My Uncle Jack was an amazing man. He recently left us just short of his 90th birthday. His wife wanted more than the usual funeral service; she wanted his story told. It is my privilege to share her words.
as told by his wife, Marcy
Instructions from Marcy, Sept 2015: In case I am not here, I wanted to write down some plans for Jack’s funeral. Instead of a traditional service, I would like to intertwine his life story and his organizations, because that was the real Jack.
We are not going to do a usual service today, but rather present a story—a story of the life of Jack.
In a tiny Virginia community, by the railroad track, Jack was born in 1926. He was not born in a three-bedroom/bathroom house, but rather in three rooms where the whole family lived with no bathroom. This baby was followed by two siblings, a sister, and a brother.
Even though the father worked, the family unit struggled, and by the time Jack was five, the family separated. In the late 1930’s there was no welfare or CPS; children were farmed out to other relatives or neighbors, or a residential school which was an orphanage.
At five years of age, Jack went to a school. This was an extremely unhappy time for Jack as he later told stories of no shoes, being cold, hungry, having lice and getting beatings from the principal. He also told of waiting each Sunday on the porch for his father to come and visit. He said he was homesick for his parents, and cried every Sunday because no one came to see him. Somehow in his child’s mind, he thought this was his fault, that he had lost his home and parents.
Actually his parents did love Jack, but his mother had a nervous breakdown and the father had to go out of state to find work. His father did appear six months later, but to Jack it had seemed like an eternity.
His father then placed Jack with an old lady that needed a boy to help her with chores. She was very poor and took in washing and ironing for a living. In this house there were also three rooms upstairs where they lived. Jack said he became very familiar with buckets of water and scrub boards.
Jack said he had food, but never quite enough. Even at family gatherings he got the gizzards, and if lucky, a wing of the chicken. He had one pair of pants which he wore every day to school, and washed on Saturday. He had to stay inside until his pants were dry before he could go outside. He also told about the old lady who was good to him, but her extended family took delight in beating him with switches till the blood came. This was Jack’s life for the next ten years. Even the school and community said Jack didn’t have a chance to become anything but a nobody. And indeed this could have been the end, but as Paul Harvey said “You will want to hear the rest of the story.”
(Choir and Congregation sing Amazing Grace p. 378—print out music)
Indeed it was amazing grace, because God had other plans for Jack’s life as two events happened to change Jack’s world.
He met a boy named Bill. Bill was year older and told Jack about this awesome group of boys who learned many neat things, especially about good food and camping. Jack wanted to become a part of this group. This was Jack’s introduction to the Boy Scouts.
The other amazing thing was that the Scout Master was the minister of their local United Methodist Church. Jack loved to recall the night he hitch-hiked 18 miles to that scout meeting where he became a Boy Scout, and stayed with the Scouts ‘til the day he died.
Jack was not only enfolded in Boy Scouts, but the people of the Methodist church also took him under their wing. He became a part of Sunday school and children’s choirs. Jack recalled the director of choir being good to him and gave him a love for hymns. His favorite song was the first song she taught him… Let us sing it now.
(Congregation sing: Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us p. 381—print out music)
Jack loved recalling the story of a cold winter day when he had stopped and looked into a store window at a beautiful warm winter jacket. Jack said he was sooo cold and longed for a jacket, but knew he would never have one, as the old lady had no money for such luxuries. At that moment an angel came by in the form of his Sunday school teacher. She asked Jack if he were cold and Jack said yes. She said would you like a warm jacket, and he said, Oh, yes! She took him by the hand into the store and out he came wearing a warm new jacket. He never forgot that lady’s kindness and her generous heart. He also never forgot the Methodist church.
Decision Time: In Jack’s elementary years of living with the old lady, he was offered a chance to become a part of a much richer family in this community. He even went up to see where he would live—It was a beautiful room and even a bathroom—food and no whippings—Jack was very, very tempted, but at the last moment something stopped him. He could not leave the old lady—she needed him—he couldn’t say what made him change his mind—perhaps the Spirit of God entered his heart that day.
The years went by and once again a big change happened to Jack—in fact this event changed the world. This was December 7, 1941. Yes, World War II had arrived.
Jack was junior in high school when he and his friends decided to enlist in the Navy. He said he felt bad about lying about his age because of being a Scout. He was just 16 years old when he went off to war.
Before they had radar, the ships went out in convoys. In Jack’s first trip across the North Sea to England, there were 59 ships in the convoy. He served in the armed guard. These were the gun crews on the merchant marine ships. They carried supplies and troops. They were given orders not to stop and pick up survivors because they would freeze to death in the sea. German subs were all around. Out of that trip of 59 ships, 26 were sunk. I guess an angel was with Jack because his ship made it to England. I asked Jack weren’t you scared? He said No, I was having the adventure of a lifetime. It never occurred to me that I could be blown up. Why, I couldn’t die…I was only 16!
(Choir and Congregation sing: Eternal Father, Strong to Save (p. 2191 out of black song book—print music ahead)
Jack the boy entered the war. Jack the man came home. He had a relationship with mother and siblings but still no home life. He stayed in a boarding house. He enrolled in business college. He tried very hard to make a living, but jobs were hard to come by. After 3 years, Jack re-enlisted in the service choosing the Air Force, which he made a 25 year career.
During this time he married his first wife. Four children were born, two boys and two girls. After 14 years they got a divorce and the children were divided between the parents. They very thing Jack vowed would never happen to his children had happened.
Even though his wife had wanted the divorce, Jack later acknowledged he was at fault also, because he was not attentive enough; he really hadn’t understood the role of husband and father.
Nineteen years passed. During this time his mother and old lady had died, and his dad remarried and moved to West Virginia. Having no ties to Virginia he moved with his sons to Texas, where his brother and sister lived. He became an active member in the Pasadena community. He was in American Legion, Masons, Shriners, York Rite. He also was a member of Pasadena Blvd Methodist Church and of course, deeply involved with his beloved Scouts.
He enrolled in UH and got a degree in Sociology, and started another career as a counselor at the VA hospital. He met a few ladies along the way, but either he didn’t care for them, or his children objected.
In 1983 his friend Bob introduced him to a lady named Marcy. Three years of friendship followed and in 1986 they go married—and what do you know—she was a Methodist and even the adult children approved.
Just short of thirty years of marriage followed committed to each other and the Lord and their beloved Methodist church. Their family unit was strong with many get-togethers, extended family and friends always welcome—they even joked about their guest bedroom being a Ramada Inn. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren came along—it was a good time of life.
Between all the activities, Jack and Marcy became extremely active in mission work. They also traveled for pleasure. When people asked where they had been, Jack replied, it’s a shorter list where we haven’t gone.
They did 15 mission trips including Costa Rica and Bethlehem College in Israel. Marcella and Jack both agreed that going to Bethlehem was the mountain top experience of their mission work.
During this time Jack and Marcy helped start Pasadena Community Ministry. This was their community food bank. They also were part of the charter for the ESL program in the church, and the list goes on and on—where they found the time is a mystery or maybe one of God’s miracles.
Once again a big change came in 2003 when Jack had a severe stroke which left him completely paralyzed on his left side. For a few years Jack kept going but little by little Jack slowed down. Marcy was his only care giver until towards the last when she could no longer lift him by herself. To the end it was a good marriage.
During the stroke years, Jack never once complained Why me, Lord? And God gave them another blessing in the form of money. This was because the government said the stroke was service related and overnight their salary was doubled. Question: what do you do with all that extra money? The logical answer to them seemed…We will give it all away—mainly to organizations and people who really needed it.
Education was top of the list, food, mission projects, animal shelters, Scouts and his beloved church. During these years, Jack lost Pasadena Blvd, but went right on to Sunset Methodist which received them with open arms and hearts. How Jack loved his church.
Marcy said they never kept any track of donations, but surmised it was many hundreds of thousands given away. Now you know the rest of the story. Jack was truly a self-made, good Christian man.
Whatever you gleam from this story, please come to the realization that the good you do and the seeds you plant during your lifetime do help, and even changes lives. Always be kind especially to children. Don’t let a day go by that you don’t give something away, especially your time.
(Song: Going Home by Craig Ryan)
This concludes our celebration of Jack’s life. In lieu of final viewing, let us stand for a moment of silent prayer followed by the congregation saying the Lord’s Prayer. This will be followed by leaving the church as the organist plays The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Thank you for coming. A military burial will be held at the VA cemetery. All are welcome.