There is always, for most of us anyway, someone in our life that we look up to. Depending on what stage of life we are in, that individual may change, another person taking their place. Most times those people leave indelible marks. Today I do not offer an exception to the rule, but a passing mention of an important man. An important man to me.
I was lucky enough to be born into a family of three men that greatly influenced my life. There was my grandfather, a man who taught me many things, and, most importantly, taught me to think independent thoughts and walk the path less traveled.
My father was just that, a father. Unlike so many parents today, my father did not try to be my friend. He tried his best to be my father, a man who taught me about life and taught me things that only a father can teach. I just hope he didn’t leave anything out.
Then, there was my uncle, my father’s younger brother. As a child I wanted so much to be like this man. He was as large as life itself, and lived it to the fullest. He was a big man in stature, and even a larger man in life. I dreamed of those days when I might follow in his footsteps. Know that I failed miserably.
Over the past 30 years there are those times when his memory looms large in my mind. Here, the past few days, it’s been front and center. Why? I couldn’t say. There’s no significance to this particular time of year. He was born in April, he died in May, so it can’t be that. Maybe it’s the fact that it is summer. There were those times in my youth when I might be found beside him with a fishing pole in hand, or at the lake being towed behind his boat while I enjoyed the excitement of a moment in time atop a set of water skis, or sitting in the passenger seat of his Pontiac, or Corvette, while he test drove it a day or two before a race. Whatever the reason, just know that his memory is always there, sometimes tucked away nice and quiet like, and other times dancing to the tune of life at the front of my memories.
Today, with his daughter’s permission I’d like to share with you the eulogy I wrote at the time of his funeral. He wasn’t with us long, but he influenced so many.
“Ronald Lee Wheeless came to this world on April 25, 1938. Born of pioneer stock and raised in a family of hard work, practicality, and simple pleasures, he spent his short lifetime exemplifying that very upbringing.
“Forty-nine years—a very short time to make your mark in this world, but Ron did just that. Each of us he came in contact with became instantly aware of how much he loved life. And, that love of life he transferred to each and every one he touched.
“Less than one-half of a century is such a short span to lead such a full life. Ronald was able to squeeze the last drop of daylight out of the approaching darkness, and he showed many a person how to enjoy that final minute of each fading day. For that knowledge, so many are so thankful.
“Being raised on a farm is not an easy life, and all so reared realize early on that each hardship must be met with a strong will and a positive outlook. Ronald had several setbacks in his lifetime, and each tragedy he met with head held high and the inner drive it takes to overcome. And, overcome he did.
“A hard worker that ran his trucking business the way he lived life, Ron always found time to partake in the pleasures he so enjoyed. Whether it be a flat track oval, a quarter mile stretch of blacktop, or a fast boat on a hot day, his early life was filled with the pleasures of competition and personal danger.
“Then came the ‘middle years’ where his family became his life. Weekends in the fast lane became days on a carousel. But, the love of hard work remained strong, the tragedies continued, and each time he met the darker side of life with the bright side of his soul.
“A hunter that didn’t hunt, a fisherman that couldn’t sit still, Ron traveled through the winter of his life holding tightly to the love of the woman by his side. Although he did not conform to the pressures of society he became a standard-bearer for man. He did not lead and he chose not to follow, so he blazed his own trail through the jungle of civilization.
“All of us here, and many that aren’t, will not soon forget the individual that stood out as a man among men. Life is so mysterious, and even more so when it so suddenly snatches one of such caliber from our midsts. We will never understand, and we can never forget, but accept we will. Ron did, and so must we.
“On this day we shall bid farewell to a very dear husband, father, and friend. To this man we owe so much and our only payment can be that we continue through life the only way he knew—with head held high, and a positive approach to life.
“Farewell Ron. And, thank you for giving so much, while taking so little.”