We have gathered this morning for several purposes: First we have gathered to celebrate the life and contribution of Neal Patterson. Second, we gather to comfort each other in our time of loss. And third we come together to seek meaning, purpose and hope in the time of loss.
In the Bible we read this assurance that no matter what we are going through we don’t have to go through it alone. King David wrote,
God is our refuge and our strength a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof, the Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Jesus spoke to His disciples right before he was going to die and He encouraged them with these words that have encouraged every subsequent generation since.
Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my fathers house are many mansions; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go and prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. You know the way to the place where I am going…Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me.
Today we seek God’s strength and His perspective as we grieve and remember.
Please pray with me.
Father we come together this morning feeling the cold emptiness of loss. Though we may have been as prepared for Neal to die as possible, there is still a hollowness about this day. We ask you to help us. Help us to treasure what Neal meant to us. Help us to appreciate his life and his heart. Help us also to find something real to anchor to during this time of drifting. Encourage, instruct us, and comfort us, we ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Charles Neal Patterson was born June 10, 1924 in LaCrosse, Illinois, the son of Earl and Mona McCleary Patterson. On June 17, 1943, he married Merle Rathbun in Kahoka, Missouri. She preceded him in death on December 13, 2007.
Neal, and his brother were co-owners of the LaHarpe FS service station from 1948 to 1977. They had a reputation for helping farmers by allowing them to delay payment until the crops were harvested. He then worked for Farm Service Company until his retirement.
He was a charter member of the LaHarpe Lions Club, a member of LaHarpe Lodge #195 AF & AM, and the LaHarpe Christian Church. He enjoyed attending the LaHarpe and Illini West Football and Baseball games right up to a couple of weeks ago. He was an avid St. Louis Cardinal fan.
Neal died Monday October 10, 2011 in Genesis East Medical Center in Davenport IA.
He is survived by one daughter – Carol Boeker of Madeira Beach, FL.,
three granddaughters- Chrissie (Brent) Kienol-Berlett of Fort Madison, IA.,
Heather Kienol of Burlington, IA.
and Niki Kienol of LaHarpe,
one great grandson- Stefan Berlett .
He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife, one daughter, Cindy Kienol, two sisters and one brother.
Neal’s Grand-daughters have some memories of Grandpa. I ask Heather to come up at this time.
How do you verbally honor the man who met more to you than life itself? I guess I should start by saying that I know that he would not want me to be sad or for any of us to be sad. My grandfather promoted happiness and kindness everywhere he went. I have never heard an ill word stated by my grandfather or about my grandfather and that cannot often be said about anyone.
My grandpa showed his kindness in many ways;
When I was a child, I was at my grandparents’ house almost every single day after school. The highlight of my week was spending the night at their house. Grandpa and I would play Checkers and Connect Four and he often allowed me to win, but eventually, I got good enough that there was no letting me win, I just did. He would pop some popcorn and serve it in a Las Vegas colored bowl and allow me to sit on his lap. When he came home from work and rested his eyes on the couch- he never got upset at me for trying to wake him and was smart enough to know that if he told me he was just resting his eyes, not sleeping, that I would leave him alone.
When I needed someone to help me ride a bike, he was sure to be the one behind me, holding on to that seat, till I said, “Let go.”
When I was in sports, he would cheer me on in the stands and ensure that I always had a ride home so I didn’t have to ride the bus. I hated the bus, the bus ride took forever. Every season, with each sport event I participated in, he would choose a day to buy all the team members a soda or candy bar from the local concession stand. No other caregiver did that on my team. And as I am sure many of you know, even after his grandchildren were grown and no longer involved in such activities, he continued to attend local sport events and supported the local sport teams, and if you would have asked, he would have bought you a candy bar or soda I am sure.
When I had parent teacher conferences, he would attend, along with my mother and grandmother and he would read my work and observe my arts and crafts with such pleasure, despite the fact that I thought they were all so stupid.
When it was time to learn to drive, my grandpa offered up his own car and with him, I met all my driving hours. When it was time to buy a car, grandpa went with me and showed me how to “talk down” the dealer. He would say- “Don’t act too interested, that’s how they get ya. When you find a car you want, start to make a deal, and when they refuse to come down on the price, start to walk away, they will follow you.” Needless to say, I was not very good at this the first time around but he was right, as he lead me away, that car dealer followed and grandpa got me a good deal on my very first car.
And when that very first car broke down, grandpa was my first phone call and he was the first one to come and pick me up and take me home safely.
When I got pulled over for a speeding ticket- grandpa was always sure to tell me he had read my name in the paper and gave me that stern look, sadly this happened more than once. He would then get up from his chair, go outside and inspect my car, and would often come inside to tell me that my tire was going flat or that I needed to change my oil. Always looking out.
My grandpa was always a teacher- as he ensured that if he did not have an answer I was seeking, he would be sure to find out the answer. He would help me with my homework and would never give me the darn answers and made me do the work all by myself. Even as I got older, I knew I could always call grandpa up with any question about the world and he would be sure to answer my questions, sometimes I wouldn’t even call to ask him anything but he would turn the tables around and ask me a question that I often did not have the answer to, for example; Where is Grinnel, IA? I would respond, “I don’t know, I just know I am going and not driving.” Later that day grandpa would proudly call me up and tell me, “I looked up Grinell on the Atlas and it is just passed……o heck, I don’t remember what he said because I could care less, still to this day, but grandpa, he was always learning more and more with each passing day and was always encouraging us to learn. He was the smartest man I have ever known. It was probably all that Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy he used to watch.
When I was a waitress, grandpa would be sure to come and visit me almost weekly and would often leave a generous tip.
When I graduated high school, grandpa was there, smiling and looking so proud.
When I went to college, grandpa would warn- be careful of that brown bottle, it will get ya.
When I graduated college and began to work, grandpa was so proud of each new promotion and each new opportunity. He always knew where I worked and what I did which is pretty impressive if you think about it.
My grandpa was so young at heart- as he traveled to all 50 states and just kept going. Train rides, hiking, donkey riding, dipping in the ocean, laying on the beach, riding on a boat, riding in a hot air balloon, you name it, he did it. He was so proud of his travels and again, it just added to all that knowledge that he had to share. He was also very proud to take all his grandchildren on summer vacations, almost every year. How many grandparents can you say did that?
What I am trying to get at is; there is not enough time in the world to tell you how great my grandfather was. How accomplished and brilliant he lived his life. How much he met to me and how he was my hero for many reasons. I have never seen someone love as hard as my grandfather. My grandpa was the one who stood strong with the passing of his wife and his daughter, my grandma and mother. My grandpa was the one who opened his arms to his grandchildren and became not only our grandpa, but our grandma, father, and mother. My grandpa took on a heavy burden of having to wear all these hats and not once did he complain because that was the type of man he was. My grandpa would take the shirt off his back for anyone and that is how I am going to remember him. He will forever be the greatest man I have ever known and I will forever be blessed to have been a part of his life and because of this, I am not sad and take comfort that he can now rest his eyes.
Chrissie has written the following letter to her son.
I remember my mother shaking her head as she told me I would never find a man like your Great Grandpa, that he had “broken the mold.” And, as she had a tendency to be most the time, she was right, with the exception of your Daddy. I knew when I recognized that your Daddy and your Great Grandpa shared many of the same traits and qualities, that he was “the one” for me.
You are truly blessed to have had both men in your life to lead you by example. Even though you only shared what seemed like the briefest of time with your Great Grandpa, I want you to know that he already loved you very very much, and I could already tell how very proud of you he was! He carried pictures of you in his wallet, and had a whole bulletin board of your photos over his chair in the living room. I know, in the years to come, you will be too young to remember him beyond the few treasured photos I have of the two of you together. I deeply regret that you will not have the honor, and the privilege, of knowing your Great Grandpa the way I have. But, I fully intend for not only you, but for myself as well, to never, ever forget the man who was my hero – my Dad, my Grandpa. I am a better person just by having had him in my life, and I promise to share the best of parts of him with you so that may grow up in his reflection.
I promise to be always present in your life just as my Grandpa was in mine. I do not remember a Christmas, a birthday, or even a Halloween without my Grandpa being a part of it. Every sporting event, every choir concert, every band contest – he never missed a one. And even if you are not the star quarter back, the left-handed pitcher, or sitting first chair – I promise to support you in your efforts and in whatever path your life should take, just as my Grandpa supported me. I will always be there for you when you need me, Stefan, just as your Great Grandpa was there for not only me and our family, but for his friends and the members of his community, as well.
Everyone who knew your Great Grandpa has a story to share about him. It always seemed to me that my Grandpa was known – and knew – everyone for miles around. I am sure this had a lot to do with him working for FS, and driving around the gas truck that for so many years – literally – fueled – so many peoples’ lives. I remember needing help just to climb up into that big beast, and having to sit on a stack of books just to see out of the window. It was a bumpy, dusty ride along all those country back roads that yourGreat Grandpa seemed to know like the back of his hand. Afterwards, we’d stop at the FS plant and visit with Janet Johnson, and your Great Grandpa would buy me a bottled soda – usually root beer – from the pop machine, and I’d get to pick out a sucker from the big jar on Janet’s desk.
Growing up, I remember when someone didn’t know who I was, all I had to do was tell them I was “Neal Patterson’s Granddaughter.” I always took great pride in being his granddaughter, and I will do my best to make you just as proud of me and your family name. But, it wasn’t just the name, “Neal Patterson” that people knew – they also knew him by his perpetual smile and good deeds – by the type of man he was – his integrity and his love of his family, friends, and life in general.
So many of the stories I have heard and become familiar with about your Great Grandpa speak of his kindness and generosity to others over the years. From being a charter member of the LaHarpe Lions Club to running the LaHarpe Service Station with your Great Uncle Dean for many years – I will teach you to also be giving of your time and talents. I will do my best to impart on you his work ethic – to teach you to not only work hard, but how to appreciate the value of a dollar, and to be smart about spending and saving. I will teach you to be strong – even when life seems it cannot be any farther from fair or forgiving. I will teach you to be loyal – even if it as simple as honoring your favorite sports teams, just as he was loyal to the St. Louis Cardinals or the Illini West Chargers. I will teach you to be a good friend, just as he was to the White’s, the Mapes’, and the Chapin’s – just to name a few. I will teach you to be present in your life, to not sit back and let it pass you by. Together, we will travel distances both near and far – by mule, by tractor, by truck, by plane, by boat, or by “choo-choo”- to experience and explore all life have to offer in the short time that we are all here.
I will teach you to enjoy the simple things…like enjoying time spent on a porch swing, sitting next to fire and roasting hot dogs, fishing (without falling in), the beauty and expectation of seeing baby robins in their nest each spring, or perhaps we will spend one whole summer doing nothing that you will remember but walking together through the woods.
I will make sure you know how to make home-made ice cream, that you enjoy popcorn eaten from your own bowl, and that there’s nothing better than fresh summer peaches. I will take you to Auerlio’s for pizza now and again (and maybe even use a pair of heavy silver scissors to cut your pizza into squares instead of slices), and I’ll take you to The Palms (when you learn to sit still – you will learn to sit still, won’t you??), and we will sit at the bar and I will order you your first Shirley Temple.
I will teach you silly but important stuff you will not even think of – like how to spell Mississippi (M-I-crooked letter- crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I), how to play Solitaire two different ways with a deck of cards (and not the computer), how you start a jigsaw puzzle by first using all the “straight pieces” to build the border, how to (surely) become a better speller after watching nightly episodes of “Wheel of Fortune,” and about how mopeds are just as cool and sporty as Grandpa Duane’s Harley.
And I will teach you some other really important things – like how to tie your shoes, how to throw a ball, how long you can sit in a hot-tub before you “shrivel up,” how if you stick with it (and ask your Dad) how you can make it through 8th Grade Math, and how to drive a car.
I will teach you all the things this great man taught me, but most of all – I will teach you about love, and I will love you the way I know he loved me…his wife…his daughters…you. And, I want you to know, that I did not take lightly the responsibility of being there for your Great Grandpa during his last days. When the nurse came in to dismantle the towers of IV pumps, fluids, and machines – it was like a building being tore down – the tallest, strongest, most invincible building I could never imagine living in a world without. It felt as though she were tearing down “the house that built me.” And, there was a moment when I wanted to reach out and stop her. But, sometimes when you love someone, you still have to let them go. I remember my breath catching in my throat when the last machine was turned off. For the first time, I understood what it meant when someone says “the silence was deafening.” But for as difficult as all that was, just as he was always there for me, I did not want to be anywhere else but there with him as he took his last breaths. I want you to know that he went peacefully, quickly, and with the people who he loved (and who loved him) the most – surrounding him. I promise you will always feel that circle of love around you, as well, Stefan.
In the Memory of Your Great Grandfather and with All My Love,
October 13, 2011
If you are like me, you listen to these memories and remember a special man. It seemed like Neal was always smiling, laughing and having a good time. We were neighbors for many years and we would visit as he walked by the house. We frequently saw each other at the post office and at school ball games. It is hard to imagine anyone not liking Neal.
As a businessman Neal was always willing to give a customer time to pay a bill. He understood the farm economy and knew that some people wouldn’t have any money until the crops came in.
He was a man who lived life fully. He was always looking forward rather than back. He invested in people. He loved to travel. He spent time in each of the 50 states. He was always up for an adventure whether it was a card game, a hike through the woods, a trip to Florida, a train trip across the country, donning a Pirate costume with Carol’s friends in Florida, going fishing, or doing something crazy with the Lions Club.
Neal loved his family. He worked hard to get them together and wanted to support them in any way possible. He served as a father figure for his Grand-daughters and they knew they could always count on him.
He was a man who was always learning. He loved Crossword puzzles. If he heard a word he didn’t know he looked it up in the dictionary. If he heard of a place and didn’t know where it was located he’d look it up on a map. He was always learning.
Neal Patterson was a man most of us looked up to. We respected his character, admired his spirit, and trusted his friendship. Our community will be a little less cheerful because Neal is gone.
A funeral is something that most of us dread. It is a sad time of saying good-bye to someone we have cared about in life. When we talk about funerals we say we “have to go to a funeral”.
King Solomon had a different spin on things. In the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible we read these words,
Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies— so the living should take this to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. 4 A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time. (Ecclesiastes 5:2-4 NLT)
Solomon says, “If you have a choice between going to a funeral or going to a party . . . choose the funeral. It is a better investment of your time. At a party you may have a good time but you won’t do anything that is truly productive. Not so with a funeral.
Think about it. At a funeral we are led to think about what is truly important in life. As we look at and reflect on Neal’s life what we remember is not the amount of money he had in the bank, or the nice things he owned. We don’t remember the product he sold or the awards he won. What we remember and cherish is the love he showed, and the spirit with which he lived. We remember his smile, his consideration, and his service. We need the reminder that these are the things that are truly important in life.
There is quote that is attributed to the Dali Lama (with whom I would disagree on many things). He was asked what surprised him most about humanity he answered,
“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.
A funeral reminds us to ask the question “What is it that is really important in life”? It provides the opportunity to change direction and to live more fully.
Second, a funeral reminds us that life is temporary. I think one of the reasons we don’t like funerals, is because it reminds us that some day we too are going to die. The truth is that we are not guaranteed a single day. Realizing this fact helps us to live more fully. We are reminded that must not delay in expressing love. We must not put off teaching values to our children. We should enjoy being with those whom we love. We are reminded that we need to forgive quickly and be reconciled fully. We shouldn’t put these things off to some future day because we may not have that future day. Maybe this is why Neal worked so hard to keep the family together and why he worked so hard to build memories. He understood the temporary nature of life. He lived in such a way that he would have no regrets. We would be wise to do the same.
Third, a funeral is good for us because it forces us to consider eternity. It is easy to sidestep questions such as: “Is this all there is?” “What happens after we die?” “Is life really just a mad dash to nowhere?” We don’t sidestep these questions at a funeral because suddenly they matter greatly.
They are the most important questions. If life is merely a mad dash to nothingness we are left with despair. If this is all there is, then what motivation do we have to sacrifice our lives for someone else? If there is no real destination in life what real value is there really in virtue? Why not just get what you can, in whatever way you can, and just forget about the other guy? Why not just live for the moment because nothing else matters?
But there is another possibility. “What if there is a life beyond the grave?” If there is, that changes our entire perspective on living. It changes how we view death and how we respond to today.
The Bible has stood up under intense scrutiny for centuries. It proclaims a different message. It says we are living now to live again. It tells us that there is a God who created the world and everything in it with a purpose. We are taught that we are valuable and precious to God and He wants to have a relationship with us. It says that there is a right way and a wrong way to live and we will someday give an account for our choices.
In the Bible we read about a man named Jesus who claimed along with his friends and followers that He was God in human form. Jesus taught brilliantly, lived like no one else and yet was a victim of grave injustice and executed because he bucked the status quo. We are told He died willingly and He said He did it for us. He paid the price for our rebellion. The Bible loudly proclaims that Jesus came back from the dead. History and science have never been able to prove otherwise. Hundreds saw Him alive. The evidence for His resurrection was compelling and people were radically and permanently changed because they were convinced He had come back from the dead. It was this Jesus who told us,
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”
5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. (John 14:1-6)
The Bible tells us not only that there is life beyond the grave; but also that we can know life after death if we will truly trust and rely on Jesus in this life. It is a bold promise. It says we should live differently now because what we do here matters forever. Justice will be done. Sacrifices do have value. Death need not be feared.
I regret that I never had an in depth talk with Neal Patterson about faith in Christ. I don’t think we ever talked about what lies beyond the grave. But I believe he went to church because he knew that his hope was in Jesus. I believe he moved on after devastating losses because he believed that the resurrection of Jesus proved that this is not all there is. I believe he faced his own death unafraid because he knew that is not the end . . . it is only a transition point. And if that is what Neal did indeed believe, then I stand here today confident that I will see Neal again. I smile at the thought of God welcoming Neal and saying, “You did good, my son.” That one moment would make any sacrifice in this life worth it. That one moment of standing before the Lord is worth living for.
It’s tough to go to a funeral because it means we have experienced a loss. But it is important to be here. This is where we remember the joy, the service, the laughter, the kindness and the life of Neal Patterson. This is where we come to give thanks to God for blessing our lives so richly through him. And this is also where we remind ourselves of what is truly important. This is where we re-focus, remembering the shortness of this life. And hopefully it is also where we take a renewed grasp on the reality of life beyond the grave. If we will consider and reflect on these things, if you will refocus your own life, if you will get serious about following the way of Christ, and if you will remember fondly the life of Neal Patterson, then this will have been time well spent. And if I know Neal Patterson . . . he would like that.
Father, we bow before you and reflect on life. Thank you for creating us. Thank you for bringing Neal Patterson into our lives.
Father, please help us in this time of grief. Help us to remember Neal’s voice, his face, his example. Help this family who has lost their patriarch. Grant them your comfort. Grant that Stefan and any future Great-Grandchildren might learn and somehow grasp what a rich heritage that has been provided for them.
Help us all as we move from this place. Grant that we might have a new perspective on life and on death. Help us to realign our priorities. Stir up the embers of faith in our souls that we might truly and fully put our hope in You. Grant us that sure hope that comes through Christ. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.