Living in Society

We’re Going Home – Gordon Lightfoot

Gordon Lightfoot passed on Monday. Early Morning Rain was on my playlist when I performed on the guitar. It is one of my favorite songs of any artist. May he rest in peace.

Living in Society

We’re Going Home — Jim Schmidt

New Road, 1939 by Grant Wood.

When Jim Schmidt had a stroke 15 years ago, he was never the same. He almost died. Jim was one of a small number of people in this community of 7,000 with whom we could engage more deeply about intellectual matters. The stroke took that away from us. It hurt no less when he died on Friday, April 7, 2023.

Jim Schmidt’s obituary from the Cedar Rapids Gazette can be read here.

Part of Jim’s legacy was his analysis of the local terrain where Grant Wood painted New Road in 1939, with its mention of the City of Solon. The article, written by our mutual friend Janet Brown, was quite popular. It contributed to the Solon Public Library securing the rights to make prints and note cards of the image, and sell them to raise much needed funds for the library.

After so long, memories of our discussions faded. What remains important is we had those discussions, and for a while, had hope of making the world a better place. May his memory be a blessing.

Living in Society

We’re Going Home — Mike Tandy

Fallen Leaves

Timbers are falling too frequently in the forest of life. Mike Tandy died on March 31 in Davenport.

Our roots together were in high school stage crew. When we formed the band in 1973, Mike would sit in, playing bass from time to time. He was a good guy and always dependable.

I missed Mike and Jan’s 1978 wedding while I was living in Germany. I missed a lot of weddings those years. When I returned to Iowa the following year, I presented a belated wedding gift and got caught up.

Mike was a teacher. He taught Language Arts at Davenport Central High School from the day he arrived until he retired. He directed plays, coached sports, and did all the things a teacher would. More than anything, Mike was devoted to family and friends. I felt lucky to be one of them.

Mike and Jan attended our wedding. The last time I saw him was at a 2019 reunion of stage crew and band friends in Coal Valley, Ill. Like always with Mike, we had a lot to catch up on. It always felt there was not enough time to say everything we wanted. We did our best until it was time for him to be with his family. When he said he had to go, he meant it. I felt there would always be a next time.

I am thankful for our time together. Rest in peace, my friend. You were too young to be gone already.

Read Mike Tandy’s obituary here.

Living in Society

We’re Going Home — Char Hawks

Autumn Blaze maple tree leaves.

Charlene Mae Vorwald Hawks, 93, died on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. During high school, after Father died, I got to know her son Tim and was a frequent visitor to their home on Grand Avenue in Davenport. I don’t remember when we started calling her Char. I have two strong memories of her.

The first was at their family home. The front door of the house opened into the living room where I was waiting for Tim. Char came in to say hello as parents of friends did in those days. As we conversed, one of her daughters came down the stairs ready to go out for the evening. Char immediately sent her back upstairs to address the hem length of her skirt, which was deemed too short to leave the house. There was resistance, then compliance. I can’t recall what Tim and I did afterward as it was anti-climactic.

The second memory is when I returned from military service in November 1979. I contacted her about her recent American Studies degree. We talked about my attending graduate school on the GI Bill. She encouraged me to pursue an American Studies degree. Based on her advice, I tracked down the graduate college dean, D.C. Spriestersbach, over the Christmas holidays when most faculty were not around. Char wrote a letter of recommendation and helped me get enrolled in the January term.

The obituary published on the funeral home website tells her story:

Charlene Mae Vorwald Hawks, 93, of Dubuque died Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Visitation will be from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday, March 31 at the Egelhof, Siegert and Casper Funeral Home and Crematory, 2659 Kennedy Road. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated 11 a.m. Saturday at Resurrection Catholic Church, preceded by a Eulogy at 10:45 a.m. Graveside services will be at St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery, Bellevue, Iowa.

Charlene “Char” was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on Jan. 12, 1930. She was the only child of Elmer and Monica (Theisen) Vorwald. While born an only child, Char saw her cousins on both sides of her family as siblings. She spent many joyous days with them and loved them dearly.

Char earned her BA in Classical Languages from Clarke College. She continued her education while raising her children, earning her MA and PhD in American Studies from the University of Iowa.

Char married James Edward “Ed” Hawks on November 19, 1951, at Nativity Church in Dubuque. Together they shared an unparalleled love and an eternal partnership. The years were filled with raising their children, enjoying their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and traveling the country. Wherever their travels took them, Ed commented that they met a relative of Char’s.  Their best days were spent at an old stone house, lovingly called the “Rock House,” near Bellevue.  Their seven children, and their children’s spouses, are Tim (Mary Lew McCormick), Shorewood, WI, Teri (John) Goodmann, Dubuque, IA, Cathy (Tony) Topf, Wonder Lake, IL, Laura Hawks, Iowa City, IA, Susan Hawks, Sugar Grove, IL,  Carolyn (Bill) Bates, Donahue, IA,  and Lisabeth Hawks, South Elgin, IL. Char is also survived by 21 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. Char was preceded in death by her parents, Elmer and Monica Vorwald and her husband Ed Hawks.

Char was a force of nature and transferred that energy toward many different pursuits through her life. She volunteered for the March of Dimes, Girl Scouts, and the St. Paul the Apostle School Board all in Davenport, IA. Char was a proud member of Rotary International Club and was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow. After earning her advanced degrees Char worked at Augustana College (Rock Island, IL) as an adjunct professor and the Director of the Reading and Writing (Lab) Center.  At Augustana College, Char became a beloved mentor of many students.  Never one to retire, Char and Ed opened Hawk Hollow Antiques and Collectibles in Bellevue, IA and Galena, IL. In all these endeavors Char developed close, life-long friendships that brought her much joy.

Memorials may be made to Hospice of Dubuque; the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey; or Luther Manor Communities. Char never met a person, plant, or book she didn’t love. In lieu of a memorial, feel free to donate a book to a library, volunteer time to a literacy organization, plant a tree, or plant some flowers. These meet Char’s greatest wish to make the world a better place. Family, faith, and education were most important to her.  

The family wishes to thank the nurses and staff at Luther Manor Communities and Hospice of Dubuque for their loving care and generous spirit.

I made a couple of trips to the Rock House, once with Tim about the time they were installing a furnace, and another for Tim and Mary Lew’s wedding reception. It was always a time away from quotidian affairs spent with friends and family. Char Hawks has now gone home and will be missed.

Living in Society

The Great Shuffle

Filled Bankers Boxes.

The back seat of the Chevy Spark is loaded with boxes of books to be donated to Goodwill. Between this load and the previous two, I downsized by about 500 books. It doesn’t look like I made a bit of progress.

The goal is to reduce the library so it fits in my writing room, which holds about 2,000 books. Remaining books should be linked to some actual or potential writing project. I’m done keeping books because I might refer to them later. As I look at each book, this is a litmus test: am I going to read or use it now, or not. There is a long way to go to reduce the quantity to fit the space.

It snowed overnight and the ground is covered. It should melt during the next couple of days, yet today will be indoors work. I’m ready for spring.

The house is getting crowded with vegetable and flower seedlings. I finished with early planting yesterday. Next week I tackle tomatoes, peppers, arugula, and lettuce. Once there is a warm, clear day, I’ll move the mulch and set up the portable greenhouse so all the seedlings can move there. With the cold, wintry mix weather, I haven’t felt like outdoors work.

I drafted an obituary for my high school friend‘s widow this morning. It is difficult to compress 71 years of life into 500 words. This is especially true for a physician who has had countless contacts with people in the community, and lived a full life. An obituary still serves as a public notice of death and is important.

Facts need research before going to publication. In several ways, the obituary is a last chance to get things right. We owe getting it right to the deceased, and to the survivors. I tend to be less specific if I don’t know something with certainty. Thus far, no one has complained I left anything out.

I finished my 19th book of the year and need to browse the stacks for the twentieth. Lucky for me, there are still plenty of options.

Living in Society

We’re Going Home — Joe Garrity

Fallen Leaves

Tracking down remaining folks from our cohort in the old neighborhood was possible. Joe Garrity died Wednesday night and his grade school classmates at Saint Vincent’s deserved to hear the news. That neighborhood no longer exists in the real world, yet I found most of them.

Joe was born the day before I was on Dec. 27, 1951. He lived with his father after his mother died in an automobile crash. Saint Vincent’s, where since 1895 the Catholic Church had cared for children as an orphanage and school, was not far from where they lived.

I met Joe in high school in 1966. We remained friends until near the end when Parkinson’s Disease had his spouse writing his letters and emails. He would occasionally sign a holiday card. We corresponded by mail, and later, email after we both left Davenport in 1970 for university.

I would sleep over at his house when his father was on the road as a truck driver for The Rock Island Lines. In one of my first cooking experiences, Joe and I would make pizza using a Chef Boyardee boxed pizza kit. They had a big house and we had it all to ourselves. The pizza was good.

I referred Joe to the Turn-Style department store where I worked in high school. He started work and didn’t last long. I remember him wearing the vest that made a uniform for us as we worked the sales floor.

We were both in the National Honor Society. A group of us high achievers formed an inter-mural basketball team. We had a high grade point average yet weren’t very good at basketball. We also recruited the only Hispanic in our class to join our team. He later showed us around the LULAC club in West Davenport.

After graduation, Joe went to Georgetown for his undergraduate studies. A group of us from high school visited him and another fellow classmate at Georgetown over the Thanksgiving weekend during our freshman year. He graduated and returned to Iowa to attend medical school, receiving his MD in 1978. When orthopedics didn’t work out for him after an initial period in the program, he became an emergency room physician. We lived together in University Heights while I finished graduate school and he commuted to Dubuque and other workplaces.

While I lived in Mainz, Germany, Joe and his brother Bill made a brief stop on a European tour. Bill lived in Washington, D.C. and attended many cultural events there. He wanted to see an opera at the Mainz Opera House. I got us tickets to Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca. After a long day at work we had dinner at a Yugoslavian restaurant near the opera house. I made it through most of the story. Then… just as Tosca was dramatically preparing to jump from the parapet to her death… I fell asleep. When we visited a jazz club the following day, Bill fell asleep on his bar stool and fell. We were all very tired.

The last few years have been tough for Joe with recovery from a fall, surgery, and fractures, in addition to Parkinson’s Disease. At the end, the coronavirus invaded the household and Joe didn’t survive.

There are only so many friends of more than 50 years. Joe Garrity will be missed.

UPDATE: I helped Bonnie write the following obituary, which was distributed graveside:

Joseph G. Garrity, 71, of Dubuque, died on March 22, 2023. He was interred at Casper Creek Natural Cemetery near Galena, Ill.

Garrity was born on Dec. 27, 1951, of Eileen Honore Quinn and Harry Patrick Garrity, in Davenport. He grew up there, attending St. Vincent’s Catholic School and Assumption High School. In 1970, he entered Georgetown University, where he earned his undergraduate science degree. Returning to Iowa, he earned his Doctor of Medicine at the University of Iowa in 1978.

Joe Garrity practiced medicine as an emergency room physician in Evansville, Indiana, and in Dubuque, later working at Medical Associates’ Acute Care clinic and Occupational Medicine for 30 years. He was a 36-year resident of Galena. Toward the end of his life, he and Bonnie split their time between Galena and Washington, D.C., eventually moving to Dubuque.

He married Bonnie Lamar on February 14, 1987, in Galena. His life’s passions were art, exploring the world, and trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas. He especially enjoyed his treks to the base camps of Mt. Everest, K-2, Mt. Elbrus in Russia, and to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Joe Garrity is survived by his wife Bonnie Garrity, by his brother Michael Garrity (Diane) in Dubuque, sister Nancy Waack (Jim) in Rutledge, Missouri, and ten nieces and nephews. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by his brothers William and Harry, and nephews Michael and Gregory Waack.

Memorial contributions made be made to:
Casper Creek Natural Cemetery
P. O. Box 195
Elizabeth, Illinois 61028

Joe’s expanded obituary appeared on April 19, 2023 in the Galena Illinois Gazette here.

Living in Society

Aging in America – Part VI

Worn t-shirt from the 50th anniversary of the Stratford Festival of Canada in 2002.

Passing Down History

I have conversations about stuff with our child. It is specific stuff. It is my stuff, eventually to be her stuff, at least some of it.

For example, a couple hundred vinyl LPs rest on my bookshelf. A lot of good music there, a lot of great memories. The technology is old and hardly portable. The sole album for retention to pass down is Beethoven’s Opera Fidelio because it was a memory from childhood. That will make it easier to dispose of the rest of them, I hope.

I want to pass down some of my Iowa history books but there are too many of them. I have hundreds. My guidance was to select maybe three or four of the best ones to pass down. My work is cut out. To get started, here are the first dozen that came to mind. It is a first draft of the list for posterity and by no means final.

  1. Iowa’s Groundwater Basics: A geological guide to the occurence, use, and vulnerability of Iowa’s aquifers by Jean Cutler Prior, Janice L. Boekhoff, Mary R. Howes, Robert D. Libra, and Paul E. VanDorpe.
  2. Eastern Iowa Prehistory by Duane Anderson.
  3. Black Hawk: An Autobiography dictated to Antoine LeClaire, edited by Donald Jackson.
  4. Wakefield’s History of the Black Hawk War by Frank Everett Stevens.
  5. Hunting a Shadow: The Search for Black Hawk: Eye-Witness Account by Participants compiled and edited by Crawford B. Thayer.
  6. The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa by Cornelia F. Mutel.
  7. In Cabins and Sod Houses by Thomas H. Macbride.
  8. Robert Lucas by John C. Parish.
  9. Executive Journal of Iowa 1838-1841, Governor Robert Lucas edited by Benjamin F. Shambaugh.
  10. The Trader at Rock Island: George Davenport and the Founding of the Quad Cities by Regena Trant Schantz.
  11. The Life and Times of Samuel J. Kirkwood, Iowa’s War Governor by H.W. Lathrop.
  12. Iowa: The Middle Land by Dorothy Schwieder.

Reducing the number of history books to three or four is an impossible task, although one worth considering as I write my autobiography. We’ll see how the list changes over time. By spring, I should have a better idea.

Figuring out what to pass down becomes more important as we age. Partly we seek to let go of the past. Partly we seek to make room for a future.

Living in Society

Aging in America – Part V

Lake Macbride State Park trail.

The neighbor who owned the grocery store in town for 40 years took to walking the state park trail in retirement. He used a cane and we stopped to talk from time to time. I was wondering where he was last Monday. It turned out he died at home on Sunday.

I didn’t know the family well, although I stopped at their home on association business a couple of times through the years. Seems like a lot of people in our association died the last few years — at least five since 2018. While we are well below general U.S. statistics for deaths per 100,000 population, when people we know die, it has greater impact.

Being in the community for more than 29 years makes a difference. When people move out or die, we notice the broken relationships. The trail remains, with its joggers, bicyclists, and walkers. On Monday morning, when the work week begins, there is a loneliness on the abandoned gravel path.

As we age, we come to accept it.

Living in Society

Aging in America – Part IV

Vegan applesauce muffins.

For septuagenarians, an overnight visit from a child is a big deal.

We prepared for weekend guests most of the week. That meant cleaning the house and making space for extra people to sleep. I emptied the vacuum cleaner dust trap many times. There were countless loads of laundry. It seemed like a miracle, yet by the time they arrived we were ready. We are thankful for the work of preparing for a visit.

Our child lives close enough for a weekend visit to make sense. Time together was limited. We had dinner of tacos Saturday and my homemade corn tortillas were well-received and eaten up. I prepared a grab and go meal of vegan applesauce muffins with a fresh apple and some peanuts for an early Sunday departure. We are thankful for the time together, the chance to plan a meal and share it with someone other than ourselves.

The main challenge of aging is to live independently for as long as possible. In part, that means taking care of our health — eating a proper diet, exercising, regular visits to health care professionals. Part of it means a solid financial platform — making do with a fixed income and living from our own resources. There is also a part about dealing with potential and actual emergencies, although I try not to let that dominate my life. Once those parts have been addressed, everything else is optional.

Well, sort of. As we age, we need help from other humans.

The lilac bushes planted soon after we settled here need cutting back. After delaying this work the last couple of years, I hired a professional to do it in the fall. The windows and doors need attention after 29 years. We never built the deck I had planned or finished the lower level of the house. We replaced the roof in 2010 and it will need replacing again in a few years. All of that requires the help of professionals.

For now I can mow the lawn and work in the garden. I’m hoping to continue that work into the future, at least for another ten years. Whether the lawn tractor we inherited from my father-in-law’s estate back in the 1990s will make it that long is doubtful. I rely upon having a good tractor mechanic in town and being able to locate new parts for repairs. I avoid thinking about it when he talks about slowing down and retiring.

Making the transition from a work life to a home life sneaks up on a person. What was once a sideline to a career takes center stage in the form of yard, garage and garden work, and cleaning the house to prepare for visitors. I’m glad to have lived this long, and being aware of these parts of life is essential to successfully aging in America.

Even though we are not rich, we are better off by having a family and home… and by preparing for overnight guests.

Living in Society

Aging in America – Part III

Wildflowers by the state park trail.

The loss of social relationships as we age is expected and well-documented. Not only do we miss people who died, such as parents, grandparents, and friends, there is no replacement for relationships that stretch back in time for decades. People are gone and the sense of loss remains tangible.

I find there are more invitations to do things than time allows. This seems especially true in retirement, yet maybe I’m simply more aware of what’s going on. This social situation is complicated by living on a fixed budget. Given the choice to get out of the house and attend an event, most often, I opt to stay home. Keeping the auto parked in the garage saves on fuel. Besides food and sundry shopping, and walks along the state park trail, I seldom leave the property. I don’t see that changing near term.

My trips to the county seat have been reduced to as close to zero as they can be. There are trips to the doctor or pharmacy. Most of the other groups to which I belonged have faded to the background.

There are political events because of the Nov. 8 midterm election. I attend few political fundraisers. I donate to candidates online and try to stick to a tight budget. Once I log in each month and make my two or three donations, that’s it until the next monthly pension check arrives.

There are groups of which I’d like to be a part. The group of seniors in our nearby town does a lot of good and they would welcome some help. I love our public library, even if I don’t go there that often. They need volunteer help, too. That is the short list of what I’m interested in doing.

Coping with loss and loneliness is part of aging in America. I’m like everyone else in that regard.