We gather this morning to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of Richard “Dick” Helmers. We also gather to squarely face essential questions of life and death.
I take you to the Word of God in Psalm 46 we read,
1 God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
2 So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
In John 11 Jesus went to a funeral for his friend Lazarus. He disrupted that funeral by bringing Lazarus back from the dead! He did this to forcefully make a point. Before he even went to the tomb where Lazarus was buried he said to his sister Martha,
25 “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. 26 Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”
These verses give us hope and perspective today. They remind us that this life is not all there is and that we don’t have to face this time of sadness alone.
Will you pray with me?
Our Father, we come to you today because our family member or friend has died. We ache to think that Dick is no longer here with us. We draw comfort when we think about Him being with you. Draw us close to you this day our Lord. Help us to remember that we grieve because we have had the privilege to love and to be loved. Bind our hearts together and draw us into your presence we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Richard L. (Dick) Helmers, was born March 28, 1941 in La Harpe, IL. To Wendell and Mary Alice (Carmack) Helmers. Dick grew up in La Harpe and never moved far from home.
Dick was a worker. Even when he was in High School he was loading groceries on the busy Friday nights in La Harpe. He went to Gem City College and then worked at First State Bank in La Harpe. He was the cashier at the Bank for many years and then worked with investments and became the President of the Western Illinois Credit Union.
Dick was very active in community organizations with 45 years of service and was a founding member of the LaHarpe Lions where he served as president from 1972 to 1973. He received the Melvin Jones Fellow award and served as a district representative. He served for 26 years on the LaHarpe Volunteer Fire Department. Dick was also a member of LaHarpe Masonic Lodge 195 for 53 years and served as Worshipful Master twice.
Merely reciting the deeds of Dick Helmers doesn’t really tell you who he was. Dick was a guy that liked people and loved life. He didn’t seem to see strangers only friends he had not met yet. He gave himself freely to others. If you were willing to learn, he was willing to patiently teach you everything he knew.
Dick was the kind of dad the kids could talk to. They could say whatever they needed to say without fear of lectures. He was always the first to help if the kids or grandkids needed assistance. He loved being a dad and grandfather.
Every morning Dick would get up and get his cup of coffee. He would lay a spoon across the top of the cup and fill the spoon with sugar until the spoon fell into the cup. That’s how he knew he had enough sugar.
Dick loved to take the family camping. Back when the La Harpe Bank closed at noon on Thursday he would come home, hook up the trailer and head to a close campground. He would get up and go to work on Friday and then head back out to the campground for the weekend.
Dick liked to mow his own lawn (“if you want the job done right you do it yourself). He made sure he changed directions every other time so the grass would have that diamond look to it.
Dick liked to be active. He loved to golf and had two holes in one. However, his most memorable day of golf may have been the time he and Karen were golfing in Jacksonville. It was a quiet day on the course and Dick suggested Karen go ahead and tee off on the Women’s Tee. She did so. For some reason Dick did not wait until she had come back to the men’s tee or until she could take cover. He teed off and nailed her with a line drive shot and knocked her to the ground. He was so shocked he didn’t even yell. Dick said he was paralyzed for a little bit because he thought he may have killed his wife. As Karen reports . . . he soon wished he had killed her!
Dick and Karen loved to golf together. They were in a tournament at the Country Club in Macomb. It was an alternating ball tournament. They won the whistle which was given to the team that yelled at each other the most.
Dick had a large collection of golf balls on display in his basement. He likely knew where every one of them came from.
He was an avid St. Louis Cardinal Fan and also an Illini Fan. These two things provoked no end of argument between he and Boyd Mueller.
Dick loved to fish. He was part of a Bass Fishing Club and he often partnered with Bill Kurtz. One time the group of guys were loading the boat on the trailer. Dick went to the back behind the boat and suddenly disappeared! He had slipped and fallen down. When the guys asked what happened he told them, demonstrating what had happened. And you can guess what happened: he did the same thing and got exactly the same result!
Then there was the time Dick went fishing with Dave Garner at Argyle Lake. Dick was excited because he hooked a big one. He fought he fought hard and won the battle. He never did mount his catch however. Because, let’s face it, who wants a stick on the wall?
One time when he and Karen were spending the winter at the Gulf Shores they went to Fort Morgan. It was pretty deserted in the winter. Dick backed up the car and buried it in the sand! I mean he BURIED it. He and Karen could not open their doors!
Dick was a guy who was always willing to help if he could. He was asked to help at the Country Club. He was glad to do it. He didn’t want to get his truck dirty so he brought the four wheeler over to the Club. When he was done working he went to drive the 4-wheeler back into the truck. Unfortunately, instead of hitting the break, he hit the accelerator which put a big dent in the truck!
When Dick went to Vegas he showed how lucky he was. He walked up to a slot, put in $1.00 and won $900.00. It went that way the whole weekend. He was able to pay for the whole trip with his winnings. His companions were not near as lucky. But knowing Dick, he probably never drew attention to the fact that he was winning and they were not!
If you read the obituary you saw that Dick liked going to choir practice. He went to choir practice once a month. “Choir Practice” was the code name for going to play poker with the guys. It was a fun time for the guys to get together and have some fun. Dick had lots of friends because he was such a good friend. Dick also enjoyed playing 4 point Pitch. (I understand he might have still had an outstanding debt he hadn’t paid). And he loved to play Cribbage with the kids and Grandkids.
Dick and Karen were married for 27 years but you may not know this: the marriage almost didn’t make it a week! Right after their wedding Dick decided to tape a fishing show . . . and taped over the video of their wedding ceremony!
Karen’s mom was sick one Christmas season and Karen said she was not going to “do Christmas”. She didn’t have time to decorate. Since Christmas was important to Dick he decided he would decorate.
When Karen returned home Dick met her at the door and he was quite agitated. He said the house was overrun with rodents! He reported that they had made nests in the Christmas tree. Fortunately, Dick had removed all the nests but they still needed to do something about the varments. Unfortunately, they were not nests! It was a “flocked” Christmas Tree. Yes . . . Dick had vacuumed off all of the flocking that had been on the tree!
Dick loved Christmas. All the kids came over to celebrate. Dick had kind of a love/hate relationship with his Christmas lights. He had lights all over his bushes and when he went out to get rid of the snow with the snowblower he promptly caught the lights in the blower and that was the end of the lights!
He loved model trains. He had quite the train set up in the basement and was always excited when he got something new for his trains. Almost every year Dick and Karen had to stop at the train museum in Foley, Alabama. Not much changed in the museum from year to year but Dick enjoyed stopping anyway.
Dick loved to take pictures. He and Karen took a cruise to Alaska and Dick loved the trip. It was a great experience for him. He took probably 2000 pictures. And I suspect he wished he had taken more pictures and more trips like that.
In Derek’s Senior year the basketball team won the regional championship. Coach Schmitz and Coach Lafferty planned to take the team to watch the state finals in Champaign. As the time neared neither coach was able to attend. So . . . Dick and Jim King took 10 senior boys to Champaign for a week to watch the state basketball championships. There is some question of who was chaperoning whom.
Dick Helmers loved people. One of the things his kids remember most fondly are all the cook-outs and neighborhood parties in the garage. The garage was a favorite meeting place the week of Summerfest.
As much grief as we give Dick (and in fairness . . . he would do the same to us if he had the chance), Dick was wonderfully thoughtful. One of the reasons we can give him such a hard time is because he made fun of himself. He loved telling these stories. He always had a joke. He never took himself too seriously. He supported Karen in everything that she did. He enjoyed tracking down history. He loved to learn. He was always supportive of his family, his friends, and anyone who needed a friend.
Doug, Debbie and Derek knew they could always count on their dad. Even though they were scattered they kept in touch. Dick loved his family. He knew that his greatest blessing was his family. This last March the kids had a surprise 75th birthday party for their dad. He enjoyed the event thoroughly. I hope he was able to see the impact that he had on so many lives.
He was a wonderful dad, a loving husband, and the best kind of friend you could have. He will be sorely missed and fondly remembered.
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 said, “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 Dick’s life what we remember is not the amount of money he had in the bank, or the nice things he owned. What we remember and cherish is the love he showed, and the spirit with which he lived. We remember his smile, his consideration, his spirit, 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”? Times like this provide us the opportunity to evaluate and to change direction if needed so we can live more fully.
Second, a funeral reminds us that life is temporary. One of the reasons we don’t like funerals, is because it reminds us that someday we too are going to die. The truth is that we are not guaranteed a single day. Realizing this fact should help us to live more fully. We are reminded that must not delay in expressing love. We must not put off the opportunities we have to engage with people. 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. It seems to me that Dick Helmers had this much figured out. He lived right up until he died.
A funeral also forces us to consider what lies beyond the grave. 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 in virtue? Why not just get what you can, in whatever way you can, and just forget about the other guy? Why not live for the moment because nothing else ultimately 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 Jesus who claimed along with his friends and followers, that He was God in human form. He 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 is compelling and people over the centuries have been radically and permanently changed because they were convinced He came back from the dead. It was 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 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 to say that I never had a talk with Dick Helmers about faith in Christ. I have no idea what was in the depth of his heart or how he felt about God or about Christ. He had gone to church at various times. I’m told he believed, he just wasn’t big on going to church. Church attendance is not required; trust in Christ is required. God knew Dick’s heart and he will do what is right. We confidently entrust Dick Helmers to our Lord.
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 Dick Helmers. 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 last week has been very intense. The loss is overwhelming. However, the intensity of the loss is because of the greatness of your affection. Grief comes because we loved. The challenge in this time of grief is not only to remember that Dick Helmers died . . . but to remember that he lived. . . Oh how he lived!
I hope you will remember Dick Helmers often,
- When you are out fishing
- When a neighbor needs a hand
- When you see model trains in a store
- When you are out on the golf course
- When you hear laughter
- When you are putting Christmas lights on your bushes
- When you see the Lions Club members marching in a parade or see a sign advertising La Harpe Summerfest
- When you pull out your Christmas Tree
- Or pick up a big stick from the yard
- When you retell some of these great stories
- And when you pause to remember the people who have impacted your life in a positive way.
If you remember Dick Helmers at these times, you will honor his memory. And if that memory brings a smile, Dick Helmers would be pleased.
Father, we thank you for the life of Dick Helmers. He brought joy and smiles into our lives. We thank you for his compassion and his spirit. We ask you to welcome him into your kingdom.
Lord, please bring comfort to his family and these friends. Grant us a measure of his spirit that we might learn from his example and likewise share the life he shared with others.
And as we reflect, do draw us closer to You. Help us as we consider the meaning of life and death. Use this time to ignite or rekindle faith in our hearts. We ask in Jesus name. Amen.