The very recent passing of two wonderful people has caused me to think back on some of the many ways they both touched my life. Their involvement in one particular part of my childhood makes me remember the generosity of another great person who sadly left us – way too early – many years ago.
In 1981, a few days after Christmas, a fire destroyed my family’s house in rural Gardner. In the hours and days that followed, we received a lot of help from some very kind people. On the night of the fire Frank and Myra Deters and their children opened their home to us. As I recall, I slept on one of their beds and ate more than my share of their food for several days. My mother and sister stayed with them even longer. I’m sure they offered all of this help and comfort to us without being asked.
When the spring school semester began, I was invited by Vernon and Evelyn Pickert to stay at their home. My schedule was the same as their son’s was, so he and I could ride to and from school and sports and other events together. Again, I ate their food and slept (often overslept) on one of their beds for several days as my mother tried to figure out what to do next.
The question of what our family would do from there was answered through the incredible generosity of Chuck Keller. For various reasons, our insurance wasn’t going to cover the full cost of replacement of our home. Chuck was a home builder who – also without being asked – offered to rebuild our house at-cost. Not only did he do that, but while he was doing it, he let us stay in a small but lovely rental house that he and his wife Betty owned on Gardner Lake.
My family was very close to the Deters family. We enjoyed their friendship and generosity for many years before the fire. Frank and my father shared farming equipment, pasture land, wisdom and many hours of their sons’ unpaid labor. Frank’s work ethic, family values and sense of humor made a lasting impression on me.
The Pickert family had a similar influence on my early life. Their son was my best friend and I spent many hours playing basketball in their driveway and ping pong in their basement. Evelyn always welcomed me and offered food and advice like I was one of her own children. Her involvement in my life and in our church and community taught me a great deal about family, faith and citizenship.
Before the fire, I knew of Chuck and Betty Keller, but did not know them personally. I will never forget though, the great compassion, kindness and incredible generosity they showed me and my family. I will always remember Chuck as a man of strong faith and professionalism. He taught me so much about how one can positively affect the lives of others and was also a great influence on my own choice of home-building as a career.
There were many people – family, friends and I think probably even strangers – who helped my family through that difficult time in our lives. I’m grateful to all of them and grateful that we lived in a community like Gardner where good people can and do come through in other peoples’ times of need. I’m especially thankful for the generosity of the Deters, Pickert and the Keller families. And judging from the attendance at the services for Frank, Evelyn and Chuck, we were not the only family to benefit from their kindnesses.
Greg Rothers, Parkville Mo.