A few remembrances of Emily

September 19th, 2019

I think we lost Emily yesterday.

She had left the university here to start a new position in Utah, something she was very excited to do. She kept us up to date on her office color (the school painted it purple? at her request) her award of tenure, a lifetime position of academic freedom, a connection to the health research center where she could focus her research on communications.

I had met Emily on the shuttle to the airport for a flight to Rome a few years ago. We had both been assigned to teach on the study abroad program in Castiglion Fiorentino that spring. My wife had known her from the TAMU Womens Club but the ride to the airport was my first meeting with her.

Landing in Italy, gathering up the students from her department and mine, in the process of finding the bus in the hubub that is the airport, and loading up to for the long ride to Santa Chiara, I could tell she was capable, organized and anxious to begin the adventure.

We arrived at around 10 or 11 I think, and the team at the center had organized check-in, and a tour of the town to keep us awake and help us get onto the right time zone. It was late winter, early spring in central Italy, cold, windy, rainy and the Texas students didn’t quite seem equipped, flip flops, shorts, tee shirts and sweatshirts, not much raingear, not many umbrellas, and not many warm coats. I remember Emily telling us about her first class where some of the students were expressing their discomfort with the weather and temperature in the building, her response was what has become a classic Emily for me, she said after hearing the complaints from the students, her words were “WEAR PANTS.”

That was Emily, clear logic, clear message, clear delivery. She attributed that to her childhood growing up on the farm, I believe it, not many farmers I know blather on about things (Jibber-Jabber she called it) The center was unique in that the faculty lived in the same building as the students, and from time to time, their blowing off steam would wake us all, as we’d stumble out to see what the commotion was she’d cast a steely-eyed glance the the “Wisenheimers” that would wither them in their steps but forgive their youthfulness quickly and re-engage them to find a lesson in the situation.

She was also remarkably open to the world, traveling wide eyed like all of us, encountering history, culture, vibrant life, while seeking out chocolate, or gelato, or the best pesto pasta. She never feared poking fun at herself, and never poked fun at others.

Emily was intensely proud of her students, undergraduates, graduates, and especially her doctoral student. She would go on and on about her, the work they had done for DNA Day here at TAMU, how happy she as to be at G’s wedding, like a proud parent, thats how I know she truly had to soul of a teacher.

She was fierce too. We had a situation between students that was very very serious. I could see her flare in an instinct to protect, and then almost instantly, become professional as we both sought out procedure to get care for the student, protect the student, and ultimately sit with the other involved party and relay the university’s requirements and next steps. In those difficult conversations, I saw her morality, her commitment to do the right thing, in the right way, regardless of the difficulty. I think you learn a lot about people during a crisis, some cover themselves, some turn to face the issue while covering others. That was Emily.

So when I fell ill before a planned carnival weekend for my wife, it was Emily I trusted to travel with her. I could rest easy knowing they were together, two super competent, super capable women, they returned with great stories, great images and a strong friendship that makes us weep as we mourn the loss of Emily today. Mourning will go on for a long time I’m afraid. I think anyone who met Emily feels this loss today, and will miss her forever.


March 27th, 2019

Overnight I received word that a paper sent to a journal was accepted for publication. Someone had asked why that journal and I remember blurting out “I’m not going to live forever, and I believe this work should be a part of the body of knowledge.??? A reasonable blurt I think, because really, we never know what life will give us next.

I’m thinking of how I might help when I get older. I won’t be wealthy, I’m pretty sure of that, so maybe I’ll be able to help my grandchildren in other ways, but at the baptism I was thinking, I”m aging fast and my grandchildren are smart (the smartest! as every grandparent might say) I’d like to show them how to fish moose bay and find the spot where the creek enters the lake, or the pikeweed gardens behind john’s island but I know thats pretty unlikely. I’d like to build plastic model things with them, boats, cars, aircraft, these were super in helping me understand how things work, and there’s a chance that when my grandchildren are old enough (about 8 or so) I’ll still be facile enough to build with them, if they’re interested, which is hard to say but i’ll hope for. I’d like to show them tools and help them to known that they can build things for themselves, again, if they’re interested, but that might be most appropriate in about 10 years, and again, what will I be able to do when I’m 76?

Life changes fast, the people we love aren’t with us forever. One moment can change what we thought our lives were or would be. In an instant. I’m pretty sure that 11 years ago today, Tyler didn’t wake up thinking “I’m going to save a life today” and I’m pretty sure my favorite youngest daughter didn’t wake up thinking “Today I’ll run back towards the shooter to help Tyler.” We just don’t think those things yet we do them. In an instant, life puts a situation in front of us that can show us who we really are, and sometimes that’s a person we didn’t think was inside us.

We had a baptism this past weekend, our second granddaughter who was sweet and talkative and seemed calmed by the whole ceremony. I was thinking that on that day she really knew just two faces, her mom and dad, and kind of knew some other faces, grandparents and aunts and uncles, but didn’t seem to balk or complain about all the other faces that held her, looked into her eyes, and made little baby phrases to her for a good part of her afternoon. Babies are like that, they trust us, and in giving us her trust, like our grand sons and granddaughters, they transform us.

Eleven years ago I was ready to seek vengeance against that attacked my daughter and Tyler, something I normally don’t pursue in life, but children transform you, and if my daughter chose Tyler that made him part of my life, and someone to defend. The detective listened to my anger, and gave me confidence that the law would exact a just punishment on those who killed Tyler. It still shakes me deeply to know that had the gun not jammed, my favorite youngest daughter would be gone too. Watching my daughter grieve and fight her way back from this trauma continues to be one of the harder things I do as a parent. Seeing her channel her life experiences towards protecting us all amazes me and fills me with pride each day. It has to be hard, and I know it could have turned out differently without the love and support her sister and husband gave without thinking about it. I am so grateful things are as they are today.

So if each day life can take from us, there must be a giving that life brings. Certainly children are a gift, like a sunrise, a promise of a future. But what else? An opportunity to save, to protect, to build, to teach, to help, to stand and listen when a friend has a setback, each little opportunity shows us who we are, who we could be if we keep our eyes open. At the baptism we had three sets of grandparents, all watching, but some you could see were on call, standing by for with a ready distraction for an inconsolable toddler, to head off the fall, to make a one handed grab of a youngsters plate teetering off a table, standing by because its what you do. Its not a role for everyone, keeping a suitcase packed in case you get the call, setting openings in your because you see that new parent needing a hand but it helps me to understand why I’m here. Maybe some of us are born helpers and some are born as helpees? Hard to say. But if you see an opportunity, help. It couldn’t hurt.

Be good to each other,
Help each other when you can
look after yourself
and remember Tyler Binsted today

A new schoolyear

September 4th, 2018

The school year started for me last week, our summer-quiet campus came to life filled with excited students, sad parents, and a return to business. This semester I’m working with both first and fourth-year students, something new for me. I work in some older buildings, all a little worn, buildings that struggle with some basics, but having good fundamentals, like light and a clear organization. Some of the basics the buildings struggle with are plumbing, its on-off-on-off and air conditioning, which seems to be always on and on to the max so I keep a jacket in the office just in case it gets super cold, which happens often.

I was remembering, as happens at the start of each school year, that I bought this Columbia fleece back in 2006. Not the oldest of my “go to” life tools, but one that’s become one of the most meaningful. Back in 2006, late summer life was usual, prepping for the year, last trips with my daughters, mowing the lawn all usual things. I’d always call mom and dad on Saturdays, just to keep up with them. I remember talking to Dad, hearing how he was going to fix the brick on his chimney. He was going to build a platform to put between the chimney and the roof and put a ladder on the platform to reach the chimney top. Dad enjoyed a fireplace fire I think because it reminded him of the lake house and all his years at the lake. Ending the day in front of a fire, watching it pop and flicker was a way he’d decompress I think. I remember telling him that I didn’t like his plan, that a ladder on a platform wedged between the roof and chimney didn’t sound solid enough to work from and that I could help him with the project and rent a lift in a few days. School hadn’t started and I’d take heat from my ex for taking a trip to Mom and Dad’s but it could be done I thought. I remember Dad saying he’d think about it and get back to me.

As it turns out, he had all the parts he needed for his platform and proceeded to assemble it and bring the ladder up to it. He was working on the chimney on August 10 I think it was, and something happened. The platform shifted, or the ladder pitched or maybe he lost his balance due to a wasp or something but the result was he fell. No one saw it, Mom heard it went to the door and saw him laying on the sidewalk and she called the paramedics. By the time he made it to the hospital, he was in a deep coma and passed away a month later on Sept 10.

I think it was my sister that called me, I don’t remember, and I don’t remember the drive from Virginia to Chicago. I remember taking a room in an older motel near the hospital and remember a cold rain. For some reason, I hadn’t packed a coat and after meeting everyone and getting the bleak prognosis, I walked around the grounds of the hospital and got pretty wet.

Hearing that someone who anchored your life wouldn’t likely be back, well it shifted my center. I was disoriented, trying to figure out my role, and shifted to my logistics mind. Which led me to the sporting goods store, that had a closeout on a fleece liner/rain shell that I wore again yesterday. Its weird how I usually don’t wear that shell, and usually never have the fleece liner and the shell in the same place at the same time but I did yesterday. That critical mass of shell and liner made a click in my mind. I re-read the obituaries written about Dad, the stories told, the interview of the mayor talking about Dad and spent the rest of the day’s free time rethinking it all.

That shift of center led me to a new life I think. I’m not playing a role just trying to be me. That didn’t make people happy but what can you do, you have to be who you are. I love my new life, the one who holds my heart, my grown-up daughters who are fearless in their pursuit of life, my wife’s children and our three, soon to be four grandchildren. The path to here wasn’t so easy, I still pay for it monthly, still get letters from my ex that I don’t open, I hold them as evidence…ten years and still angry-crazy, maybe one day I’ll open them or just make a fire, think of Dad and toss them in.

Lifes shifts have been hard and great for me, I feel the slight shift each time I hold a grandchild, each time I hear Dampa!! from Solana, and its a good shift. I’ll stay off the roof, and let the fleece and the memories associated with it stay in the office and I’ll think of Mom and Dad and wonder what they’d say to all this, wonder how they’d feel about great-grandchildren, and be wishing they could meet them all.

Meetings about ready to begin,
Stay safe
Keep off the roof
Remember those that have passed
and be kind to each other.

Mid-Spring and Memories

May 11th, 2017

We’re in mid-spring right now, the school year is winding down, the spring flowers are giving way to early summer blooms, the heat is rising and the summer schedule is about to begin.

Baseball here at A&M is coming to its last games of the season. Its been a good season overall, lots of freshmen players showing real promise for next year and I’ll miss the games, sitting with the one who holds my heart while trying to think of interesting things one might associate with the players names and guessing the pitch sequences to share with the fellows who regularly sit nearby.

Mothers day is kind of the beginning of summer for me. The one who holds my heart and I will pack up our little dog, maybe a new waffle iron, and some things and head south for the weekend. There will be cooking, and baby-care, and evenings outside with the fire, we’ll look back and look forward, remembering people, wishing a few wishes and looking for satellites amongst the stars.

The start of the summer schedule is always a bit tricky for me, the to-do list at home seems to grow longer each year, mostly because I haven’t finished all the projects! I still have some painting to do, some roofing to do, some decking to do, a little electrical, some flooring, and need to find a carpenter for the railing and an a/c company to replace the downstairs unit. So there’s all that.

We have a bit of moving around to do as part of our summer schedule, a drive through the beauty of west texas to visit the one who holds my heart’s parents, the rest under the big sky of New Mexico now, a place of brilliant blues and tall clouds. I enjoy that drive, its time away from the daily schedule where the one who holds my heart and I can be together. This year, on the way home from there, we will stop by and visit the family reunion, a lively group anchored by the patriarch John, and animated by … pretty much everybody else! It should be fun, especially after seeing VG and Beverly, the stories we hear are always interesting, bits of family history emerge that helps form a larger picture.

We’ll fly east shortly after to see my favorite daughters, favorite eastern son-in-law, and our favorite granddaughter! I look forward to learning her personality, seeing her teeth! and will be interested to see if she remembers me from her early days sleeping on my shoulder. We’ll visit Jim’s family I hope, see how they’re doing, we all were knocked back by his early passing and miss his wit and wisdom.

I think the rest of June kind of quiets down, maybe we’ll have some good porch sitting weather, maybe a few more fireflies, (each one a spirit) and get a little time with our favorite grandson too! Yes, i’ll get after the to-do list as well, and try to squeeze in a little writing time on the parklets paper, make some models of the Freedmen’s church, and look for calls for abstracts for next years publications.

But before all that, we celebrate graduation. Meet parents and spouses of the students, help with the ceremony, and wish them well, hoping they’ll succeed, hoping they stay in touch, hoping we helped them build a firm foundation for a long career. By my rough count this will be my 41st graduating group! If there are about 20 in each graduating class, that means I am partly responsible for 800 or so professionals out there…Thats why I hope we helped their foundation well. So many.

Facebook helps me keep up with some, others I remember when I show their work to current students. Its interesting how the artifacts of someones study can inspire another student 10, 20 or 30 years later. I showed a thesis book from VT yesterday, it was Tim’s, he had designed 3 small houses to study the differences and similarities of three kinds of sites. The student was amazed to see this work, artfully presented, each page frameable, then I unpacked Sean W. thesis. He had a flip book as part of his boxed set of documents, along with a cd that contained his walk through animations. The student looked respectfully at the work, but held the flip book and began flipping the pages to see the walkthrough animation, very clever, but then, wait theres more! flipping the pages the opposite direction showed a shading study. I watched the student flipping the pages one direction, then the other, “this just makes me happy” they said. Good work Sean!

Things from the past can be difficult sometimes, sometimes we become so focused on the challenges of each day we forget to look back, and more important, forget to value the past. Sean’s book opened up a students eyes decades later, The one who holds my heart looked back at the spring night a few days ago and remembered the joys (and scary toads and spiders) of growing up in Trinidad. You never know what someone will remember. Its hard to think about that as we go about our daily schedules, busy here, busy there, but someone, we don’t know who, will remember us, on that day, or in that place.

We all matter.

We all need each other to matter.

Mattering is memory. Hard as it might be, say out loud the memories that matter, share them around a fire or in the dark, say the names of those who mattered to you, it will help us all.

Be good to each other, look after each other, remember each other!

Sunrise and the liturgical axis (memory and holiday)

April 16th, 2017

Memory and Holiday,

This Easter morning, the one who holds my heart are up before the sun, the oven is warm, and the smell of a coffee cake mixes with coffee, and the house is quiet. We’re up to see T&M off as the make the drive to family in Houston, and somewhere along the drive, the sun will rise.

I remember reading that as the sun rises, Easter morning, that the master mason would align an iron rod with a looped rod (the bishops staff) at the moment the sun would be fully visible above the horizon. The line between the two rods established the central axis of the chapel/cathedral/church, and once established, the life of the building could begin.

I think memory is like that, a central axis in our lives. An invisible thing that holds all our bits and pieces together.

This morning I read a memory, written by a friend and colleague, about this date ten years ago. It had started out before sunrise for me that day as well, riding the shuttle to the little airport in Roanoke, Virginia. I must have seen the sun rise, between rolling mountaintops, but I don’t have a memory of that. My first memory of that day is watching a monitor while standing in line at the counter to check in. I was supposed to present a paper at a conference in Portland. The news was reporting a murder in a dormitory on campus that morning, and it gave me a bad feeling. The feeling grew as the line moved and when it was my turn to check in with the agent I remember saying that I needed to cancel my ticket, something I’d never done before, or since.

I got back on the mid morning shuttle and rode back towards campus. I remember a long line of state police cars passing us at high speed as we got off the interstate. The shuttle driver let me off downtown and I first heard the magnitude of the disaster. My class was in lockdown in the auditorium across from Norris Hall, my friend Sam had agreed to lecture on steel while I was at the conference.

The police had locked down campus and wouldn’t let me get to the auditorium, all I could do was exchange emails with my students. They were safe. I felt bad for not being with them that day, sometimes you try and fail, this was one of those times. For the students and faculty we lost that day, we hold on to the memory, its one of those knots on the axis of my life.

Spring traditionally is a time of rebirth after a long winter. Its a season of losses for my family, Tyler, Mom, and the VT tragedy temper the joy of annual rebirth. But I have more memories of Easter, happy ones watching my favorite oldest daughter collect eggs in the Fargo backyard, having eggs roll from her basket and crunch on the patio each time she bent to pick up a new egg, my favorite youngest daughter, her face blue from candy egg colors wearing a yellow sweater knit by mom, hunting (racing?) to all moms usual egg hiding places around the house (was there a secret map?) and finding candy eggs that hadn’t been discovered during the summer birthday gift hunts she would orchestrate.

I’m wishing my daughters and granddaughter a happy easter this morning from afar, we were able to have our Texas family together last night for a meal, (we used an inherited rolling pin to make a family signature dish last night) they’ll head out to see their families around town and state today, and i think the one who holds my heart and i will share a fire and a glass of wine as the sun sets today, sharing memories, making plans, and feeling the presence of Beverly, Voris, Jack and Lorraine.

I’m hoping you all have a good memory to add to the axis of your life today. Remember those friends and family who can’t be at your table today. Welcome the little ones who will need to hear your memories, its how they live on and connect our axis to those going back thousands of years.

Take care, be good to each other, keep remembering! One day thats what we’ll all be.

Turning the corner

December 21st, 2016

Its the day of the longest night. A chilly one for many of us, a night that’s perfect for nesting, and the long winter’s nap we hear about in stories.

Its inside time for most of us, leaves are raked, shrubs covered, plants have gone dormant, squirrels are piling up those last few acorns for the winter so we’re not being distracted with too many outdoor chores. That means reflective time is upon many of us, sometimes of our own doing, sometimes just because its a season of memories.

I’m remembering scavenging my old toys, radios, and flashlights to find a pair of “D” cell batteries to power a cub scout flashlight for just a few minutes of clandestine recon around the christmas tree. It was our christmas eve conspiracy. All six of us kids would wake up around 4 or 430 in the morning, get the littlest among us ready, and in our quietest socks or pajamas sneak down the stairs, checking for mom’s traps or alarm bells as we went.

The year before had been kind of mission failure, as we all crept around the living room in the dark, arms in front of us, my brother pushed forward what turned out to be a punching bag on a spring rod, which in turn, thwapped him or my sister in the face once he moved his hand, the ensuing shrieks and squeals gave us away and mom caught us all and sent us back to bed. I think that mission cost us each a chocolate santa from our stocking, the fine for being caught infiltrating, but i remember we got them all back after we did the christmas dishes.

This year, the flashlight was our secret technology, we would not be caught due to tripping, tipping, or crashing into the tree. As it turns out, Mom slept on the couch that year, waited till we all had our backs to her, and scared us half to death. I remember scrambling back up the stairs climbing over my little sisters as all six of us sprinted to the relative security of our bedrooms.

I don’t remember many other spy missions like that. If we were kids today there would be night vision goggles, kid-sized boroscopes that would help us see around corners, maybe even infra red scanners to detect a parent laying in wait for us.

I wonder what mom thought of us during those early mornings? They truly were some of the few times all six of us kids worked and acted together during the year.

All those memories came about thinking of mom and dad. We only had a few Christmas’s with them over the years, our three year rotation between them, Fred and Fran, and the third year at home was kind of limiting, but I always hope it made some positive memories for my favorite youngest and favorite oldest daughters.

I remember mom and dad loading all six of us up to take us to grandma and grampa’s for a little christmas at their house. Grandma’s tree was always flocked white, and she had red ornaments on it I think. But the herd of us didn’t spend much time upstairs, usually we were sent downstairs to the basement full of cousins. Kids we kind of knew, but always had the sense we weren’t as good as them. Maybe we were more of the rowdy irish and not as much in the kennedy irish models, I’m not sure. Grandma and Grandpa usually gave us nice sweaters and such as gifts, I think one year us kids gave them a door-sized colored santa picture, one of the two or three dad would bring home where we would all lay on the floor and burn through all the red crayons we had, and by some miracle, we’d always get a new box of crayons either in our stocking or wrapped as a gift from Santa. As I look back, that was another way mom and dad kept all six of us busy and a little quiet as we filled that 3 foot by 7 foot piece of paper with red and green crayon. Pretty clever of them.

Dad usually brought home gifts that suppliers and other subcontractors had given him. Sometimes candy, mostly cheeses and sausages, individually wrapped, carefully packed in plastic green grass inside a festive holiday box. The best ones had candy sprinkled in too. Grandma and Grandpa B would usually give us fruit from Florida, oranges and grapefruits that mom especially liked and we would make a production line to cut, squeeze and bottle juices. Fruit was a special treat during the season of the longest night. We didn’t really have the access to summer fruits year round like we do today.

A year ago I was putting the finishing (that is to say sanding off and re-applying the finish) touches on a table for my favorite oldest daughter and her husband. The came south to have a Christmas with us and like the table, so we shipped it east and I sit at it today as I type this. Like most things I do, its not a perfection piece, but it seems to work well. The best part for me was putting the family map on the underside of the top, one that gives some clues about who we all are and where we all came from. I carved a hummingbird in the underside too, the icon of my favorite eldest daughter. The table was an attempt to lock some memories in wood for the grandchildren to puzzle over.

Like maybe most of us do when reflecting on the past, we run across those feelings where we wish we had made a few more trips, spent a few more hours, caused a few less heartaches, for the parents who raised us and the relatives that supported them. Maybe in our heads we could always be better, but like the table, perfection is something maybe a person has to work their whole life to achieve. Which means maybe my next table will be better…?

In the meantime, we do what we can to make each day meaningful to those around us. Look for the opening to do little things for people that they might not notice, but makes the day a bit better. It could be I’m at the age where standing by and looking for the thing to contribute is my role. Maybe we’re not in that time of life where we’re building a family, we’re in that time of life where we’re fixing, straightening, raking, to take a few things off the to-do list of the ones we love.

Remember the ones who can’t be with you this holiday, say their names out loud so that they live another year in the hearts of the family they never got to meet. Tell their stories on this longest night, it might make the morning brighter.

Remember, the days will get longer from here on, more sunshine, more warmth, more things to do. Enjoy reflecting on Christmas past and the people that made them possible!

Time to insulate some pipes.
Be good to each other, Be kind to yourself

…without saying goodbye

December 10th, 2016

One of the pleasures in my life is having the one who holds my heart to say hello to as I wake, and goodbye, I love you, to as I head off to work. Its one of those simple gifts that i lived without for a quarter of a century and now, each day, I am thankful to have someone in life to say hello and goodbye to.

The one who holds my heart and I wake each morning together, and its one of the best gifts i have in life.

This morning, a friend of ours doesn’t have the gift I have. The one who held her heart, for reasons unknown, perhaps health, perhaps finance, perhaps just one more thing went wrong, and it looks like he made a choice to leave us all. He was a hardworking man who was liked by many, loved by many, but when that one last thing went wrong, he decided he was alone, that he couldn’t cope with any more bad things happening, and in a trigger moment, left us all and didn’t say goodbye.

Had he called any of us and said he was at the edge, looking into the darkness, we would’ve collected a group of friends and gone to his side. Maybe he knew that. Maybe he knew that those who loved him would keep him here among us, and maybe he thought that one last thing going wrong was insurmountable. It might have been, but there are 30 or more people that would have worked to find a way around it, if we couldn’t figure out a way through it.

If this was a plan, he hid it from those close to him, hid it behind a smile that was his trademark. A smile that maybe we should’ve looked through? I’ve been told that people who are serious about taking their life work hard to hide their plan. And seeing through the camouflage to see the pain, and help with the problems, is pretty hard, for me, its something i failed at, with Rich, and Freddie, and Dusty, and now with the fellow who seemed to be the happiest around.

Life is hard, we all face that, pain, poverty, loss, all of it makes life heavier than a person can bear, but don’t just leave. We need you here. We can’t fix it all, but will commiserate with you, share what we have with you because you’d do the same for us. Give someone the chance, give someone a call, only good will come of it.

We’ll drive south this afternoon for his visitation, I’m sure there’ll be a crowd there, and even if he couldn’t, we’ll all say our goodbyes today.

Be good to each other, look after each other.

A place for eternity

November 16th, 2016

The one who holds my heart is up North today, helping her family lay the ashes of her favorite male cousin to rest. I had only met him a few times and found his reserved sense of humor, his liberal political values, and his background with Mad magazine and model cars interesting. Jim devoted his career to acts that bring people together it seems, I never really knew what exactly he did, but his company was known as good negotiators, and from my experience, I think he’d be a good and fair negotiator.

Bringing people together with a third party like Jim usually only happens with the two parties can’t see eye to eye, or won’t see eye to eye. It takes a special person, one with a broad and quick intellect, one with a depth of understanding about what makes all humans human, and one with an appreciation for things larger than ones-self. That’s how I think of Jim.

When he’d visit his family here out west, he’d be recommending wine, giving us the inside scoop on Washington, and remembering his days growing up in the midwest. And he was always ready to help. I remember when my favorite youngest daughter was graduating and looking for work in the International development policy field, Jim came up with some names of people that received my daughter professionally, spoke with her at length, and offered some avenues for finding work. I’ll always remember Jim as one of the good guys.

In his last days, he made some decisions about what to do with his ashes, some to Hawaii, some to a Colorado mountaintop, some to a river he’d kayak away stress in, and he asked that some come home to his family place in the midwest. I believe its a good thing to do, have a place where your name is written in stone, where we can come and talk to you from time to time, to remember, to reflect, to absorb a bit of wisdom from the earth below.

We miss you Jim, every day. We’ll come by to visit. Thanks for coming home, it helps us all to know you’re near.

Be good to each other, more than ever before we need that now.

Do good work.

Retiring Partners

November 16th, 2016

I received a note asking me to write a few words about a friend, and former business partner’s career for his upcoming retirement. My earliest memory of Harold, might have been at the old MTL office on 32nd St. South. I was brand new to the firm, had completed my first year teaching, and had been given my weekly “to-do” list from Fred. I was to clean up redlines for Harold on Mondays I think it was, work on a model of downtown Fargo for David on Tuesdays, go in the field with Seth on Wednesday’s, clean up the catalog library for Bob on Thursdays, and work on a project of my own on Fridays. A busy schedule, but they promised my worklife would make it easier to pass the licensing exam so I signed on.

I think it was at the first coffee break, people were discussing getting tickets to the baseball game in Minneapolis, and as walked down the stairs, Harold caught me and said “You know, they won’t be able to serve beer at the Twins game” I looked at him, puzzled, as a life long Cub fan, I was accustomed to beer, hot dogs, and baseball always going together. So I said to Harold “Why?” He said “because the Twins lost the opener” and walked away. I had to think about that for a bit, as Harold said it with a straight face, as he always does. I finally got it.

Dry humor was kind of an indicator of what I learned was an endless supply of calm that Harold projected outwardly. He was always the professional, even on the office’s softball team, when I was having a hard time making good throws from my position at third to first base (meaning over Steves head), Harold walked over and calmly said, “we really need your glove in short center field” relieving me of the long throw, but doing it in a way that wasn’t demeaning. That’s Harold. He’d always find a way to accomplish a greater good without stepping on anyone in the process.

I modeled a fair amount of my behavior (the good parts) on Harold, when I find a way to turn a problem person into a team asset, and my lovely wife notices, I tell her its the North Dakota way, always be as nice as you can, there’s a positive in most every negative. I think I learned that from Harold. Something maybe the country could use…maybe in retirement Harold needs to run for Governor or higher office!

As an architect, Harold was a consummate professional. Clients came first, good work in the office made for good work in the field, which made for good outcomes for the client. He asked the same from the people who worked on his projects. But again, quietly, persistently. Harold wasn’t the kind to storm out of his office and throw a spec book across the drafting room. No. Harold would redline the correction that needed to be made to the drawings, and if a person improvised and changed the design, he’d redline it again, and again, and it would ultimately get done right. His buildings stand across the upper midwest today, In Fargo, Whapeton, Moorhead, and many small towns where today, older people live in decent places thanks to his projects. He is a good architect.

But Harold didn’t buy into the eccentricities that many architects seem to clothe themselves in. No perfectly round eyeglass lenses for him, no all black sportscar (unless we count the Fairmount) He was a regular guy when I knew him, easy to talk to, a good listener, and you knew he valued your conversation.

I’ve missed all of you up there in the North, the solid grounding you all share in doing the right thing is what made my years in Fargo so important to my life. Harold, Judy, Steve, Joanna, Mark and Remar, Kerry and Sue, Chuck and Judy, Dave and Diane, you were my community and I think of each of you often. I’m glad you’re gathering to celebrate Harold’s retirement, I’m glad Steve has found his church, and that this holiday season you’ll all be surrounded with family and grandchildren.

I’m thankful to have been a part of it for a few important years in my life.

Take care of each other, be good to each other. Do good work.

just sayings

May 11th, 2016

Sayings are a kind of shorthand we carry around with us. They are part of our culture, and are kind of unique to times and places.

I connect them with people who say them often, like my friend Chuck who’d say “well a guy could do worse” or “the heck” or “a guy should think about that”, and “thats kind of a mess isn’t it?” or my dad who would be a bit more colorful “that guy could screw up a one man parade” or “a blind man would be glad to see it”. I’d hear that one a lot when we were building together, it was his way of saying the work was good, suitable for the project. I still hear those words from time to time as I undertake my clumsy carpentry, it helps me remember.

Today I’m remembering “O ye of little faith”, thats something VG would say often, sometimes after he successfully exited the car or got up from the chair when you were moving to help him. And “he’s not hurtin anybody” if you tried to chase a mouse out of his “compound”. One of his best ones was “Love many, trust few, and learn to paddle your own canoe.” That one underscores the importance he placed on an independent spirit, something he taught to the one who holds my heart.

I’m remembering VG today, I didn’t get to know him all that well, but believe he was a pretty special man, but I’m missing him, and my mom and dad, and Chuck and Dennis. I’m thinking I don’t have many sayings to impart wisdom the way they did, I’ll have to work on that.

Remember your loved ones passed on, hold your living loved ones close,
Look after each other, be good to each other.