I stood in the middle row of the choir in 1998. Behind me was a quiet gentleman with caring eyes and a lovely on pitch voice, nicely blending with the other basses. He didn't say much, and I guess I wasn't too observant. It wasn't until after my second choir rehearsal that I noticed his distinct gait. When we finally spoke his vocal impairment became apparent. He had suffered a major stroke.
Joe had great difficulty speaking but no trouble getting his point across. He patiently endured our impatience as people, at times, tried to finish thoughts of his. "That's right, that's right," he'd affirm, eyes twinkling. That first stroke had derailed his trajectory in life five years prior to my first choir rehearsal. He no longer commuted to his dental practice tending to an underserved community. He no longer could do some of many outdoor sports and activities he loved so well. He no longer lived in the log cabin he had built.
in so many ways this stroke was cruel to Joe. You wouldn't know it. Despite confounding health issues, he looked to be the picture of health. At this funeral today we heard mention of his stubbornness. Stubborn, apparently. Resilient and persistent, for certain.
During the year prior to his death, Joe resided in an area nursing facility. Note, I didn't say "home." Though it was a nursing home, Joe had at first been resolved to rehabilitate his way out. More than once he had been found breaking into the physical therapy area late at night, determined to work his way his way back to full independence. He wanted to be in his own home.
By the time COVID reached our area, Joe had become resigned to staying in the nursing home. An avid and very accomplished whittler, Joe again put his one good arm to use, painting signs of thanks and encouragement to front line workers and volunteers. In this region, red hearts of many sizes adorn curbside signs - many painted on wooden pallets, mailboxes, front doors, tree signs. Joe had enthusiastically taken to providing thanks and hope in a manner he was able. Red paint was now his medium. He painted signs. And more signs. Joe was on another mission.
In the twenty plus years that we knew Joe, we learned that nothing could stand between him and a goal. He overcame multiple surgeries, each one sparking more determination to be as physically fit as he could. Sadly, he finally met a stronger foe in COVID-19. This coronavirus did what nothing else could do. It not only knocked him down a notch, it took life from Joe.
How fitting that in his official obituary at the MacDonald Funeral Home a red heart is depicted as his image, not his photo or another scene – a simple red heart.
It's a sad time for all who knew him. We will think of him throughout the year, and especially at Christmas when he'd hand deliver cards simply signed "Joe." His signing and delivery took great effort.
Yesterday, after returning from sweet Anna Krede's funeral (my first COVID public outing), this little guy greeted me in the backyard. Once the day's images were uploaded I confirmed that the little visitor was a Northern Flicker with a signature heart on the back of his neck. The color of the red heart has not been altered in Photoshop.
Joe would have wanted to tell you about them. So, here are a few introductory sources:
There are several others to explore, including Sibley's and Peterson's. (Add a comment if you have a favorite, please.)
Joe will be in our hearts and minds for years to come. Sometimes he just might be in the sky above us – spreading his care and carrying his signature sign.
Condolences to his family. There were several times when I saw Ryan, his son, patiently help Joe to get into his car in recent years. His daughter, Adrienne, delivered a beautiful eulogy at Joe's celebration, which their mother, Janet, also attended. For many attendees, Joe's celebration was their first venture away from home during COVID.
Although I met Joe in the choir, I really got to know him – and that twinkle in his eyes – at the home of Tish and Rick Schuchard, where Joe was a frequent guest. Tish was a very special friend to Joe, frequently assisting him with a ride or chore. Deep condolences to Tish and Rick and to Linda and Steve Walsh, Ruth Cowan, his choir buddy, Steve Anstatt, and all the others who befriended Joe in anyway. He is missed.