I had the great honor of being a pallbearer for my Uncle Dean last Friday. Some of you knew Dean, but most of you didn’t. I would like to share the eulogy given by his sister at his funeral for those of you who had the great misfortune of not ever knowing Dean.
Dean Hubert Walter
There is an old saying — “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Remembering Dean, this saying, seems particularly apt. He never understood giving up or giving in. This no holds barred determination to live fully became his life’s plan. Others may have thought him disabled, but Dean never thought so.
After exposure to Agent Orange during his Vietnam service, sickness and ill health followed Dean–badgered him, abused him and tossed him about most of his adult life. Arthritis, knee replacements, gall bladder surgery, vision problems, kidney failure, blinding headaches, gnarled, twisted hands, collapsing ankles, diabetes—and the list goes on, and on, and on. Each successive round over the years took its toll–left him less mobile and more crippled. It deprived him-one-by-one of the hobbies and pastimes that he enjoyed.
But in spite of it all, it never quenched his determination to live, survive and carry on. The come-back-kid that he was always dodged, weaved and ducked. He suffered some mighty blows–but in the end lived to fight on another day, another health battle. His determination to live was legendary and awe inspiring to those of us who knew and loved him. And to make it even more impressive–you never heard him complain, ask why me, or moan about his bad luck. He just got on with his life.
As significant and defining as those health struggles were, however–he was so much more.
He was, first, a family man. His love for Annie, Travis and Travis’ family had no bounds. That he lived as long as he did is a tribute, not just to Dean’s determination, but to them and the care and love they gave him. No man has ever been more blessed than Dean in this regard. We, his siblings, want to acknowledge our deep appreciation to them for the care and love they gave him over the yeas. Annie, you are, have been, and we will always be our family.
Family connections were important to Dean. When our dad died, Dean lived in Iowa and the funeral was to be in Minnesota. Although we feared the trip itself would kill him, he would not even entertain the thought of staying home. Annie rounded up the needed supplies and equipment, Lori and Roger drove them in their pick-up, and Dean was there, together with the rest of us, mourning our Dad’s passing. And the beautiful thing about this story is—that the connection to family was so important to him, that this oneness buoyed his spirit and he made the trip in better condition than anyone had even dared to hope.
Dean was the family memory man. If you forgot when something happened, where it was, who did what–he was your man. He could remember the details of your own high school pranks even better than you could–and, retell it with considerable flair and flourish.
Dean loved the outdoors. He was a fisherman, an avid hunter and an excellent marksman. He could take you out in the woods and in the time you spotted 3 deer, he had shown you 30 more. Even as his health problems progressed, he never stopped planning, expecting and believing that he would soon be on his next hunting trip. To this day, Annie has a garage full of equipment that he insisted on buying in preparation for his return to the hunting scene.
Because they both suffered from significant health issues, he and mom had a special bond. They understood and could empathize with what the other one was going through. Between them they could cover most medical problems. “Ah–don’t worry, Mom. This one is a piece of cake.” Comparing notes this way, they were able to comfort and support each other through difficult times.
Cars were his passion. At times his front yard looked like a used car lot. In earlier years he drove fast and furious–often making it from Minneapolis to Boone in under 3 hours–spotting cops 3 miles ahead and sitting behind a barn as he sped along. Outrunning cops, in fact, was something he was known to do on occasion. At his worst he was known to go through a new set of tires in 30 days. Dean also enjoyed working on cars. Well into his physical decline, he had dreams of opening a shop with Travis. He’d do the mechanic work and Travis the painting.
Dean was tall, lanky and well coordinated as anyone watching him skate would attest to. He and Annie dazzled those watching as they twirled, tapped and glided around the rink dancing. Good with his hands, he enjoyed working on crafts. Weaving medicine wheels, building furniture, doing leather work, and making jewelry were all projects he undertook and we still enjoy the fruits of today.
Even though he could speak sharply or be gruff on occasion–it was tempered by a loving, gentle side. When Susan was 5 or 6, it was big brother Dean who took her on a date with him. They went to the skating rink and with Dean on one side and his date on the other, they skated her slowly but surely around the rink, thereby initiating her passion for roller skating. A 20 something year old taking his younger sister on a date with him was pretty impressive to her then–and is something she remembers fondly to this day.
If Dean could speak here today, if he could give us one last message, it would be something like this—“Don’t compromise. Live life on your own terms and never give up.” We know that’s the way he lived his life.
If you shoot for the treetops and succeed, you’ll be on the treetops. If you shoot for the stars and miss–you just might hit the moon.
God speed Dean. We love you. Thank you for being part of our life.