I sat in a church yesterday and saw grown men moved to tears.
I heard voices choked with emotion and booming timbres lowered to whispers.
There was so much love and respect in that church for Whitey Ruuska it was palpable.
Whitey was the father of a dear college friend. He passed away about a week and a half ago after a courageous battle with cancer.
Knowing the family for since my college days, it's difficult to remember when all of them weren't a part of my life.
I stood up in my friend's wedding. She followed my exploits when I moved to the east coast. I remember the day she said she was moving to the west coast to go to grad school---we moved through life together---there for the mundane and the major.
I don't know how it happened.
I'm not sure if they took me into the fold or if I simply decided that I needed additional parental supervision but Mr. and Mrs. Ruuska became "Dot" and "Whitey."
Beer (lots and lots of beer) was drunk, invitations were proffered, we seamlessly integrated into each other's life.
Then something amazing happened----I started seeing them as people instead of parents.
I learned that Whitey immigrated from Europe not knowing English. He didn't graduate from high school until he was in his early 20's.
He met his bride shooting pool.
He served in Vietnam even before he became a citizen of this country.
He started a successful business at an age when most people are concerned about their retirement savings.
All the while he managed to stay married over 50 years to the same woman and raise two quality children.
All in all his story sound quite ordinary but let me emphasize a major point: In an age of finger pointing and people not taking responsibility for their actions, Whitey served in Vietnam before he became a citizen.
I know that isn't completely unheard of but the action itself leaves me eternally grateful.
Who goes into a major war for a country where they're not even a citizen?
Who does that?
Who sits in a grade school classroom when he's well into his teens to learn the language of his adopted country?
Who in God's name starts a business firmly entrenched in middle age when they have two children in college?
Seriously, who does that?
A person with character, that's who.
Make no mistake his habits of hard work, loyalty, dedication didn't just exist in a bubble; they permeated his professional life as well.
Formally during the service and informally outside of it, so many people spoke of Whitey's integrity.
His commitment to his family, community and church. His word being his bond. Being honest and a straight shooter---those were the memories of Whitey Ruuska.
He may not have been with us physically but his character was on full display.
How else could you make grown men cry?