in shipping and receiving.  He began working on the docks, but over time moved into the office.   On the side Gog attended Farleigh Dickinson steadily making his way towards a BA in business.  Over time Bob would eventually attain the position of Director of Internal Revenue.

Suzie was born in February of 1963 in the midst of a huge snow storm.  When the time came to go to the hospital Bob called the doctor and the minister and then proceeded to feverishly dig out the driveway, concluding by tossing the snow shovel like a javelin into the neighbor’s yard, whereupon he drove Marge to All Souls Hospital on Mt. Kimball Road in Morristown.

In September of 1964 the young family moved to the house on Northfield that would be home for the rest of Bob’s life.

Debbie was born two years after Sue in March of 1965, once more in a snow storm, but this time not quite as bad.   The rush to the hospital however was a bit more intense this time because Marge’s water had already broken at home.

Eric arrived six years later in June of 1971 — no snow storm this time, but Bob did manage to get stuck in an elevator.  When finally he made it to the waiting room, the doctor announced, “Your son has arrived.”

Bob and Marge gratefully received the gift of their three beautiful children and stood strong together through the scary times of parenting when their children dealt with health concerns or other troubles.   They always trusting that things would work out in the end; they were always a team. And along the way they were able to provide their children with wonderfully happy childhoods.

On summer evenings included outings where all the kids would get packed into the station wagon to go to the drive-in theater in Morris Plains, where the kids would play in the play ground until it was time for the movie to start, and then climb back into the car and promptly fall asleep.  After the drive home, Bob would carry them each into the house and put them to bed.

There were ice cream trips to O’Dowds in Pine Brook, followed by wanderings about the auction under the big tent.

There were tap dancing lessons for all the kids and, of course dance recitals.

From 1972 all the way through 1989, there were camping trips with their trailer for weekends and sometimes longer — to Tall Timbers in Vernon, where there was swimming, boating, fishing, softball, arcades, and dancing.  Friends like the Johnsons and the Beermans would visit and new friends would be made as they sat together around campfires.  There were trips to Vernon Valley, to Hershey Poconos and to Rocking Horse Ranch.

There was a trip to the World Fair in Montreal in 1967, and trips to Maine and Boston.  There were trips to the Jersey Shore; to Seaside, Point Pleasant and Wildwood for a week or two at a time.

There was a trip that was supposed to end up in Niagara Falls, but the old station wagon broke down in White Haven, Pennsylvania, providing a lesson in trust as the family found hospitality from a lovely couple that took them into their home for a couple of days and helped them get their car fixed.

The approach of Christmas always meant a trip to Pennsylvania to search for just the right tree.  Wandering about in a sea of trees the family would call out to one another about various possibilities, finally coming to agreement about the biggest tree they could find.  After tying the tree to the roof of the station wagon the ride home always included a stop at a diner for lunch.

On Christmas Eve, the family would always go to the candlelight service at the church, and then Bob and Marge would stay up to 3 a.m. playing Santa Claus.  Suzie would wake up at 4:30 and they would have to coax her back to bed, and then in the morning there were so many presents, and a bountiful dinner prepared by Marge with lots of company.

So many memories.  There was the Great Bat Caper with the Gilmores in which the wives and the children fled the house upon the sudden appearance of a bat, leading Bob and Tom to arm themselves with tennis rackets to bravely do battle to deliver the house of the bat invader.  There was a trip to the Statue of Liberty with the Gilmores when the Mortensen children were 10, 8 and 2 in which Bob carried little Eric all the way to the very top.

There were always beloved dogs around:  Patches, who beget Frosty; there was Brooks, Daisy and Princess.  At certain points Bob and Marge would breed Corinne Terriers, `bringing a litter of puppies into the house.

Through the years Bob and Marge sang in the choir at the church, passing on a love of music to Suzie.  They worked on Roast Beef Dinners and helped decorate the Church for Christmas.  The whole family looked forward to the monthly potluck family nights.   At a church talent show one time Bob and Marge sang an unforgettable duet of Maurice Chevalier’s “I remember.”

In Bob and Marge’s house, there was always room for others who needed a place to stay.  In 1987 Debbie’s friend Dee moved in and remained a part of the household fourteen years.

In 1990 Bob’s brother Siggy was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease so Bob brought him into their home where he and Marge looked after him for ten months.

When Bob retired in 1992 the boating chapter of Bob’s life began, as he and Marge bought a 33 ft boat with a closed cabin and cockpit in the back, with which they would cruise around Barnaget and Seaside. Later there would be a 40 ft cabin cruiser that needed a lot of work. Weekends were spent from Thursday through Monday in their “floating hotel” at the shore, where Bob perpetually worked to restore and fix up the boat.

Around 2003 Bob got certified to scuba dive.  Unfortunately Marge’s health began to decline, so there wasn’t much opportunity to engage in this new adventure as trips away became from home became less frequent.  In the last year of her life Bob was always at Marge’s side, so devoted, so faithful.

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Bob was there at Marge’s bedside along with the rest of the family, when Marge left this earth on October 21st, 2006 after 46 years of marriage.

This past week when Bob died, Sue found in her father’s wallet a picture of Bob and Marge on the day of their wedding.

In his later years Bob adopted yet another dog from the pound, feeling drawn to one particular sweet, quiet dog.  After he had chosen the dog, he found out that, mysteriously the name of the dog was “Marge.” The dog would respond to no other name.

Bob adored his grandchildren:  Suzy and Nick’s daughter Natasha close at hand here in New Jersey, and then Eric and Isabelle’s boys Tyler and Ryan, to whom Bob would travel to Florida to be present for their birthdays, bringing along his dog with whom the boys particularly enjoyed playing.

Bob was a gentle and kind man devoted to his family, consistently offering himself in service to others, always willing to lend a helping hand. He would take neighbors to doctors’ appointments, or travel an hour to pick up a friend of Debbie’s who was stranded.

Bob was a faithful member of Saint Johns Masonic Lodge for over fifty years, where served for many years as the chaplain, visiting fellow lodge members in the hospital, saying prayers with them.  By his bedside he kept prayers he had written in that capacity.

He loved children, and for twenty years in retirement Bob worked as a crossing guard, safely shepherding children across the road.

In his later years as a widower Bob enjoyed the companionship of Terecita Vaca, and when she became sick, once again Bob was the attentive caregiver until her passing in March of 2016.

Bob was always a very hard worker — active and fit right up until he recently became sick. He found it hard to sit still and would think nothing of driving himself all the way down to Florida to see Eric, Isabelle and the boys.  Just this past June Bob made a trip with Suzie, Nick and Natasha to Hawaii where he enjoyed walking all over the beautiful islands in that ocean he had spent so much time in long ago in his years in the Navy.

The Eulogy for Fred L. Coleman

Filed under: Eulogies — Pastor Jeff at 9:26 pm on Saturday, August 26, 2017

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Fred Leonard Coleman was born on December 4, 1933 in Philadelphia, the third child born to Fred and Hilda Coleman. Fred was preceded in birth by his sisters Thelma and Marion.  When Fred was one year old, the family moved to New York City, where five more Colemans were born:   Lolita, Stanley, Rudy, Bobby and Leon.  The family first lived in Manhattan where Fred’s father worked as a policeman, moving to the Bronx when Fred was six.  Fred remembered his life in the Bronx fondly, enjoying the companionship of his brothers and sisters, as well as the many friends he made.

Graduating from high school in 1951, Fred enlisted in the Signal Corp of the Artillery in the Army.  He was first assigned to Fort Dix, after which he received training in Personnel Administration at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana.  Fred worked in Operations Intelligence with Top Secret Clearance, including six months at the North Pole which led to Fred’s life-long distaste for the cold.

After three years of service to his country, Fred was discharged in 1954. Fred married Katherine Roberts in 1951 who gave birth to Fred’s son Leonard and daughter Valerie.  Sadly, Katherine died in 1955 of cancer leaving Fred a widower and the single father of two small children.  Two years after Katherine’s death Fred married Jeri Smith in 1957, and although the marriage ended in divorce in 1960, the marriage did produce the blessing of Fred’s daughter Vicky.  Fred also adopted Jeri’s two children, Anthony and Patrice.

Fred began working for Dell Publishing in Pine Brook, NJ in 1956.  Weary of the commute from the Bronx, in the early sixties Fred looked for a place to live in Parsippany.  Because of prejudice against the color of Fred’s skin, apartments that were available when he called over the phone would mysteriously disappear when he would show up in person to view them. Thanks thought to his well known charm and humor, Fred eventually managed to break the color barrier and rent an apartment on Baldwin Road, becoming, by his account, the first Black resident of Parsippany. 20479660_2113341618682194_4725026666330988791_n Before long, Fred was one of the most popular residents in town.  Never developing an interest in cooking, Fred would get supper in local restaurants, particularly the Empire Diner.  He had a knack for getting into a conversation with whoever was at hand, invariably getting them to laugh with him. Fred’s warm-hearted kindness and his wonderful sense of humor drew friends to him like bees to honey.

For many years he belonged to a bowling league, providing another avenue for making friends.  Fred got involved in local community theater.  At some point he began working at BASF in Whippany in data processing, which opened him up to yet again a whole new field of friends.

Fred developed a life-long passion for portrait photography, and with a particular fondness for the ladies, he would invite the women he met to pose for him while he worked his craft, covering his apartment walls with the beauty of their faces.

When she was 17, Fred’s daughter Vicky moved in with him, living with him for three years.  She remembers how much fun her Daddy was.  One of her favorite memories was the time her Daddy was going on and on about how he had developed the ability to hypnotize people.  Vicky was adamant that he could not hypnotize her.  And so he proceeded to demonstrate his ability. Fooling her father, Vicky pretended that she been put sound to sleep by the sound of his soothing voice.  “All right,” said Fred said, “When I count to three and snap my fingers, you will wake up.”  Which he did, but she wouldn’t wake up.  He snapped again, and kept saying “wake up,” but still she seemed stuck in a deep, sound asleep.  At which point Freddie freaked, afraid his power to hypnotize had been too powerful.  When Vicky let him know she was just fooling, they laughed and laughed.

After his retirement from BASF, Fred began coming to our church invited by his friend Sharon Adam.  We quickly learned what a blessing Fred was with his warm heart and his delight in sharing a laugh.  It just so happened that the Sunday Fred professed his faith in the Lord and became a member of our church was Valentine’s Day of 1999, which in retrospect seems appropriate because it became a running joke that Fred had intentions of marrying pretty much every eligible woman in the Church.

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But Fred was a bit of paradox in this regard.  He was a perpetual romantic, constantly imagining his coming wedding day, while simultaneously being for the last 57 years of his life a confirmed bachelor who cherished his personal space. Recognizing Fred’s gifts with people and the time he had on his hands in retirement, I invited Fred to take the position of “office minister,” sitting in the church office three days a week to receive phone calls and visitors. The church treasurer is also named Fred, so we had White Fred and Black Fred.

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White Fred is a magician as well as a clown who does balloon sculptures. This is a picture of Fred sitting at his desk covered with a multitude of balloon sculptures, conveying something of the joy Fred brought to his work.

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On a pretty regular basis people would stop by the office for the specific purpose of visiting with Fred. He listened, and counseled, a great many people with their problems. He took his job very seriously, and consistently dressed better than I did, generally wearing a suit.

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I joked about how he was my pastor decoy, and that if some crazed lunatic ever got it in his head to come to the church to shoot a pastor, I was going to point to Fred when the lunatic asked which one of us was the pastor, and was pretty certain, given the fact that Fred looked more like what a pastor was supposed to look like, that the lunatic would believe me. I felt loved by Freddie, and think he probably would have taken a bullet for me if he was called upon to do so.  He was so supportive of me.  We laughed together, and I felt safe venting my occasional frustrations, knowing that Fred had my back.

He was also the person who most consistently voiced the opinion that God could be trusted in all things.  I have a story I tell of a little God moment I had.  I was in a bit of a funk, and I decided to leave my house for a walk to clear my head.  God wasn’t feeling very close to me, and I thought to myself as I began my walk that maybe I should listen to the things I’ve often said from the pulpit about what to do at such times, which is basically to pray.  So I did, asking God for some kind of sign that God was with me.  About a minute later I came to cross S. Beverwyck Road, and there coming down the road in his “Fred mobile” – you know that old Cadillac with “Fred 1” on the license plate – was none other than Fred himself, giving me a honk and a wave.

And I thought to myself, “I got my sign.”

Freddie took pride and pleasure in the Coleman extended family, and enjoyed the reunions that were held in 1991, 2004 and 2011 in the New York and Philly area.  His three children brought forth sixteen grandchildren into the world and it became difficult to keep track of all the great grand children and great, great grand children.

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Here at the church we got used to Fred standing up every so often announcing in our time for sharing joys that another baby had been added to the family. The children of our church also were altogether charmed by Fred.

So it seemed appropriate that Freddie should play Father Abraham in a children’s sermon I once gave.  Abraham – the original example of trusting God – to whom God said look up at the stars and count them if you can, for your descendants will be as many as the stars. Fred’s faith was on display when in 2001 Freddie had a major stroke, leaving the right side of his body significantly weakened.

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Tom Albert got him to the hospital and visited him every day there and in the two months of rehab that followed at the Kessler Institute in Chester.  Throughout the whole ordeal, Fred’s positive, determined, keep-the-faith attitude was an inspiration to all of us, including the staff and fellow patients at the Kessler. When it came time for a graduation ceremony for those who had made it through the rigorous program of physical therapy rehab, they all selected Fred to give the graduation  speech, and it was truly an inspiration.

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Before long, Fred was back at his post in the Church office.  He served in the capacity of “office minister” for over ten years, and as his health declined, it pained him to give his position up.

Fred’s family threw a wonderful surprise 80th birthday party for Fred, with our fellowship hall packed full of family and church friends. It was a great time, and Fred was truly beaming.  You made him feel so loved.

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As time passed, it was becoming harder and harder for Fred to get up and own the stairs of his 2nd floor apartment on Baldwin Road, so we organized a move to Brookside Senior Center where they have an elevator, and at least twenty people from Church pitched in to help get Fred and all his many, many possessions moved across town.  He was happy there for a time.

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Unfortunately though, repeated falls returned him to the hospital, and after just six months he ended up at Troy Hills Center. Fred had always made a point of telling us he expected to live to be 120, so it was very hard for Fred to accept the limitations that the decline of his body brought upon him. Not surprisingly, he was a staff and resident favorite and his sense of humor became famous. Jack Walsh from our church visited him everyday and brought him cookies. Other church friends visited often as well, as did his family.

Fred didn’t live to be 120, but he outlived all seven of his brothers and sisters, as well as his son Leonard and daughter Valerie, and they were all waiting for him on the other side when he took his last breath on August 1st,2017.  

I think you will agree that rarely have you met someone in life who evoked so much laughter.  Fred loved to laugh, and it was never at people – it was always with people.  And there is a lightness of spirit that comes from laughter – a certain freedom from self-absorption.  He invited us to laugh with him, and in doing so he loved us. And we honor him by loving one another, sharing tears and sharing laughter, until we take our last breaths and meet together with Fred and Jesus on the far shore.

The Eulogy for Lois Jorgensen Kelshaw

Filed under: Eulogies — Pastor Jeff at 10:23 pm on Friday, August 4, 2017

Lois Jorgensen Kelshaw was born on May 26, 1926 in Morristown, NJ to Arthur and Mildred Jorgensen.  Her younger brother Charlie was born six years after Lois in 1932.

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Their Dad Arthur, the son of Danish emigrants, was a hardworking plumber, but times were hard and the family didn’t have much money.  In a time in this country in which the races were usually segregated, the Jorgensen family lived in an integrated neighborhood in Morristown and Lois and her brother had African-American friends at whose houses they would have sleepovers.  The family attended the Morristown Methodist church, where Lois started Sunday School at the age of four.  Later she would sing in the choir.   In high school Lois worked part time at Greenberger’s Department Store.

Lois graduated from Morristown High School in 1944 in the midst of World War II.  She grieved for classmates who went off to war and never came back.  Lois had considered going to nursing school, but instead went to work at Bell Labs in Berkley Heights, moving shortly afterwards to Ciba in Summit.  The father of her dear friend Jean hired Lois to work alongside Jean in the office of his company called “Swain’s Automatic.”  Sadly, Jean was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Lois faithfully visited her daily until the day she died.

After Jean’s death Lois continued to work for Jean’s father, as well as for Mr. Hamilton who had an electric company and shared office space with Swain’s Automatic.

Lois got married, but the marriage was a miserable one and lasted only four years.   Divorced at a time when divorce was not so common, Lois felt quite alone and unhappy, and angry at God and she stopped attending church.

A young man by the name of Jack Kelshaw would call the office where Lois worked and say, “Hello, Chickadee!” They would chat, but they never met in person until Lois was surprised to discover that Jack was the best man in a wedding party in which she was a bridesmaid.  Soon afterwards they began dating.  Jack lived in Mt. Tabor with his parents.  They dated for four years before marrying.  They might have married earlier, but Jack was adamant that they had to find a church they could belong to — one in which Lois would feel comfortable.

So Jack and Lois visited many churches before ending up at the “little white church on the hill” — the Parsippany Methodist Church.  Lois was deeply touched by the warm welcome she and Jack received there.  They were finally married in Lois’ parents’ house on August 16, 1958 by Rev. Walton who personally embroidered their wedding license.  Rev. Walton and his wife took a special affection towards Lois and Jack, “adopting” them as their own children.

And so it was through God’s grace, manifest first through Jack, and then through the good folks at the Parsippany Methodist Church, that Lois once more drew close to God.  A month after their wedding, during worship on September 21st, 1958 Lois and Jack professed their faith in the Lord, becoming members of the church.

Though this might be surprising to most of us, by her own accounting as a young person Lois had been rather shy, but Jack — who was quite the warm-hearted extrovert — drew Lois out of her shell.  With Jack’s example and the warm embrace of the extended family Lois found in the church, Lois learned how to be the outgoing and kind-hearted woman we all would come to know and love – the person who never failed to be the first person to greet every newcomer who ever walked into our church.

It is striking how, if we allow God, the Holy Spirit will work through our suffering and disappointment.  The heartbreak of Lois’ first, short-lived marriage was certainly not how Lois would ever have chosen to begin her adult life, and it led her into a time of darkness for sure.  But it seems to me that it led to two beautiful things about Lois:  first, her deep gratitude for the life and love she found with Jack.  So often in life we don’t appreciate the blessings we have been given without having some kind of experience of going without the blessing.  Lois had a very grateful heart.

The second thing going through that time of darkness did for Lois was to give her a profound sensitivity to what it feels like to be alone in this world – to be the outsider – which in turn made it possible for her to be such a sincerely warm and welcoming presence to the strangers in our midst.  She knew how it felt to be alone and left out of the circle.

Following their wedding, Lois and Jack moved into the house on Lake Shore Drive in Lake Parsippany that they would call “home” for essentially the rest of their lives.  Lois took a job working for Dr. Marias, a dentist nearby as his bookkeeper and receptionist.

Lois and Jack had wanted to have children, but it wasn’t to be.

But Lois and Jack took this disappointment and their desire to serve the Lord transformed it into something beautiful – the love they showered on so many others.

Jack took a job working as a custodian in the Parsippany School System, working in several different schools where through the years hundreds of school children would come to know him fondly as “Uncle Jack.” At Halloween hundreds of children would go out of their way to pay a visit to the home of Uncle Jack and Aunt Lois.

Lois and Jack became particularly appreciative of their nieces and nephews:  of Mary Lou, Tim and Jane Marie – the three children of Lois’ brother Charlie and his wife Marion, and later their children and grandchildren as well:  Jane, Greg, Caroline, Matthew, Anna, Christine, and Mary Kate, as well as to Jack’s nephew Alvie and niece Nancy, and Nancy’s grandchildren Franklin, Amy, Justin and Christal.

And of course, here at the church there were so many of us who found in Lois a second mother or grandmother, particularly those of us who had lost our mothers and grandmothers.

Lois and Jack adopted a puppy from a litter Lois’ brother Charlie had, and named her Daisy Mae.  At some point Jack brought a stray cat home from school which they named Pumpkin.  Daisy Mae and Pumpkin lived happily in the Kelshaw household for about thirteen years.

Doris and Tom Bradley and their daughter Barbara joined the church in 1966 and soon became the best of friends with Lois and Jack.  Barbara was particularly fond of Daisy Mae.  Lois, Doris, Jack, Tom and Barb were all innately joyful people, and together they shared many a good time with much laughter.

Sadly, Tom died suddenly of a heart attack in 1979, and it was Lois and Jack who went to break the news to Doris and Barb and to hold them in their time of grief.

Later, when Lois’s father died of emphysema, Lois’ mother asked if Jack and Lois would come live with her in her home in Morris Plains, and Jack said “absolutely.” So they rented out the house on Lake Shore Drive moved in with Lois’ mom so Lois and Jack could look after her mother.

It was there in 1989 that Jack suddenly died from a heart attack.  Lois was moved by how many parents came with their school children to the funeral home to pay their respects to “Uncle Jack.”

Lois continued living in Morris Plains to care for her mother, who gradually required more and more attention.  Over the course of thirteen years Lois would take her mother to the Presbyterian Church in Morris Plains where her mother was a member. During this time Lois missed seeing her church family, finding her mother’s church cold by comparison.

Throughout these years Doris and her mother Lee would come over and play Uno with Lois and her mother, and they had a lot of fun together.

Lois was also very close to Ken and Madeline Ormsbee and their children, Barry and Denise (White).   She would go to their house each year for Easter dinner.

Lois lovingly nursed her mother when she got sick with cancer.  When she died in 2002, Lois returned to the house in Lake Parsippany.  When Jack had died, the companionship of her mother and the care she needed to some degree distracted Lois from her grief. Now she found herself feeling all alone.  One Sunday morning, Lois sensed God saying to her:  “Put on your clothes and go to back to your church home!” Lois was overjoyed by the reception she received upon her return. “Lois is back!” everybody cheered.

Over the course of 59 years of membership Lois’ involvements including pretty much everything. She sang in the choir and was active in the United Methodist Women.  She taught Sunday school and took trips with the PUMAs.  She helped out at fund raisers – Lois and Doris were always in charge of the dessert table at dinners.  She played in the bell choir.

Lois was always up for fun – for instance, dressing up as Eve with Doris McDermott as Adam for a talent show, playing Sarah to Fred Coleman’s Abraham for a children’s sermon, dancing and lip synching as the “Cumberland Girls” with Doris, Marion Steen and Joy Frandsen.

I even got Lois to act in one of my big Christmas plays just 3 ½ years ago at the age of 87.  She stole the show essentially playing herself.

Lois attended Bible studies where some of us fondly remember her repeated exasperation with how the Bible can be so confusing and how people lose track of the basic message that God loves us and we should love one another – love everybody – like Jesus told us to do.

When people become members of our church, they are invited to choose a sponsoring member to stand with them at the altar on the day they are received. I would estimate that over the years there have been at least twenty people who have requested Lois to stand with them. Nobody else comes close to that number.  They wanted Lois because she was the first one to greet them and make them feel at home here in the circle of God’s love.

She would invite church members with no place to call home to come and live for a time in the upstairs apartment of her house.

Lois was a composer of clever poems, and the writer of countless thoughtful cards remembering birthdays and giving encouragement in times of need.  She was a good and faithful friend.

Having experienced herself the pain of losing a husband, Lois would always be there for other women when they found themselves widowed.  Betty Polen recalls how the morning after Ray died, Lois didn’t ask — she just left a message saying, “I’m on my way” — and then how comforting Lois’ presence was throughout Betty’s first day without her husband.

Hank and Myra Heitschel were also long time close friends of Lois going back fifty years.  Like Lois and Jack, Hank and Myra had no children of their own, and felt a special bond with our church family. In her latter years, Myra suffered from severe diabetes which led to the amputation of her lower legs.  Hank was so tenderly devoted to Myra, and she loved him so.

In 2001 a sudden, severe case of pancreatitis put Hank in the hospital. Lois went over to the house to stay with Myra and look after her.  In the middle of his third night in the hospital the heartbreaking news arrived that Hank had died.

I will always remember what Lois did.  She climbed in bed with Myra and cradled her in her arms as Myra quietly wept till the sun rose.

Afterwards with Doris’ help, Lois learned to drive Hank’s big van with the lift to take Myra to her doctor’s appointments.  Myra only lasted three months without her beloved Hank, and throughout that time, Lois was continually there for Myra.

Lois’ heart was broken when her niece June Marie died in 2011, and then a year later June’s father — Lois’ little brother Charlie — also departed this world.

Her spirit stayed strong, but a couple of years back Lois’ body began to give out – hips broke that put her in the hospital, followed by stays at rehab centers.  I remember Lois’ first stay in Troy Hills Center.  It was like she was the nursing home’s volunteer chaplain, spending all her free time when she was doing physical therapy giving encouragement to the other residents and staff.

She had a roommate who had suffered a stroke, which in turn brought on depression.  The woman was a beloved member of an Episcopal church up in Sparta, and would received visits from her priest.  The priest was so moved by the tenderness with which Lois treated her parishioner that she sent Lois this beautiful letter marveling at how God had so lovingly used her to comfort and encourage her roommate.

It was a tough final year of Lois’ life when the reality sank in that her body wasn’t up to leaving the nursing home, and her body slowly got weaker and weaker.

Through it all, whenever I’d visit Lois was always so interested to hear about my family and about the church family, and she would remember details in our lives easily forgotten. And this I remember from the end of all our visits: I would grasp Lois’ hands and pray for her, and when I was done praying, she wouldn’t let go, instead she would begin to pray so sweetly, so thoughtfully for me.

I want to publicly express my appreciation for Lois’ niece Mary Lou for being so faithful to Lois in this last difficult stretch of her life.  You were always there for your aunt.  It wasn’t easy, but you were Lois’ rock.

Lois embodied the love of God that was revealed so wondrously when God drew near to us in Jesus. I don’t know that you could come up with a better image for the tender love of God than that of Lois in the middle of the night climbing into bed with broken-hearted Myra, cradling her in her arms until the sun rose.

And so Lois’ sufferings are over – she has passed through the dark night to the sunrise of a new day.  In the bright shining light of heaven she was met by her mother and her father, by Jack, and her brother Charlie, and her niece June Marie.  Tom Bradley was there too, and Ken and Madeline, and Myra and Hank, and Ray, and Helen and Al and so many others.

It is special people like Lois who remind us that in the end we were put here on earth to love.  Everything else really doesn’t matter, we are here to express God’s love.  Love is the only thing that never ends; everything else passes away.

Lois loves us still, and one day we will meet together again on the far shore.  Until that day, let us honor Lois’ life by trying as we can to love one another as she loved us – to share together the laughter and the tears that come our way – keeping our hearts open, and our spirits willing.

The Eulogy Sermon for Ethel Rounsaville

Filed under: Eulogies — Pastor Jeff at 11:38 pm on Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Eulogy Sermon for Ethel Rounsaville

April 18, 2017

1Corinthians 13

Ethel rounsavilleI remember when I first met Ethel.  It was June of 1982. I was 26 years old, fresh out of seminary, and newly arrived in Everittstown, sometime during the week before my first Sunday leading worship.  It was late afternoon and I must have been out on the porch of the parsonage, because Ethel saw me as she drove by and stopped, got out of her car and greeted me.  She was wearing her visiting nurse uniform, on her way home from her work caring for some sick, home bound patient.  Ethel said a few words of warm welcome, which I appreciated.  I had never lived out in the country, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there, fearing I would be lonely living out there surrounded by farms.

Since I received word of Ethel’s death at the age of 95 I’ve been thinking a lot about that memory.  I’ve now lived significantly more years of my life since that moment in time than I had lived up to that moment.  I did the math, and Ethel was at the time of our meeting a few months younger that I am now.  And so it’s made me pretty conscious of the passage of time, and in true Ethel fashion, a verse from a hymn came to mind, that of Isaac Watt’s, “O God Our Help in Ages Past”:

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the op’ning day.

“They fly, forgotten, as a dream…”  Time rushes by, but one of the expressions of the love that lived in Ethel’s heart was that she didn’t forget — she held me and so many others in her heart with the loveliness of her memory.   Though I only rarely saw her in the 28 years since I left Everittstown, Ethel would remember me with cards at Christmas and on my birthday.  She would let me know that she was still holding me in her heart, recalling the details of my life — not only the details of the seven years I spent there in Everittstown — but also the details of the years since – the family I formed in my post-Everittstown years.  Even as her health failed, the cards continued, the last as I recall dictated by her and written by the hand of her beloved home health aide.

Hearing of Ethel’s passing during Holy Week, she was on my mind as I once again experienced the story of Good Friday.  I thought of Ethel when I heard the words exchanged by the thief on the cross with Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.  The thief cries out, “Lord, when you come into your kingdom, remember me.” And Jesus replies, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” We long to be remembered, and Ethel did just that.  And now she is in paradise with Jesus, and she remembers us still.

The second to last time I saw Ethel was a couple of years ago.  My wife Sarah was recovering from a virus that had kept her housebound for several days, and it was a lovely Spring day so we decided to take a drive out into the country through Everittstown and beyond – to see where my mother — who had recently died –had once lived across the river in Pennsylvania.  We meant to travel incognito – but I stopped in the grocery store in Frenchtown to get some throat lozenges for my wife – and as I did, both Sarah and I had this feeling that I would run into somebody I knew, and sure enough I did.  There was Bruce coming out as I came in, greeting me warmly and encouraging me to stop by the house to see his mom.  Our meeting seemed mysteriously planned by God, and so in the late afternoon on our way back home we did stop, and while Sarah — concerned with the germs she might be carrying stayed outside talking with Bruce — I went in to the house to visit with Ethel.  She greeted me with such delight, and we reminisced, and the visit is the memory that stands out from that day.  Ethel remembered my mother well from her occasional visits to Everittstown all those years ago.  She understood what my mother had meant to me, and the grief I was feeling.

Because of his love for soccer, Sarah and I sent our youngest son Bobby to a Catholic Prep school in Newark run by Benedictine monks.  I learned that Benedictines have a vow they take that distinguishes them from other orders which they call a “vow of stability to place.”  They make a vow to stay settled in one place for their entire lives.   This is a passage I came across describing the vow:

We vow to remain all our life with our local community. We live together, pray together, work together, relax together. We give up the temptation to move from place to place in search of an ideal situation. Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion. And when interpersonal conflicts arise, we have a great incentive to work things out and restore peace. This means learning the practices of love and forgiving.

Ethel intuitively grasped the meaning of a “vow to stability of place”, staying planted on the same beautiful patch of farm land, in that same small farm house for nearly 75 years – the home she had raised her four greatly loved children:  Dave, Carol, Bruce and Tim.  She rarely strayed far from that home or the community of Everittstown and Frenchtown, staying put to love the family and neighbors God had given her to love, and at times grieving deeply, as she did when her heart broke for her son Tim when he was taken too soon.

Ethel cultivated friendships.  I remember in particular her friendship with Margaret Bush, her next door neighbor and for a long stretch of time the director of the choir Ethel sang in all those years in Everittstown – two good talkers who treasured each other, sharing a love of music, especially music sung unto the Lord.  I remember how heartily they laughed together.  “My sweet little Ethel,” is how Margaret used to refer to her dear friend.

The last time I saw Ethel was when I visited her in the hospital six weeks ago in Morristown.  I marveled once again at all the hymns she knew by heart – how in the solitude that life often imposed upon this innately sociable woman — especially as her health deteriorated in later years — she would have her hymns to turn to – songs through which she poured forth to God all that was within her heart.  She recalled the anthem – not just the title, but the words themselves – that was sung on my first Sunday leading worship in Everittstown, appropriately titled, “Love Grows Here.”

When I arrived in Everittstown thirty-five years ago, I longed to feel like a grown up — like somebody strong and wise who had his life pretty much all together.  In truth, I was anything but – I was in fact a pretty broken person — a child trying to put on the clothes of a grown up.

My seven years in Everittstown were not easy ones for me — not but because of the congregation — but because of my own personal inner turmoil. I arrived as I said quite lonely, and three years into my tenure my loneliness led me to enter an ill-conceived marriage after a courtship of just six months.  The whole community gathered to pack the Everittstown Church to celebrate the wedding.  The marriage led, nineteen months after the wedding to the blessing of the birth of Andrew, my beloved first born child, but just eight months after his birth my wife and I separated, eventually divorcing.

My parents had gotten divorced, and with some arrogance I had been determined that I would never do the same.  “Love… is not arrogant,” said the Apostle Paul, and I was humbled in my time in Everittstown.

When the possibility arose in my mind that my marriage would end in divorce, the thought that arose alongside that possibility was that such an outcome would mean the end of my ministry — that it would expose me as a fraud and envelop me in shame.

For quite some time as my marriage deteriorated I had been quietly withdrawing from people.  But as the separation came to pass, people like Ethel reached out to me with unconditional love, and also practical help and support as I spent a great deal of time parenting my very young son.  Loved in my brokenness, the connection I felt with folks grew very deep. Although by then I had been an ordained minister for several years, it was during this time that I first experienced the true meaning of grace.

As the years have passed, my clarity that I do, in fact have a calling to be a pastor has deepened.  I have grown into this vocation.  I am no longer a child trying to play a part, but a pastor with frailties easily acknowledged relying upon Christ’s power made perfect in weakness.  It might not have been so.  I very well could have left the ministry, if not for the grace experienced through folks like Ethel.

Love, the Apostle Paul reminds us, is the one thing that that doesn’t end.  Everything else passes away.  And love is all that really matters.  That is why God put us here on earth: to learn to love.  We all have blockages in our heart that impedes the flow of God’s love through us, but hopefully as we embrace this journey of following Jesus, through the grace of God these blockages begin to give way.

John Wesley believed in the possibility of being perfected in love in this life, though he did not claim to have reached such full “sanctification” for himself.  He believed that for the vast majority of us the moment when this perfection of love occurs is in the moment of our deaths.  Jesus stands before us in a blaze of light and love inviting us to come and enter his kingdom.  The only requirement is that we leave behind all those things to which we have clung in the course of our lives that has blocked the flow of God’s love.

In my imagination, when Ethel breathed her last breath and came to that glorious moment of invitation into the kingdom, after 95 years of faithfully practicing the ways of love there wasn’t much left for her to leave behind.  She stepped freely, joyfully into the embrace of the Lord.

I thought of Ethel on Good Friday when I sang the old hymn, “What Wondrous Love Is This.”  The final verse in particular struck me.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,  and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on; and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be, and through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on, and through eternity I’ll sing on.

Sing on, Ethel.  Sing with Tim, and Orville, and Margaret and all the saints.  Sing on and joyful be.  And one day we hope to join you in that song.

Ethel’s Obituary

Ethel L. Rounsaville ALEXANDRIA TOWNSHIP, NJ Ethel L. Rounsaville, 95, of Alexandria Township, NJ, passed away on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at her home. Ethel was born in Philadelphia, PA, on Sept. 14, 1921. She was the only child of Otto and Mae (Weldon) Hubenthal. Ethel’s early years were spent in Philadelphia as her father was a police officer. Upon her father’s retirement, the family moved to North Wales, PA, before settling in Alexandria Township, NJ, in the 1930s. Ethel graduated from Frenchtown High School. She was a member of the National Honor Society in 1940, the first year the honor society was instituted at Frenchtown High School. She worked as a telephone exchange operator in Frenchtown. Ethel was married in 1942 to Orville Rounsaville and they resided in their home on Route 513. Together they raised four children, David, Carol, Bruce, and Timothy. To help her husband offset the cost of running a dairy farm and a barbershop, Ethel became a home health aide for the Hunterdon Medical Center Visiting Nurses for 23 years. Ethel was an active member of the Everittstown United Methodist Church for over 70 years. She taught Sunday school, sang in the choir, and was a member of the Women’s Society. Ethel was also a Girl Scout and Brownie leader and the secretary to the now disbanded Frenchtown Senior Citizens. In recent years, Ethel was a member of the Frenchtown Library Book Club, as she was an avid reader. Fellow members were amazed by her total recall of poems from days gone by. Ethel is survived by her children, David Rounsaville and his wife, Terri, Carol Higgins and her husband, Ron, and Bruce Rounsaville and his wife, Amy; her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was preceded by her beloved husband, Orville F. Rounsaville, in 1990 and her son, Timothy Rounsaville. Ethel was a friend to all who knew her. Funeral services will be held on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, at 11 a.m. at the Johnson-Walton Funeral Home, 24 Church Road, Holland Township, NJ. Interment will follow at the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Alexandria Township, NJ.

The Eulogy for Gordon Donald Routhier

Filed under: Eulogies — Pastor Jeff at 10:02 pm on Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Eulogy for Gordon Donald Routhier

October 21, 1952  – February 16, 2017

1-Gordon with Bart in Navy

Gordon Donald Routhier was born October 21, 1952 in Manhattan, NY the fourth child of Charles and Catherine  (nee Swarthout) Routhier.   He was preceded in birth by Dorinda, Joe, Anne and Johnny – all born several years before Gordon came along, and then after Gordon was born his mother gave birth in quick succession to his sister Andree and brother Jeffrey.  They were raised in the Rego Park neighborhood of Queens.  Summers were a particularly happy time growing up because Gordon’s Mom would take the kids upstate to a small town called Bloomington near New Paltz, New York where his parents owned a bungalow.  Gordon and his siblings enjoyed a carefree time freely roaming about the countryside entertaining themselves playing games and fishing.

Gordon’s family was strongly Roman Catholic, and Gordon was baptized and had his first mass at the local Catholic Church, where he served as an altar boy and attended Catholic school.  Throughout his life Gordon had a lively mind with lots of questions, which in time lead to a disconnect between Gordon and the particular form of Catholicism he was exposed to at the time.   For instance, “Why,” Gordon would ask the priest, “do we ring the bell three times?” It was a reasonable question for a boy with an inquisitive mind to ask, but the priest would answer, “Don’t ask foolish questions!” So as Gordon aged, he gradually had little use for the Catholic Church and the God they seemed to represent.

These were turbulent times in our country and Gordon absorbed something of the spirit of rebellion in relationship to authority that was common among those of us growing up in that era.  At the age of 16 Gordon and his brother tried to go to the Woodstock Music Festival which was being held only a half hour away from their summer bungalow, but ended up just spending a day on the outer fringes because such an immense crowd of youthful free spirits had descended on Yasgar’s Farm that it was impossible to get any closer.

Growing up in the diversity of the city life of Queens Gordon had ample opportunity to interact with all kinds of people and so with his gentle nature acceptance of others regardless of religion or race just came naturally to Gordon.  He graduated from high school, and fortunately he got lucky with the number he drew for the draft so he avoided getting sent to Vietnam to fight in the war he strongly opposed.  Gordon said that if they had drafted him, his plan was to move to Canada.

Gordon was devastated at the age of 18 when his father died suddenly of a heart attack.  His father had always been so busy working to support his family and had never been able to share in the leisurely summers the rest of the family enjoyed up in the north country at the family bungalow.  Gordon would carry some sadness throughout his life that he didn’t get more time to get to know his Dad better.

Gordon spent a couple of years at the College of New Paltz before dropping out.  Back in Queens he worked as a cab driver and at a Baskin Robbins ice cream store, before studying to be a draftsman and tool and dye maker.  He found work as a draftsman at L&G Metal in New York City – work he would do for the next thirty years of his life.

Gordon’s real passion, however was for cooking, a love he had absorbed from his family that appreciated a well cooked meal. He taught himself the finer points of the art of the chef by watching Julia Childs on TV.

With his somewhat shy personality Gordon was slow to discover the full power of the realm of romance, but when he found it he found it big time.   At the age of 28 Gordon was at an engagement party for a cousin when his eyes locked onto the eyes of a pretty young woman named Linda, and it was for both of them “love at first sight.”  They came from distinctly different backgrounds – Linda grew up in a small town and was a Navy veteran; Gordon grew up in the city and had been dead set against getting drafted – but something just clicked. Immediately after the party they began dating, which involved Gordon driving two hours north on Fridays to spend the weekend with Linda in the small town where she lived.  He always brought flowers and shrimp.  At the wedding of the couple at whose engagement party they had met, Linda caught the bouquet, and Gordon, of course caught the garter.  Nine months after meeting they got engaged on Christmas Eve, and they were married the following October.

They took a small apartment together in Astoria, Queens, a bit of culture shock for Linda who had to master the intricacies of commuting into Manhattan where she worked for a company in the garment district doing computer consulting.  There was a pizza parlor directly across the street from their apartment, and sometimes all Gordon needed to do when suppertime rolled around was open his window and shout across the street, “Hey, Geno, have pie ready for us!”

Gordon was allergic to dogs and cats so for pets he set up an aquarium in their little apartment with a top tank that held “Oscars” – which I understand are a fairly sizeable fish — and in a lower tank he kept gold fish, which were in essence, supper for the Oscars.  I guess Gordon just liked being around fish, because in the winter time he and Linda would go up to Lake Champlain with friends to go ice fishing, keeping warm in a little shanty with a fire going where they sat, dropping their lines down a hole carved out of the ice, hoping to snag a hungry fish, drinking beer, and listening to the sound of ice cracking.

Gordon himself told me that the happiest day of his life was when his son Bart was born five years after Linda and Gordon got married.  The new family moved into a larger apartment.

Gordon loved being a Dad to Bart.  He would read books to his son and sing songs like “Polly Wolly Doodle All Day” to get Bart to fall asleep.  When Bart was five the family travelled to Florida to do Disney World, and in the years to come there were frequent trips back to Florida to see Linda’s relatives who lived there.

Although Bart was an only child, he had lots of cousins with whom much time was spent, including the gatherings held through the years at Gordon’s sister Andree’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, where Andree and Gordon would share the cooking.   Gordon was always in charge of the gravy.  There were happy trips that Gordon and Bart took with Gordon’s brother Jeff and his son Billy returning to Lake Champlain to camp together.

When Bart was about to enter first grade the family moved here to Parsippany to the house on Allentown Road.  As a draftsman, Gordon was able to do most of his work from home, while Linda endured the daily grind of a commute into New York, so a lot of the day to day hands on work of parenting fell to Gordon.  When Bart became a cub scout, Gordon became for the next four years the only male den leader in town.

Gordon was never much into sports, but to support his son Gordon learned the basics of soccer and became his coach for two years.  He spent five years coaching Bart in little league baseball.  It was through these sports involvements that Gordon and Linda met Bob and Connie Keller, whose son Jonathan is the same age as Bart.  Spending Easter together became a tradition, with Gordon, of course doing the cooking.

The Kellers were deeply involved in this church, but from his less not so positive experience of Church as a child Gordon had become skeptical of religion and identified himself as an agnostic, if not an outright atheist.  Gordon had a keen intellect and was an avid reader with a particular interest for history, and his knowledge of the history of the many horrible things done in the name of God made it easy for him to discount this whole faith business.

He was, however also a passionate fan of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which he read and reread and then when the movies came out, watched and re-watched them as well. JRR Tolkein, the author of “The Lord of the Rings” was a Christian and a close friend of CS Lewis.  The adventures told in these stories are all about what is essentially the spiritual life:  the struggle between good evil, the temptations of pride and the virtue of humility.  They are about courage and sacrifice and love and friendship, with characters capable of both great joy and great melancholy, and a belief that there is far, far more to life than meets the eye.  Looking back, it seems safe to say that his love of these books expressed a side of Gordon that was largely hidden from view – his deeply spiritual nature and his longing for a connection with God. 

It was through Bart that Gordon gradually made his way into the life of our church.  The Kellers’ son Jonathan invited Bart to youth group, and eventually he became a part of the confirmation class as well, and so Gordon followed his son’s leading.

And there were places in the life of our church uniquely suited for Gordon’s gifts, and one of those was in the kitchen, and so soon Gordon was working beside Al Booth and Tom Albert and Len Bostwick and Justin Cogan cooking our Roast Beef and Ham Dinners.   After a while the man who used to sing his infant son to sleep joined our choir to sing praises to the God he now realized had blessed his life abundantly.

When Bart graduated high school he enlisted in the Navy to serve with the SeaBees, which gave Gordon and Linda both a great sense of pride as well as some trepidation, particularly as Bart served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, as well as one in Africa.   But for the majority of his five years in the Navy Bart was stationed in Mississippi, and Gordon and Linda would fly down to visit their son, during one such trip they visited New Orleans.   Gordon got in the habit of accompanying Bart on the long drives between New Jersey and Mississippi so Bart wouldn’t have to make the drive alone.  So there was lots of quality father and son time, the sort Gordon had missed with his father when he was a young man.

In time, both of the companies Gordon and Linda closed leaving them without jobs in New Jersey where the cost of living is inflated, and so about five years ago they decided to move to Florida to be closer to Linda’s family.  After 18 happy years here it wasn’t easy saying goodbye to this community.  Along with the Kellers, Gordon and Linda had made other close friends here at the church.   They were, as Bob said, “the ultimate hosts who always made everyone feel welcome.”  Gordon loved to cook for his friends, so Bob and Connie, Dave and Darryl, Susan and Greg and their daughter Rachel would come over for dinner.  Gordon even got Rachel – normally a vegetarian – to try his ribs.  She liked them.  Anita Baldwin remembers her first visit to Gordon and Linda’s house.  She hadn’t known them very well when she arrived, but by the end of the evening she said they made Anita feel like she had known them forever.

There were other very good friendships that Gordon and Linda had made here in Parsippany, including the Grawhers with whom they’d spend July 4th and many a Friday or Saturday night, and the Hallbacks, with whom they shared New Year’s Eve and the Super Bowl.

So it wasn’t easy, but they sold the house and made the move, buying a mobile home in Hobe Sound.   Initially it was pretty tough for Gordon:  as hard as he tried, he couldn’t find work.   The economy had left behind the role of draftsmen, but Gordon was willing to do anything, but he couldn’t find anything.  He was getting pretty discouraged.

And then finally after six months Gordon and Linda spotted an ad in the local newspaper that a local United Methodist Church was looking for – of all things – a chef.   “Go ahead,” said Linda.  “Head down there and apply.”  He met Pastor Susan.  Gordon’s application was on top of a great pile of applications.  She was impressed that he had previously served in the kitchen of a United Methodist Church, and was taken by Gordon’s gentle, calm demeanor.   She offered him the job on the spot.

It made the world of difference for Gordon in how he felt about himself and the move to Florida.  His job was to run the church’s kitchen and prepare a weekly dinner that raised money for the church’s outreach to the homeless of their community.  In addition, Gordon did some custodial work for the church and got to know the staff of the rather larger church.  They grew very fond of Gordon, the gentle giant. He felt connected, involved.  His life had a sense of purpose.

Things went well until 26 months ago, a week before Christmas, Gordon started coughing up blood.   In shorter order, Gordon was diagnosed with cancer in his esophagus, lungs and liver.  Gordon began radiation and a regimen of chemo every third week.  He was able to continue his work at the church for a year and a half before Gordon became just too tired to go on.

Over time, chemo — his only medical hope for survival, took a brutal toll on Gordon.  Finally this past November 29th a Petscan showed that Gordon wasn’t going to be beat the cancer.  He had, at most six months to live.  Gratefully, the chemo was brought to an end and his quality of life improved.

Gordon had something – or rather someone – to hang on for.  His daughter-in-law, Natasha had given birth to Charlotte, Gordon’s granddaughter, Charlotte on June 24th.  He’d gotten to Skype with Charlotte, but Gordon had been too sick to make the trip with Linda up to New Jersey to see the little sweetness in person. Knowing that time was running out, Bart Natasha, and Charlotte were able to fly down to Florida to visit.  What joy it gave Gordon to hold his granddaughter.

There was one more thing to hold on for, and that was to make one last trip north, to be present for Charlotte’s baptism here in this sanctuary on January 8th, which he did.  Gordon spent a good week up here simply enjoying being in the presence of Bart, Natasha and Charlotte. He got to spend time with his sister Andree and her husband Joe, as well as with his brother Jeffrey, and see his one remaining living aunt.  He got the opportunity to spend some time with Natasha’s parents and to see Bob and Connie and other old friends.

It was my privilege to go out for lunch alone with Gordon just before he flew back.  He was calm, grateful for the life he had been given to live.  He was so very proud of Bart – of the man, husband, father Bart had grown up to be.  He felt so fortunate to have been given 34 years with the love of his life, Linda.  They’d had so many good times over the years, with so many good friends.

Gordon wasn’t afraid of dying; his concern was with his loved ones.

Having made this last trip, it seemed Gordon was ready to depart this world.  His health deteriorated rapidly; he lived only another five weeks.

There were angels along this final most difficult stretch of Gordon’s life for which Linda expressed gratitude.  A young Asian-American oncologist named Dr. Tso who always took his time with Gordon and Linda, never making them feel rushed, nor holding anything back. He always looked directly into their eyes expressing so much compassion.  He called Linda the day Gordon died to express his sadness for her.  Gordon had put up a great fight he said.  Linda so appreciated his taking the time to call her.  There was the Hospice team that was all so kind and conscientious.

It’s a reminder that the little things we do in life can make such a difference.

Bart, Natasha and Charlotte were able to hop on a plane to be by Gordon’s bedside at the end –  to bless him on his journey.

When Gordon and Linda got back to Florida after the trip for Charlotte’s baptism, Gordon took the time to make sure Linda knew where all the important documents were.  Linda assured Gordon that she would be okay – that he didn’t have to worry about her.  When Linda asked Gordon what kind of service he wanted, he said he didn’t care – that was up to her – he just wanted to make sure that there was a good party thrown afterwards. That was his one request.  So that’s why you’re all invited to the firehouse afterwards.

I mentioned earlier the place Gordon found in our church working in the kitchen with the other cooks.  He became particularly close to Al Booth with whom he share a similar easy warmth and readiness to laugh.  Sadly, Al preceded Gordon in death, succumbing to cancer the year before Gordon and Linda moved to Florida.

By a peculiar coincidence, Gordon died exactly six years to the day that Al departed from this world.  I chose the passage I read earlier from the 25th chapter of Isaiah because I liked the imagery of this verse:

6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
Here at the church, we like to think of Gordon and Al up there in God’s kitchen helping to whip up that “feast of rich food… of food filled with marrow.” And everybody’s welcome at the table.

God “will swallow up death for ever,” the verse goes on to say.  “And the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.”

The Eulogy for Barbara Burke

Filed under: Eulogies — Pastor Jeff at 7:11 pm on Saturday, January 21, 2017

1-barbara

Barbara Burke was born on April 12, 1954 in Jersey City and grew up in the projects of Hoboken, a richly diverse community where all races and ethnic groups got along well, and a child could feel safe going out into the world.

She was the third born child of a big Italian Roman Catholic, working class family in which mother served lots of pasta to fill the bellies of the eight children.  The first born was Michael, then a year later came Nancy, and then Barbara a year after that.  Then came Pam a year later, then Jimmy born another year after that, and then Dawn a year after that, followed by Starre, a year after that.

Are you seeing a pattern here?  Finally there was a slight break in the flow of babies as it wasn’t until two years later that Dale, the last of the babies was born.

Barbara’s mother was a stay-at-home mom, while her dad held a variety of jobs to try and keep ahead of the bills:  he was a tow truck driver, and a bus driver, and he worked in a junk yard.   They didn’t have a lot, materially speaking.  There TV was black and white – not color.  But they didn’t lack for the essentials, with clothes handed down through the siblings.  Generally speaking it was a happy, though somewhat chaotic family life.  Patience didn’t seem to be a quality that ran in the family, and when their mother got mad at one her children she would call out all of their names, and they’d all come running, unsure of who it was that was in trouble.

The house was crowded, to say the least.  There were just three bedrooms for eight kids.

Barbara had yet another ninth sibling – a grown half sister named Judy who was married and lived nearby. To escape the tight quarters of her home, Barbara would often go to Judy’s house, or over to her friend Olga’s house, and Barbara’s absence from the home would make her mother mad sometimes.

Within the home Nancy, the oldest girl, ruled the roost — except on the rare occasions when the younger girls would unite to stage an uprising.  There was a natural division in the family between the four older children and the younger four in regards to who kept company with whom.  Barbara commanded the respect of her younger siblings because, I am told, she was tough – she could kick their butt when they got too irritating.

The exception to the division between younger and older siblings was when Barbara would take Dale, the baby of the family under her wing to explore the world.  Barbara introduced Dale to the world of pop music, and in particular, her love of Elvis.  She took Dale into New York City to shop or to walk around Central Park, or to the movies.  Barbara took Dale to see her very first movie — The Exorcist — which Dale remembers as being a comedy.

Soon after graduating from Hoboken High Barbara moved out of the crowded house to live with Olga and other friends, first in Hoboken but soon in Jersey City.

But as the years passed Barbara remained close with her family, going out to dinner to celebrate birthdays and to the home of sister Starre – reportedly the only sibling in the family who really knew how to cook — for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Barbara’s presence, said her nephew Angel, “made Christmas special.”

As the years passed, Barbara lived in a variety of New Jersey towns – Fairview, North Bergen, Cliffside Park, Weehawken, Clifton, and Bloomfield before ending up in Belleville.  Along the way she held a variety of jobs, in the course of which she acquired a wealth of practical knowledge regarding life in this world.  Barbara began as a nurse’s aide at a nursing home, where she enjoyed giving patients a little fun with fast rides in wheel chairs down inclined walkways.

After that Barbara worked at a machine operator with silk screen at AQL Factor, followed my fifteen years as a machine operator at All Lace factory.

Barbara also worked part time as a cashier at Pathmark. At some point she went to school to learn bookkeeping after which she worked for five years as a bookkeeper for Barnes and Noble. During this time she also got her commercial driver’s license and — following in her father’s foot steps — worked part time as a bus driver for NJ Transit, as well as for Academy and Red & Tan bus lines.  She drove buses in and out of NYC, as well as tour buses around Manhattan, which had to take a lot of gumption and grit, to say the least.  In later years Barbara worked in a group home for disabled and Down Syndrome adults in addition to assorted part time bookkeeping jobs.

Though there was a toughness to Barbara, there was also a strong nurturing streak to her personality.  She loved children, and took advantage of every opportunity to babysit.   Barbara longed to have a child of her own, and at one point she applied to become a foster parent, but her application was turned down when she acknowledged that at times she suffered from depression.

So Barbara expressed her nurturing spirit on a series of cats, her favorites being Sammy, Nicky and Mindy.

It wasn’t an easy life Barbara lived.  She spent most of her life living alone and feeling some degree of loneliness.  She found help through support groups, where she formed some pretty strong friendships.

Barbara suffered throughout her life with a variety of physical ailments.  She was plagued with stomach problems.  She struggled with her weight, developed diabetes, high blood pressure, neuropathy, joint pain, and a few years back breathing issues that required her to have an oxygen tank with her.

About eight years ago a serious car accident left Barbara with severe back pain, and that is when she began coming to Dr. Jean Montecuollo for chiropractic treatments, having been referred by Barbara’s friend Eric, also a patient of Jean’s.  Before long a friendship developed between Jean and Barbara, with Barbara particularly attentive to Jean’s need for help babysitting her daughter Kathryn.  Along with her chiropractic practice, Jean had a wedding to plan, and so Barbara delighted in ample opportunity to spend time with Kathryn, who she came to adore.

In spite of the pain she endured through course of her life, there was a child-like quality to Barbara that came out when she was in the company of Kathryn.  Barbara took her to Chuck E Cheese and to see kids movies, enjoying them every bit as much as Kathryn did.  She had an instinct for picking out silly things that Kathryn would like – things that would never occur to Jean:  funny glasses with slinky eyes, and a package of fake moustaches.  Kathryn loved the Karaoke machine Barbara got her for Christmas.

Over time Barbara became a part of Jean’s extended family, helping out with Virginia, Jean’s beloved, elderly life long family friend who was bedridden for the last year of her life.  Through her work in a nursing home Barbara had knowledge and experience to draw upon that was useful in helping to make Virginia comfortable in her home durring the last months of her life.

As Barbara helped care for Virginia, she became close to Jean’s niece Dion who lived with Viriginia.  They could commiserate together about the trials of finding a job.   Through Deon and the dogs she took in to care for, Barbara managed to overcome her life-long discomfort with dogs, having had a bad experience with a neighborhood dog with she was a girl.  The thing that struck Deon about Barbara was that in spite of her troubles, she was always looking for a way to be of help.

Her family knew this quality in Barbara as well.  Her sister Judy’s son John remembers how one time a water heater fell through their roof, and Barbara provided the cool head that helped get them out of the house safely.  She was always there to help when you needed her.  Starre remembers how Barbara would come over to hem her pants, because Starre wasn’t the seamstress Barbara was.  Barbara enjoyed taking her sister Dale to buy shoes.

She was innately generous with gifts and offers of help.  Although throughout her life Barbara was often strapped for money, she would share the little she had with neighbors whose need touched her.  Through a charitable organization Barbara made monthly financial gifts to help support a child living in poverty.

In spite of the difficulties of her life, Barbara loved to laugh, and to joke.  Her comedy taste ran in the direction of slapstick – she was a big fan from way back of the Three Stooges.

Barbara was a rabid Rangers fans, and introduced Starre’s son to the love of hockey by taking him to see the Rangers play.  He ended up a Devils fan, so they enjoyed trash talking one another about their teams.

Barbara enjoyed reading, baking, and crochet, and loved making dolls and doll clothing, teddy bears, and afghans.  She planned to get involved in our prayer shawl ministry.  She loved horses and had a collection of horse statues, paintings and books.  She loved to drink tea (but only Lipton’s.)  She detested onions.

Barbara was never cold, and she always had a warm heart.  She joined our church just last summer, sponsored by Jean.  In her introductory bio Barbara wrote, “What I like best about the church is that the people are warm and friendly, and I feel comfortable here.” With a nod to Tom who runs out church’s kitchen, she wrote, “And since I have a sweet tooth, I also appreciate all the great snacks at coffee hour!” When invited to share some wisdom gleaned from her life, she wrote, “Be honest, be true, and treat people the way you want to be treated.”

Barbara was developing eye problems and was scheduled to have surgery when suddenly a stroke took her down.   Fortunately, she didn’t suffer long, spending her last days in a coma.  Her family gathered around her bed to bid her farewell as she breathed her last breath in this world.

The Eulogy for Sal Anastasi

Filed under: Eulogies — Pastor Jeff at 6:19 pm on Monday, January 9, 2017

The Eulogy for Sal Anastasi

Sal Anastasi with grandson Sal Anastasi was born in Manhattan, NY on February 19th, 1948 but spent the great majority of his life living in Parsippany, having moved here with his family – his mother and father and brother Richard – when Sal was 13.

Sal met Diane when she was just 17 and he was 20 on a blind date set up by mutual friends.  They were opposites in personality, but opposites attract and they got engaged two years after meeting, and married the year after that. Along the way Sal served in the Naval Reserves for a year and a half, receiving an early honorable discharge due to a back injury from a serious car accident.  Sal would suffer from the after effects of that back injury for the rest of his life. Diane remembers watching the first man walk on the moon with Sal from his hospital room.

Sal literally charmed Diane with charms for a bracelet he gave her for every significant event in their life that she wears to this day.They bought a house together in Lake Parsippany in which they would live for the next 43 years of their lives. Together they raised their two beloved sons Keith and Michael, whom they adored.

When Sal was laid off from his job as a machinist, he worked two jobs to support his family.  He took classes for heating, ventilation and air conditioning and passed the tests for licensing with flying colors.  He got a job working in maintenance at St. Clare’s Hospital where he remained for 27 years, attaining the position of supervisor, becoming invaluable to the nuns, the nurses, the doctors, and all the rest of the staff and volunteers.   Sal was a hard worker – often pushing through pain to do his job.

He could come across as gruff, but he had, in fact a very big heart, in which he held the many persons, as well as dogs and cats, that he loved.

Sal was the real deal – there was nothing phony about him — he never pretended to be something other than himself.

He cherished his wife Diane who he deeply adored, and by whom he was deeply loved in return.  He loved doing wood working, cutting out snow men and crows which Diane in turn would paint, which they would give away as gifts to friends.

Sal was a devoted and very proud father who raised up two fine sons, and took great pleasure in their happiness, and delight in the beautiful grandchildren they brought into the world. He was a good friend, always willing to lend a hand.   His laugh was unforgettable and contagious.

After his heart stint forced Sal to retire, he and Diane hatched plans with their long time friends Joe and Beverly Amato for the four of them to retire together to the warmer climate of North Carolina, near the beauty of the ocean, not far from where Keith and his family lived.

Unfortunately Sal and Diane were only given two years there before this past November 9th Sal collapsed and the great ordeal that was the last seven weeks of his life began.  Sal was a fighter, and he fought the good fight to try and get well, but as his family put it, God decided all Sal’s worrying over Diane and the kids should be finally lifted, calling him home on December 30th, 2016.

The Eulogy for Virginia Ellen Belasco

Filed under: Eulogies — Pastor Jeff at 8:53 pm on Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Eulogy for Virginia Ellen Belasco

(August 15, 1923 – May 7, 2016) 

 

Virginia Belasco

I did not know Virginia well.  I knew her as the feisty, slightly grumpy but funny and basically warm hearted receptionist at Jean’s chiropractic office.  When you arrive as a patient, you have to sign in, and early on in my visits Virginia, forever the school teacher, called me out for the sloppiness of my handwriting.  From then on I made a point of calling forth my best penmanship.

Later I visited with her when she was in the nursing home, a place she made it quite clear she did not want to be.  Her mind was fading, and when I asked her questions about her life, much of her life seemed hidden from her behind a veil.  The one thing she felt confident recalling were her teaching days, of which she rightfully took great pride.

I didn’t know her well, and I suspect most of us here today did not know her well either.  She had outlived most of her contemporaries. She was so fiercely self-reliant, so determined not to be the object of pity.

But when I sat down with Jean, Tom and Deon and listened to the outline of her life story, I found myself in awe of Virginia.  Of what she had endured.  Of how she had persevered.

Her life started out well.

Virginia Ellen Belasco was born on August 15, 1923 in Irvington and grew up in Livingston.  Her parents, Edith and Norman Butts were proper Brits, having immigrated to the United States from England. Virginia had an older sister named Margaret with whom she seems to have gotten on well.

It was a happy childhood.  Virginia always spoke warmly of her mother.  Her mother had a large garden in their yard, and loved to spend time there.  She would can fruit and vegetables.   Her mother made clothes for Virginia and was also a wonderful baker.

Virginia’s father was an engineer and was able to fix most anything that needed fixing in the house.

An out of the ordinary memory that stood out for Virginia from her childhood was a literally shocking tale. One time at about the age of eight an electrical storm passed through town. Virginia was inside her house in close proximity to the telephone when lightening struck the house, racing through the phone line, smacking her with a jolt of current that literally ran through her body, knocking her across the room.  Although she survived the experience intact, it was certainly traumatic, and it left her with an unusual ability for the rest of her life to perceive when another electrical storm was brewing.  Unfortunately for Virginia the indication of a coming storm registered in her body as a severe headache.  Her headaches were better predictors than the weathermen of the coming of storms.

From early in her childhood Virginia had known she wanted to be a teacher.  After High School she attended New Jersey State Teacher College in Newark, graduating in 1945 with a certificate to teach first through eighth grades, and began teaching in the Livingston School system.  Three years later she received a permanent certification which entitled her to also serve as a principal, which she did during part of her 47 year teaching career.

A year after graduating college Virginia married her husband Frank on June 23rd, 1946 in Sacred heart Roman Catholic Church in Newark.  Frank’s Italian parents were hoping he would find himself a nice Italian girl, so apparently they were not very pleased with her son’s choice of a bride.

But Virginia’s parents seemed to have been pleased with Frank. Frank was studying to be a funeral director and had plans to open a funeral home in Lake Hiawatha.  When Frank and Virginia moved into their home in Lake Hiawatha, Virginia’s father built a chimney and a fireplace in celebration of Frank’s completion of his studies.

Virginia gave birth to her first child, Jeff on March 12, 1949.   Two years later on March 7th, 1951, she gave birth to a daughter, Nancy.

It was soon after Nancy’s birth that the generally happy life Virginia had led began to encounter an extraordinary amount of grief and heartache.

Seven months after Nancy’s birth, Virginia’s beloved father died suddenly of a heart attack.  At some point Virginia’s heartbroken mother came to live with her, giving Virginia help in raising the children.

Tragically though, at the age of 18 months Virginia’s daughter Nancy died suddenly when a rapid spreading infection overtook her before her parents could get her to the hospital in time. This is the kind of heart break that can simply overwhelm a person.

But the onslaught was not done.

At some point after Nancy’s death Virginia’s son Jeff was diagnosed with a slow growing brain tumor that would leave him mentally disabled for the rest of his life, and incapable of independent living.

And then to top all this heartache off, in 1956 Virginia’s husband Frank suddenly died of a heart attack, leaving Virginia a 33 year old widow and single mother of a disabled child.

Virginia was a woman of honor and integrity.  Her husband had incurred significant debts from his education and business start up plans, and in the years that followed Virginia made certain that all of Frank’s debts were paid.

Through the years that followed Virginia taught full time, took on jobs on the side as tutor, and spent her summers teaching summer school.  She was an extraordinary teacher, who later in her life taught students at Seton Hall University who aspired to be teachers. Virginia was strict, but her students recognized that there was love behind her discipline.   She had an ability to gauge the potential in a student – whether that student be a child or an adult — lowering or raising her expectations accordingly.   When a student was not living up to their potential, she would call them out with failing grades.

Years later, it was deeply gratifying to Virginia when she would receive cards at Christmas time from students she had taught years back in which they expressed their appreciation for the profound influence Virginia had had upon their lives both with her profound insight to their abilities and her dogged insistence that they reach their full potential.

She literally gave her soul and body to teaching.  Once Virginia received a kick in her calf from a student so severe it left her with a vascular problem in her leg for the rest of her life.  But it did not deter her from her passion for teaching.

Apart from her teaching, Virginia’s life revolved around her son Jeff, to whom she was totally devoted.  She never took vacations, or even away for a weekend, because in her mind the needs of Jeff precluded such pleasures for herself.

When her son showed an interest in trains, Virginia took him to train shows, and had an elaborate model train track set up in the basement where Jeff would spend hours on end in contented play. Virginia hired somebody to come in and build a beautiful miniature village through which the trains could travel.

For the sake of Jeff Virginia would make a big deal of holidays, inviting friends over to the house for barbecues or dinners, so that Jeff could feel a sense of connection in a web of friendship.

Jeff lived to the age of 50, dying in 1999.  Having retired from teaching a few years back, with Jeff’s death it seemed to Virginia as though she had lost her reason for living.   She went from making a big deal of holidays to pretending that holidays simply did not exist. Holidays in her mind were all about Jeff, and with him gone, their celebration was just too painful.

Virginia’s one enduring joy was her lifelong love of animals, which she had shared with Jeff, who over the years had brought home several stray cats or dogs from his wandering about LakeHiawatha. There were always multiple cats and dogs living in Virginia’s house, rescue animals everyone.

Virginia was friends with Jean’s parents.  Like Virginia’s parents, Jean’s mom was from England, so they shared that connection. Virginia was a customer at Jean’s father’s drug store, and later a patient at his chiropractic practice.  Sometimes Virginia would turn to Jean’s father when a man’s firm direction was needed with Jeff.

When Jean’s mother died in 1987, Virginia offered herself to Jean for comfort and advice for which Jean was grateful.  Virginia took Jean under her wing and was always there for her.  She loved Jean like a daughter, which as all you mothers and daughters out there know, always involves a tension between deep affection and aggravation.

Jean’s niece Deon found a surrogate grandmother in Virginia.  She remembers being taught to read as a child by Virginia.  Deon moved in to live with Virginia for the last four years of her life, doing what she could to help keep Virginia in her house, out of which Virginia was determined not to be taken.

Virginia was famous for her grumpiness, but there were a couple of things that could reliably cut through the grumpiness. One was Tom, whom she adored, and in whom she saw something of her own father.  She seemed to like it when he wouldn’t give in to her grumpy pouting.  On the morning of Tom and Jean’s wedding, Virginia announced she wasn’t coming. “I’m too tired,” she said, “I can’t get out of bed.”   “Oh yes you are!” said Tom. Expletive, expletive.  “Even if I have to carry you there myself you’re coming.”  Tom spent the last couple of hours right up until it was time to put on his wedding suit building a ramp upon which Virginia could be wheeled to the reception.  “Steel shell and a heart of marshmallow,” is how Tom described her.

Dogs could also do the trick.  Towards the end of her life, with her health and mind deteriorating the sight of her beloved dog Petey, or the new puppy Deon had waiting for her when she came home from the nursing home, would take the grouchy away, soften her heart, and even bring tears of joy to her eyes.

The third thing that could cut through Virginia’s grumpiness was Kathryn.  Virginia was slow to warm to the idea of Jean adopting a child, but when Kathryn arrived, she truly gave her heart to the child, gladly embracing the role of grandmother  – “G G” as she was called. She adored Kathryn.   In her bedroom where she spent the majority of her time during the last stretch of her life, Virginia had a couple of big, framed photos of her beloved grandchild placed directly in front of her, so she could find comfort in gazing upon her beautiful face.

Throughout Virginia’s life, beneath her crusty exterior was a warm heart willing to help wherever she could.  She was so very giving and generous.  If somebody needed something, Virginia would go without herself in order to help the person in need.

She was fiercely independent and self-reliant, finding it extraordinarily difficult to ask for help.   In spite of her distaste for needing help, with the love and support of Deon, Jean, Tom and Kathryn, and of a series of home health aides, Virginia endured, ambivalent about whether she wanted to live or die.  A part of her longed to leave this world with body so weakened and full of pain, but her instinctual response to life was to hold on tight and not let go.

As she neared the end of her life, Virginia would often hold conversations with her mother, the great nurturer of her life.  She was in that realm between this world and the next.  And now she has made the transition to that place where there are no more tears, or pain or death, just eternal love and life.   And she loves you still.

 

The Eulogy for Anita Kanouse Kohut

Filed under: Eulogies — Pastor Jeff at 4:36 pm on Friday, March 18, 2016

Anita Kanouse Kohut (pronunciation anEEta Kanhouse kOhut)  was a highly respected woman in her community, the “salt of the earth”, the beloved matriarch that held her family together for 97 years, 7 months and 12 days. She was proud of her “97 ¾ years!”  Right up to her last days, all of us who visited with her marveled at how young she looked, charmed at her endearing smile, her lively conversation and her youthful personality.  Despite ever mounting medical complications in the final two years of her, her spirit never wavered!

The first time I met her was nearly two years ago when I visited her in an intensive care unit.  You don’t expect 95 year old women to recover from intensive care units, and I thought I was there to pray her into God’s light.  Her remarkable will to live proved me wrong.

She outlived clinical predictions of many doctors numerous times. This is why it is so difficult for the family to believe that she isn’t still sitting at her favorite table in her den, doing puzzles and appreciating her view of birds and flowers outside her picture window.

Anita was born on August 3, 1918 in a little country house in Taylortown, a section of Montville, just outside of Boonton.  Her mother, nine months pregnant was on the way to Boonton for supplies when she met her doctor who told her to go straight back home.  There she gave birth to Anita in the kitchen.   Anita was preceded in birth by her sister Vivian who was born six years before Anita, and a couple of boys, Byron and Jacob who were lost as infants.   Her brother, William (Bill) was born two years later.

The family was poor, but they didn’t know they were poor.  There was no heat in the house other what was produced by the iron stove in the kitchen.  They would swim in the pond, and when they needed milk her mother would send Anita to the farmer who lived across the way, who would milk the cow while Anita waited.

Although Anita lost her father, William Stanley Kanouse at an early age, she would remember him fondly.  They would go hunting squirrel and rabbits together.  When Anita was eight, her father died working for Jersey Central when a gas valve broke in his face.  He came home but died there.  Anita’s mom, Martha (Stephens) was left to fend for herself on their small farm, which was a tough change from the life she grew up accustomed to.  Martha’s mother had owned a hotel near West Point, so she was accustomed to some degree of comfort, cared for by a nanny.  She was of German descent.  Anita’s father, of Dutch descent (Kanouse) was from Boonton and worked as a mason.  He spent an extended time working at West Point laying bricks.  He stayed at the hotel, which is where they met.  When William married Martha, he brought her back to New Jersey.  So when her husband died, she was without her family, though her husband’s family looked out for her. Martha cleaned houses to support her family. Anita went to several elementary schools in NJ and in NY, where she stayed for a while with her Aunt Nan.

Anita graduated from Boonton High School in 1936, and upon graduation began working along with her sister in a lawyer’s office, Bean and Kelly.  Anita worked for Judge Kelly, a state senator. She met her husband John who worked as a mechanic for Cerbo’s Automotive and would pass her by every day.   They were married and became Mr. and Mrs. John Kohut, Jr. on December 19, 1937.  Shortly afterwards, Johnny told Anita that he didn’t want her working outside the home; he would earn the living, she would be responsible for the home front.

In 1939 she had her first baby, also named Anita (which in later years would get extremely complicated; having the same name, but different middle initial.)  Marcia, named after her Mom, was born in 1943, then John III, followed two years later by Bill, with Melanie born last in 1954.  Needless to say life was always busy and never a dull moment with many, many pets including a stump tailed chimpanzee named Toby.

When World War II broke out, Anita’s husband, John Jr. was planning to enlist.  In preparation for his departure, Anita’s father-in-law moved the family into town to the house she would live in for the rest of her life in Boonton.  As it turned out, John wasn’t allowed to enlist apparently because he was considered too old.

Anita’s brother Bill did enlist in the Marines and survived the Battle of Iwo Jima, where all of his fellow soldiers were killed.  He came home shell shocked, overwhelmed by survivor’s guilt, but eventually was healed with the help of a psychologist.  He went on be a successful businessman.

Anita’s husband John worked as a mechanic, eventually beginning his own commercial air conditioning business in partnership with his father, John Sr. and his brother, Edward in Paterson, which involved a long commute.  John was a hard worker all his life.  In the summers, he would take the family in his big truck down to the Jersey Shore, drop them off and go back to work.  He’d call each day, and then come back to pick them up after a week.  The children enjoyed the week immensely, but Anita was constantly kept vigilant watching out for the five children.  One time Johnny mistook a log for a shark, which led the lifeguards to clear the water for an hour.  When they got back home there were all those clothes for Anita to wash at times without a machine or clothes dryer.

Anita’s sons were baseball players:  John III was a pitcher and Bill a catcher, playing on different teams, which sent Anita going in two directions to catch parts of each of her son’s games.  Their father was always working to support 5 children.  They both enjoyed time with their ever growing family and took much pride in their property.  John maintained the grass, bushes, and pool.  Anita created an elaborate, meticulously groomed, show place of colorful, patterned flower gardens.  Anita also had a small ceramics business in her barn garage; carefully painting all kinds of figurines with her daughter, Anita, and her son Bill’s wife, Carol.

Anita had a wealth of wonderful old stories that she loved to tell, remembering them into her nineties.  One time the boys were setting off fire crackers by the Fireman’s Home and a pilot flying overhead thought they were firing at him, leading to policeman showing up at Anita’s doorstep to tell her to go get her boys.  Daughter Anita had a gun and liked to go shooting with her brother John until the time their shooting frightened the people next door at the high school, which llead to the police permanently taking away the gun.  Fortunately in the small town the police were friends with Anita and nothing serious came of her children’s episodes of mischief.  Then there were all of Melanie’s many minor fender benders!

Throughout the years Anita’s house was always a buzz often her children’s friends from with her the neighborhood, and as time passed, with grand and great grandchildren.  She hosted decades of old fashion backyard picnics, featuring her delicious baked beans, coleslaw and potato salad.  She made Bubble Bread every Easter – ham, kelbasi and boiled eggs baked inside 9 pounds of bread dough, as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve celebrations.  Good, traditional, comfort food (meat, vegetables, and potatoes) were always in abundance for anyone who happened to be visiting her home.

As the years passed, Anita would have her heart broken twice when two of her children died, Marcia and Bill, both to cancer.  When Marcia died her two children, Arlene, 19 and Bill, 17 moved in with Anita.  Anita’s husband died 20 years ago in 1996 of emphysema, having been a smoker, drinker and hard worker, before many health and safety regulations protected people in the automotive and refrigeration industry.

Anita loved seeing and hearing all about her Great Grandchildren’s activities and the stories they told.  She was so proud of their achievements.  She enjoyed Julia playing her piano and Kaitlyn playing violin, both which brought comfort to her in her final days.  Anita even got to meet her first Great, Great Granddaughter, Aubrielle (aw brEE el).  Family was everything to Anita.  This is why it was so very difficult for her to leave this world — she loved her family so.

Despite the hardships she knew Anita was grateful for the life she lived.  She declared that it was her faith in the good Lord that brought her through life.  He was there in the good times and in the bad times.  She lived an active life up until the last year of her life, and found it difficult when she was forced to live dependent upon others, accustomed as she was throughout her life of being independent, up and doing.   She was grateful to Jean, her extremely pious, patient and attentive 24 hour live in, home, health aide, who was her inseparable companion from December of 2014 until her peaceful death, 8:45pm at her home, this past Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

The Eulogy for Laurie Ann Kurdes

Filed under: Eulogies — Pastor Jeff at 7:41 pm on Saturday, March 12, 2016

Laurie KurdesLaurie Ann Kurdes

(July 24, 1980 – February 24, 2016)

Laurie’s due date to be born fell in the middle of the vacation that Terry’s doctor had scheduled to take in Florida, so he told Terry to come in to New York Hospital in New York City two weeks before her due date so he could induce her.  So it came to pass that Laurie was born into this world a little earlier than she should have on July 24th, 1980 weighing 5 pounds 12 ounces. She could have used the extra two weeks of nurture in Terry’s womb.  She was born with no eye brows or eye lashes and had jaundice.  Terry had to leave Laurie in the hospital under the bilirubin lights for 3 days until the jaundice cleared up.

The family lived in Demarest, New Jersey in Bergen County and it was there that Laurie was welcomed home by her brother Robert, who was five years old, and her sister Julie, who was two.  Julie mistook her baby sister for a doll that her mother had brought home for her to play with and said, “Give me, mine!” trying to take hold of her.

Laurie had gotten her days and nights mixed up and so she would be up most of the night and would sleep during the day.  It took a while to get her to learn to sleep at night.

As Laurie got a bit older, she especially liked to play with Julie, always looking up to her big sister.  They would play house together, with Julie being the mommy and Laurie being the baby.  Julie called her ‘baby Laurie”.  When they played school, Julie was always the teacher and Laurie the student. Laurie liked it when Julie’s friends would come over to play.

When she entered school, Laurie had to see a speech therapist because she would mispronounce words, for instance calling her brother “Roburd.” Once when she had a sore in her mouth Laurie said to her mother, “My mouse hurts.”

Laurie learned to swim first at summer camp and then later at the Demarest swim club and over time became a very good swimmer. Throughout her life, Laurie would be drawn to the water.

In contrast to her sister and brother, Laurie was a rather quiet shy child, always preferring to have one close friend.  When she was young, a sweet little girl named Melanie fulfilled that role for Laurie.

Throughout her life, Laurie found comfort in watching beloved movies over and over.  As a little girl she watched “The Wizard of Oz” everyday when she came home from school for about a year until her brother Rob, understandably sick of the movie decided it was time to tape over it.

Laurie’s grandmother – Terry’s mother – lived in Queens where she worked as a seamstress.  She was very kind and loving to all her grandchildren who called her Softa – Hebrew for “grandmother”.  She would often come out to the house on weekends to help out in any way she could. Softa taught Laurie the basics of sewing. They would snuggle together on the couch watching TV.  (Laurie was a big snuggler.)  Softa departed this world when Laurie was ten.

Sadly, Laurie’s father suffered from severe depression for most of his life and at times could become abusive to Laurie’s mother Terry. When Laurie was just eight years old her parents separated, with Terry taking the kids from the house in Demarest to a new home in Mahwah, New Jersey. Introverted as she was, this change of schools and others yet to come were difficult for Laurie.  Continued conflict with Laurie’s father eventually led to another move, this time all the way to Orlando, Florida.

Julie remembers how during their time in Orlando she and Laurie had to walk 1.9 miles each day to get to their elementary school – that is until they figured out that if they trespassed through a golf course, the trip was significantly shorter.  One time Laurie thought it would be fun to pocket somebody’s golf ball, leading the girls to flee giggling from the irate golfer.  This story demonstrates a certain quality of free-spiritedness and a rather loose relationship to rules in general that at times would characterize Laurie throughout her life.

In Florida, Terry had an old car with no AC, and Rob and Julie would fight over who got to sit in the front. Laurie was more laid back, content to sit in the back.  Unlike her siblings, Laurie was always skinny, and didn’t seem to mind when her siblings fought over her French fries.

The family was homesick for New Jersey, and so after just one year in Florida they were happy to return to the Garden State.  They lived in Byram for a year before moving to Randolph.

Laurie’s father ended up in Florida, where tragically he died when Laurie was just ten.

It was a particular blessing therefore when a year later Laurie’s mother met Oscar, the man who would become Laurie’s step-father.  From the start Oscar adored all three of Terry’s children, happy to play with them the board games they enjoyed for hours at a time.  Early on Oscar began to help out with driving the kids to their various activities.  He was so very happy to finally have a family and took pride in referring to “my three kids.”  Once when Rob was introducing a new friend, he referred to both Terry and Oscar as ‘his parents’, which left Oscar just beaming.  When Oscar received his first Father’s Day card from the kids he was so happy he cried.

Because Laurie was younger and more of a homebody than Julie and Rob, Oscar ended up spending more time with Laurie and their bond grew particularly strong.  When Terry had to work late and Julie and Rob were off with friends, Oscar would cook supper for the two of them and they would watch television together.

One time Laurie needed to do a special project for school.  She had to make a model of the EiffelTower.  So Oscar took her to the art supply store and they got a thousand pop sickle sticks and glue and spray paint and got a hold of big, detailed picture of the tower, and for several nights they worked together on their masterpiece — a stunning facsimile of the Eiffel Tower that won Laurie an A, of which both she and Oscar were rightly quite proud.

A few years later when Oscar had knee surgery, it was Laurie who would keep him company in the days of his recuperation, warming up soup for him – a rare venture into cooking for Laurie — and driving him to doctor’s appointments.

It was in Randolph that Laurie made three close friends:  Shawna, Sakura and Liz.   They would sleep over and Oscar would make them the greatest breakfasts.  Liz had a swimming pool where Laurie would spend countless hours swimming away the summer.

During this period of time Laurie wrote in her journal a rather long list of “Things that make me happy,” conveying the impression that she was a girl who found a good deal of pleasure in life:  This was what she listed:

Swimming

The Ocean

Talking with Sakura

Eating yummy foods like ice cream

Talking with my mother

Seeing and petting horses.

Going on vacation

Doing well in school.

Reading magazines

Going food shopping with my mom.

Taking pictures on my digital camera

Combing little girl kitty (their cat known as “Frass”)

Watching Law and Order

Hiking

Shopping for boots or sandals.

Holding a little, little baby.

Holding Donald. (a three year old boy she babysat for regularly)

Watching TV

Popcorn

Laughing

Remembering childhood.

Laurie always liked children and old people.  She worked for several years as a babysitter for an agency called “In a Pinch” that included extended employment with a family in MorrisPlains that had three children with the grandmother living next door.   Laurie would visit with the grandmother and became very close to her.

When Laurie was 16 years old, her mother helped her get a summer job as a junior counselor at Meadowbrook Day Camp in Long Valley, which she enjoyed very much.   It was there that she met her first boyfriend — a fellow counselor who was also working there as a counselor, who Laurie would date for five years.

After high school, Laurie attended Morris County College for two years.  It was during this time that Terry and Oscar moved to Hopatcong, and when Laurie would come home in the evening they would watch Jeopardy together. Laurie could get quite competitive about the game, and usually won, except when the sports questions came up, which Oscar’s always got.  Laurie loved movies, and for a long time Laurie and her mother would go together almost every Sunday night to the movies.  If you quizzed Laurie on the name of any movie, what year the movie came out and the actors that were in it, she could come up with all the answers.

Laurie scrimped and saved the money she earned from her various jobs.  She was not wasteful, but she could be exceedingly generous.  When her sister Julie was a senior in college Laurie loaned her $2000 so she could buy a car.

After graduating from Morris County College, Laurie attended William Paterson University for two years living on campus. Homesick, she would come home on weekends to see her Mom and Oscar.  She earned a degree in art, for which she had a passion.  Throughout her life Laurie was constantly sketching.  She knew a great deal about art history, and for a brief period of time after her graduation she worked at a museum in Montclair.

It was towards the end of her time at William Paterson that Laurie’s relationship with her boyfriend came to an end, causing Laurie to sink into a deep depression.   Her mother would listen to Laurie every night as she poured out her sadness.

Laurie and her friend Sakura got an apartment together in Morristown and then years later, they both moved to an apartment in Philadelphia. Every time they moved, Oscar and Terry were there to help.

Laurie decided she really liked living in Pennsylvania.  She worked for a time as a sales person for a newspaper and then later as a sales person at Comcast. On weekends however she would often come back home to Hopatcong to be with her mom and Oscar.

At the age of 28, at her sister Julie’s engagement party in Jersey City, Laurie was introduced to Chris, a friend of Julie’s fiancée Leighton.  They instantly took a liking to each other and started dating.  Chris came to see the beautiful, sensitive kind-hearted Laurie as his soul mate. They were totally in love with each other and cared for each other deeply.

Chris accepted Laurie’s struggle with depression and anxiety as a part of who she was, and admired the courage she displayed fighting it over so many years.  From time to time the depression would take hold of Laurie with a grip that was so strong and powerful, but for most of the time Chris experienced Laurie as a person with a deep capacity for joy.  Even on her worst days, he said, she would find something time to smile and laugh about.

Laurie and Chris had a lot of fun during their seven years together.  Laurie enjoyed telling dumb jokes that made Chris laugh. When Laurie and Chris would go swimming, Laurie would pile her wet hair up on top of her head and call herself “George Washington,” which would send them both into a spell of raucous laughter.

Laurie took pleasure in simple things: spending a quiet Friday night home together watching a movie; staying home on Friday nights to watch a movie together; eating a waffle with chocolate chips (preferably cooked inside, not melted on top.) She loved animals and the company of little children.

Laurie and Chris loved Halloween.  She would dress up every year and hand out candy to the kids who would come to the door.  Once she dressed up as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, complete with Toto.

As mentioned earlier with the golf course incident, at times Laurie could be such a carefree spirit.  Chris remembers when he and Laurie were in Jamaica on vacation, they dressed up to eat dinner at the hotel’s fancy restaurant. Afterwards, dressed in her elegant dress, Laurie took off her shoes and ran through the fountains in front of the hotel.  These were not the sort of fountains people were supposed to run through, but Laurie did not care.  She was fully in the moment.

Laurie could be so playful, adopting the persona of Chris’ affectionate kitten, letting him know by the quality of her purrs whether something pleased or displeased her.

When she was going to bed Chris would sing songs like “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, changing the words to make her laugh.  At the end he would kiss Laurie on the forehead, and she would drift off to sleep.

During these years Laurie worked as a nanny and for a time and as a companion for elderly people.  There was this cantankerous lady named Anne who was in her late 80’s. At first Anne was mean to Laurie but within a few days they were best friends and Anne truly loved Laurie. That’s how Laurie was; once people got to know Laurie, they would love her.

Two years ago Chris and Laurie purchased a townhouse together in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.  Laurie enjoyed decorating their townhouse, having various rooms painted and then re-painted when she changed her mind about the colors.  Laurie was very good at buying things, always negotiating the price down with sales people, whether it was buying a car or buying furniture.  She loved the negotiating, telling Chris, “Laurie Kurdes does not pay retail!” And she never did.

She could be as persistent as a dog with a bone.   Once when a Proctor and Gamble cleaning product Laurie used on a new couch left an intolerable odor she kept calling Proctor and Gamble until they agreed to buy her a brand new couch.

Laurie had a very savvy business sense, selling items on EBay, mostly David Yurman jewelry.  She knew to put items online before Valentine’s Day when a good profit could be made because men were desperate for a gift for their wives or girlfriends.  And then when Valentine’s Day was over, Laurie recognized the time was ripe for buying jewelry cheap because women who had received a gift they didn’t care for would be looking to unload it.

When Julie and Leighton’s infant son Crosby spent forty days in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Laurie did what she could to keep her sister’s spirits up.  She bought Julie a TV to watch in the little apartment she was stuck in, and took her to Whole Foods and to the movies to get her mind off her worries over Crosby.  She even brought their dog Argie to her townhouse from Jersey City so that Julie could spend some time with him.

Laurie didn’t feel comfortable in groups of people, and didn’t care much for small talk.  But one-on-one Laurie could talk to anyone, and would often delve deeply into conversation about subjects that truly meant something to her.

She was truly interested in people.  In Jamaica when a drug dealer approached Laurie and Chris to try and sell them some weed, they weren’t interested in what he was selling, but Laurie was interested in the man, and proceeded to ask him a series of questions about what his life was like.  On a trip to Las Vegas, Chris remembers Laurie taking the time to talk to a homeless man.  She always gave what she could to people who were down and out, saying, “Their day will be a little easier now.”

Laurie always rooted for the underdog, always wanting to help people in need.

She and Chris supported various charities.  They supported a child in Ecuador named Eddie through the Children’s Fund.  Laurie chose Eddie because his picture made him look kind of homely and she was afraid nobody else would choose him, but over the years Eddie grew to be handsome.  They gave money to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia that had helped Laurie’s nephew.  They gave money to our church.

Terry’s older brother Yitz lived alone in Queens.  One time back when she lived in New Jersey Laurie and her mother drove out to Yitz’s house for the Passover Seder, where they were met by Terry’s sister Susan, her husband Steve, and their daughter Debbie. After the Seder was over, Laurie asked her uncle what he would be doing the following night for the second night of Passover, and he said that he would be having the Seder alone.

Laurie felt bad for her uncle and on their drive back home to New Jersey, she suggested to her mom “why don’t we go back tomorrow night so Yitz won’t be all alone?”  And that’s what they did; they drove back to Queens the next day so Uncle Yitz wouldn’t be alone for the Passover Seder.

In Rob’s words, Laurie was “emotionally intelligent.”  She had a very big heart with remarkable sensitivity and compassion, and because she felt things so strongly, Laurie found it hard at times to live in this broken world.   She cared for others better than she cared for herself.

Laurie suffered from mental illness, an affliction so easily misunderstood by others. The pain of deep depression is very hard for people to understand who have never experienced it; the pain is worse than any kind of physical pain.  Laurie had obsessions she was powerless to let go of.  Her depression led her to isolate herself from people she loved and cared about. Laurie went to great lengths to try and get better — visiting different doctors and hospitals, trying a multitude of medications and therapy. Chris calls Laurie “the bravest, strongest soul” he has ever known.

Depression took Laurie down, but Laurie was far more than her depression.  She was a passionate woman who felt joy intensely and loved deeply.

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