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Why I like living in a small town

People take for themselves, and they give to you, time to smell the roses, and note the important things, and the little things.  A sense of politesse.  Not because big city people won't, or can't - it happens all the time - but because it gets lost in the surrounding bustle.

What was exciting to me when I was younger is enervating now.

As President of the Leavenworth Rotary Club, I've presided over the greatest die-off of Rotarians in the decade I've been a member of this club.  That speaks to the vagaries of life, and the fact we need to lower our target age for recruiting - but that's a subject for me to discuss with the board and the club, not you guys.  The impact here is - I've attended too many funerals this year. 

But, there's goodness in that, too.  Because through those funerals I've met more people in the community, and my Venn diagram now overlaps more of their Venn diagrams, and I have a broader scope of understanding of the breadth and sweep of our little town.

Yesterday, the funeral was for Joel Grodberg, a most excellent Rotarian who served as this club's President when I was proposed to membership, and who later served as an Assistant District Governor before the illness which finally claimed him took hold.  He was a city commissioner, Mayor, business owner, husband, father, son, brother, and mentor for anyone who needed a mentor.  Plus, as the Rabbi said at the service yesterday, Joel was a righteous man.  And that is not a term a Rabbi uses loosely.

Joel loved this town and those who live here just as I do.  Joel was born in Boston, and was proud of growing up there.  No, Maggie, I don't know if he was a Townie or a Southie, etc.  And he was proud to be from Boston.  But when Pizza Hut sent him to Leavenworth from eastern Pennsylvania, Joel stayed here.

Which brings to mind something that speaks volumes to how Joel viewed the world and his place in it. When Pepsico bought Pizza Hut, Joel owned the local franchises.  When the word came down to dump Coca-Cola products in favor of Pepsi products, Joel protested that decision on several levels.  One, his customers preferred Coke products.  Two, he had contracts with the local distributor - i.e., he'd given his word.  Joel continued to serve Coke products while fighting the fight he probably knew he was going to lose.  But that was Joel.  Fighting the good fight, for the right reasons.

My first real memory of Joel, aside from him standing at the podium I now stand at, was my first club Christmas party, where we shared a table.  The fight over the Florida recount was raging, and Joel held forth that the electoral college should be abolished, and the popular vote should stand.  Mind you, I don't know who Joel voted for in that election, but he later stood for office as a Republican, so don't jump to conclusions.  We had a spirited discussion, in which neither of us convinced the other - but it was, unlike so much other discourse on politics - civil.  Measured.  Adult. 

Joel was that way in everything.  Meticulous, diving into the details, gathering the facts, and making decisions and building the consensus to make it stick.  For someone used to military decision-making, Joel's style is one not oft encountered - but one which is far more useful in my current range and scope of duties than the rather more directive style I'm accustomed to.  It's also far more useful when decisions don't have to be made under great pressure.  And it's a challenge of true leadership, which means convincing and inspiring people to follow you - and not just because they have to.

Joel was a Jew married to a gentile.  And Joel was comfortable enough in his skin that he attended services with Marianne at the Episcopal church - where he was active in the men's groups and a lay reader.  At the same time, as one of the "two Jews in Leavenworth" he was a trustee of the local Jewish cemetery.  There once was a much larger Jewish community in Leavenworth, as evidenced by the size of the cemetery (and the relatively few recent burials) - and it was a force in the community.  That was made clear as the names on stone of the entrance are names of note in Leavenworth's past.  That was, perhaps, Joel's last gift to me, pulling back the veil of time on Leavenworth's history, by virtue of being buried at Mount Zion.

Such was Joel's impact on those around him, that it was congregants of the Episcopal church who formed a group from the congregation, the Rotary Club, and other groups to go conduct a clean-up of the cemetery the evening before the funeral and interment.  The cemetery is well-maintained, but we'd had some recent storms that had blown limbs down, scattered flowers, and spread leaves and debris about.  The best part about the event was that was food and beverages were provided, and, as I noted to Joel's daughter Meghan, "This morphed from a clean-up into a good Irish wake for a German Jew." 

Such was Joel's ability to transcend boundaries.

His funeral and interment were yesterday.  Jews know how to do a good funeral and burial.  I especially liked the traditions surrounding the actual burial, where everybody gets involved, but you do it the hard way, deliberately, as you perform a service you would really rather not have to perform. 


It was the procession from the Riverfront Community Center to the cemetery that actually prompted this post.  We get a lot of military funerals here - of veterans and a few casualties of the current war.  We're used to the flags and, when it's a war casualty, the Patriot Guard and associated panoply.  We don't often see larger funerals that don't have that attached to it. 

But yesterday we did.  And the procession was easily a half-mile long, coming from the core of downtown, at noon, blocking traffic on all of Leavenworth's major thoroughfares, including the main gate of Fort Leavenworth, and all the cars not in the procession pulled over and waited until we passed.  No one tried to cut across, take the right of way, or just ignore it and drive on as if nothing was happening.  Nor did I see an angry face, or someone griping into a cell phone.

They just pulled over, waited, and gave that one last gesture of respect - to someone that had impacted their lives, though 99% of them had absolutely no idea whose body was in that hearse.

That's why I like living in a small town.  We can make the time for those gestures of respect.

Joel never wore a uniform, though he lived a life of service.  Joel was one of the pillars any community needs.  And without those communities, well, there's no need for the uniforms.  So today we will play the music we play here at Castle Argghhh! for those for whom Taps or the Last Post is inapt - the very ones who give meaning to the sacrifices commemorated by the military music...

For now is the time at Castle Argghhh! when we dance: In Memoriam  of Joel Grodberg; son, brother, husband, father, Rotarian.

Go in peace, thou good and faithful servant.


An excellent remembrance, John...

Godspeed Mr. Grodberg.
Service comes in many forms, it's obvious Mr. Grodberg found his way.

As Sgt B said, Godspeed.
John - enjoyed hoisting (and hosting) the toast to Joel's life, last night.  Well done, son of Abraham.  ML
Yehei shmëh rabba mevarakh lealam ulalmey almaya.

And may Mr. Grodberg's great name be blessed forever, too...

John, thanks for introducing us to Mr. Grodberg.  May he RIP.
John, Thank you, for the honor of meeting Mr. Joel Grodberg, a life, well lived. SIR, you're home, RIP, you've earned it.  
 RIP, Sir!

Jhn, what's the title of the piece? I've heard it before, but can't recall the title. Very appropriate.
Um, I dunno - it just floated up.  Song by John Mellencamp, I'm thinking.
Ah, John,  How I enjoy your image of Joel, Beau, and Brownie sitting at the Great Rotary meeting in the sky.  Other than a bit of talk about "Service Above Self", I suspect there was some choice  humor as well as answers to whatever problems exist.   .Thank you for all you've done to give Joel a lovely send-off.  He remains in my heart.