Losing family and friends part of life but never easy

Published 2:41 am Monday, December 21, 2015

There was an old Walt Disney movie made even before my time called “Darby O’Gill and the Little People.”

Darby was trying to capture King Brian of the Leprechauns for the pot of gold. People asked him what he would wish for and he had to think hard. Someone said, “Wish for happiness.”

Darby said, “Humans beings need bitter with the sweet.”

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There have been plenty of sweet moments over the past few months, but there have been those bitter times as well.

The most recent “bitter moment” came Friday when word of Lynda Hacker’s death was announced.

In the past several months some wonderful people have died and left us thinking of the sweet moments they have given us.

Just this past week we have lost Roger Gustin, Fred Anson and Lynda. There have also been the deaths of Jim Weber and Gene Jones.

Those are five wonderful people who have five different personalities but all shared a lot of love and compassion for others.

Jim Weber had that distinctive laugh and sense of humor. He had a successful business as a State Farm Insurance agent, but he was much more than that.

Jim loved to help others. He gave to little leagues, church groups, etc. But his biggest love was the Shriners’ Children Hospital.

Just a little more than a year ago we were standing on the parking lot at Leibert where Jim was selling bags of onions, a Shriner project to help raise money for the hospital.

He told me that the Shriners get a bad rap for partying, but he didn’t deny they liked to have fun. But he said they also work hard and that if anyone visited the children in that hospital, they would understand why he and the Shriners want to raise money to help them.

That is the Jim Weber I know.

Gene Jones was not just a teacher, football coach and former Army man, he was someone who was full of life. You could just see how much he loved every day he was alive.

Coach Jones was tough when he had to be. His Army background would rise to the top. But he was funny, loved to laugh and had a very pragmatic understanding of life.

My son was fortunate to have been coached or associated in his life with Bob Lutz, Mike Burcham, Pat Sheridan, Buck Foglesong, Lou Mains and Mark Lewis. I told him I just wished he had the opportunity to have been around Coach Jones.

It was 25 years ago that Coach Jones made the statement, “When they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.” He hit the hammer on the nail with that observation and I’ve never forgot it.

From the flamboyant styles of Jim Weber and Gene Jones we shift gears to Roger Gustin and Fred Anson. When I think of a true gentleman, you can skip the definition or description by just using them as an example.

Roger always had time for anyone. You didn’t have to be famous, important or with the media. You couldn’t find someone more down to earth and he never — NEVER — forgot where he came from.

He didn’t raise his voice. He was always flashing his wonderful smile. But don’t be fooled. He was a great competitor and an even greater person.

Fred Anson was very similar to Roger. Coach Anson played at Ashland and against Ironton. He later played — and starred — in three sports at VMI. Like Coach Jones, he had some military training.

Coach Anson was a very intelligent man and not just because he was smart enough to marry an Ironton woman — Rose Dressel — and move from Ashland to Ironton.

But seriously, Coach Anson played in the 1940s and 1950s and coached in the 1960s and 1970s. He was the head football and basketball coach at St. Joseph.

It was Coach Anson who led the Flyers to their last OVC championship in 1975. And when you look at the so-called innovative game of today, Coach Anson had a no-huddle offense, hand signals to call plays, and the shifting of backs and linemen from one side to the other.

I learned more basketball in three days of practice with Coach Anson than I did in all my previous years of playing the game.

And like Roger Gustin, I never heard Coach Anson curse and it was a rarity that he lost his temper.

And then there is Lynda Hacker.

She was a football mom with son Joe who was a standout tackle for the 1979 state champion Ironton team. Her son Kevin was a basketball standout who is now an assistant coach at Ironton.

But it was her love and compassion for others that will always be remembered. She would always smile and give you a hug. And she would always asked about your children. “How are my babies?”

Yes, everyone was her “babies.”

And when she and Linda Burcham got together to bake, I’m willing to bet God made everyone in heaven stop what they were doing and watch.

I was heading for Mass one morning and there was a lot of snow and ice on the ground. There was Lynda Hacker walking along in the snow.

“What are you doing out here walking in the snow?” I asked.

“Oh, I just wanted to see God’s beautiful works of nature.”

She certainly loved God, but I put her in the car and drove her home. I told her she could admire God’s handiwork from her window.

I had Lynda on my daily prayer list. Now we are the ones who will ask her to pray for us. And she will.

After all, we’re her babies.


Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.