Twenty five years ago he adopted a little town: not a fast-paced, frantically climbing, up-and coming- trend chasing city suburb, nor yet an angst-ridden, point-to prove, news-engendering "huddle of outcasts" kind of settlement. No. It was a sleepy town of modest, well-tended houses and people who hid from the news by doing good deeds and living normal, and--for the most part--sane lives.
There was one main street in the town, a couple of shops, a cafe, a shoebox post office hardly big enough to wrap a package in, and a long, stuccoed, vintage-windowed building with a bench outside; it looked like just the place to get some presses rolling and start a newspaper-- a grand newspaper, a "County Enterprise".
So Res moved into the community, set up a photography business and a newspaper, sampled the ethnic delicacies offered by the local cafe--borscht, verenika and schnetke--and made a point of getting to know everybody in town. Surely there were stories here!
What to write...
Not many murders on main street. No protests or petitions in the nursing home. Not any drive-by shootings in the local high school or the parochial academy dorms--not even an embezzlement scandal in the town office, or a traffic jam within the two mile circumference of city streets...
There were only churches, small schools, a nursing home, a creek that filled with frogs and turtles in the spring (if the rains came), an occasional tornado north of town, and miles and miles of wheat fields which suspended the town in space and kept it adrift in a bubble, isolated, if you will, from the chaos of frenetic living. And there were people--chuckling, cheering, crying, bumbling, brilliant, bellowing people--five hundred of them!
So Res joined the volunteer firefighters and took pictures of the people--people and events and people at events--and if the events weren't immediately forthcoming, he organized events: turtle catching contests, Easter egg hunts in the park and Easter children's parades through the retirement village, Memorial Day celebrations with high school trumpeters blaring taps into the spring sky, trunk or treat gatherings in October, quartet singings in the summer and fire-fighter appreciations in the fall. He attended all the school activities and made front page heroes of everybody in town. Parents loved him; seniors filled their scrapbooks with pictures and articles he had written about them. Distant grandparents were subscribed to his weekly paper, just so they could keep up with their grandchildren and laugh at his witty jokes. Weaving local names into his "tall tales" column, he endeared himself to the community.
Years passed. The town shrank. Stores closed, and the paper finally stopped printing, but Res remained. He took on the job of town clerk., became a county organizer, and took pictures of graduations and bingo nights at the nursing home. He refused payment for this service, waving it away with, "No, I enjoy taking pictures." He posted them on facebook and encouraged the county to take all they wanted. They were printed and shared widely as almost a thousand friends regularly scanned his page for pictures of themselves and their family members.
Then, last week, very suddenly and unexpectedly, Res died, sitting in the town office, surrounded with town memorabilia. Outside, on the sidewalk bench, schoolkids sat and visited with the town youth pastor. Not many people noticed anything wrong until the ambulance wailed and his firefighter friends came racing down main street.
Yesterday at his funeral there was an unusual slide show...not pictures of Res himself, but pictures he had taken.--state basketball triumphs, church pie auctions, museum days, and T-ball games. Res had never married, but his sisters and brothers were there, nephews, nieces, cousins--they filled about four pews. The rest of the church was filled with friends: County leaders and fire-fighters, an entire section of school kids in their royal blue shirts, an entire town, stricken silent-- realizing as they saw their own happy faces over and over, that this man was someone who loved them...and that he had given them a gift they would never be able to repay.