Grandpa’s funeral was a beautiful service, an hour and forty minutes, so a little long – but beautiful nonetheless, and I don’t think anyone thought it was too long. My dad gave the eulogy, and it was beyond excellent.
We didn’t make it to the viewing (Nate had block exams that ended Friday afternoon and the viewing was Friday evening…2000 miles away), but apparently guests waited for 3 hours in line to see grandpa and pay their respects. The line was out the door of the church. Grandpa was a very loved man.
Pretty much all the cousins were there, 24 grandkids, and numerous spouses and great grand-children. All the aunts and uncles.
And just like Grandpa would have wanted, basketball was played immediately following the luncheon. Uncles vs. cousins. Uncles lost.
James VanDerwerken’s Eulogy
When John Quincy Adams was 80 years old, he met a friend on the streets of Boston. The friend asked, “How is John Quincy Adams?” John spoke slowly as he replied, “John Quincy Adams himself is very well, thank you. But the house he lives in is sadly dilapidated. It is tottering on its foundations. The walls are badly shattered and the roof is worn. The building trembles with every wind, and I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out before very long. But he himself is very well.”
Jim VanDerwerken is likewise himself very well. Unfortunately, his house suffered a severe storm and he had to move out.
But before he moved out, a lot of people visited that house.
Jim VanDerwerken was born at home a mile from here on the outskirts of Central Bridge just over eighty years ago on April 9, 1931. He was the youngest child of Elon and Florence VanDerwerken having a brother, John, four years his elder and an older sister, Frances. Jim grew up on the family farm with 25 dairy cows and 3000 chickens. Jim was busy as a youngster. You didn’t have a choice whether you worked or not, you worked from an early age. The cows had to be milked and fed and the eggs had to be collected, washed, and graded every day. When we look around us and see all the technology, computers, cellphones, spaceships – it is difficult to believe that when dad was a kid, he used horses to plow fields, mow hay, and fill the hay mows.
He and his brother worked right along with their dad. It was there with his dad that he learned how to work. His parents had the philosophy that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy so there was also time to play. Dad always spoke fondly of playing marbles on the barn floor, building numerous forts in the trees and woods, and swimming at a number of local swimming holes.
As he was growing up, my grandmother would frequently encourage our father to grow up like the kids from the Dabler family in town. From that point on, he tried to become the boy and encouraged his children to become the persons other mothers would point to when they told their children to look to someone as an example.
In high school at Schoharie Central, he excelled in basketball and played baseball and soccer. He also played the French Horn and sang in the choir. But he met the first love of his life when he was a junior in high school. A boy named Wilbur Lockrow moved to town and brought with him a new style of music he had not heard before: barbershop. With Wilbur, he formed a barbershop quartet named Lads of Harmony and began performing. They even cut a record which they marketed.
His family was a religious family. They attended the Lutheran Church just down the street. Jim was active in the church youth group and regularly attended Sunday services.
A good student, dad received a four year scholarship to Cornell University. He attended Cornell where he studied Agriculture Economics. In addition to his studies, he performed in the Big Red Marching Band and Barbershop Glee Club. Dad was somewhat a free spirit while in college and decided after his sophomore year it was time to see the rest of the United States. So in the spring of 1951, he left Sloansville with $30.00 in his pocket and began hitchhiking to across the country with the intent to end up in California. When he ran out of money, he planned to stop along the way and work for a few days or week at a time to earn enough money to keep moving across the country.
He did this and arrived in Yellowstone National Park the first part of August. While hitchhiking through the park, he learned there might be work at the Old Faithful Inn. Short on cash, dad went to the Inn and secured a job feeding and the other workers at the Inn. The first day of work, his boss told him to fix up a meal for one of the workers who happened to be a cute little blonde. Immediately smitten, California would have to wait for another year. Later that evening he asked around to find out her name. The next morning, as she came through the breakfast line, he politely asked, “what would you like this morning Lois?”
That was the beginning of a three week summer romance. It appears he was able to steal a few kisses during those weeks and Jim was in heaven. However, At the end of the three weeks, Lois said, “Thanks for the good time, but please don’t write.” Lois did not want to marry a farmer and she didn’t want to marry someone who was not of the Mormon faith. She wanted to be married in a Mormon temple for time and eternity which was only possible if her husband was also of the Mormon faith. Dad was a Lutheran.
After returning home to NY, Dad was obedient for about one month. Then he wrote the first of many, many letters. In it he wrote, “You asked me please not write, but I figured if I wrote a letter you’d at least be curious enough to open and read it.” He ended the letter with, “I’ll say goodbye for now – with hopes that I may see you again sometime in the future.” With love and only partial regrets, Jim. Just as he had anticipated, Lois was curious and did open the letter and they began corresponding and the courting began. Not easily persuaded, she subsequently sent several two Dear Johns. After he received one of these Dear John letters, his mother encouraged him to move on. However, his dad gave him great advice he has always treasured, my grandfather counseled him, “You know, a faint heart never won a fair maiden.” If dad were here today, he would probably give the same advice to a few of his grandsons. He persistently went forward, undeterred. Two years of letter writing later, Lois finally agreed to marry him. Lois had always wanted eight children and before she would marry Jim he had to agree for the children to be brought up in the Mormon faith.
On December 5, 1953, Jim and Lois were married and he brought her back from Utah to Central Bridge where he began farming.
A year later, Debra, the first of the eight children arrived. Shortly after her birth, Jim arrived at home and informed Lois he had bought a farm on Creek Road, about three miles from Central Bridge. The farm was right on the Schoharie Creek and had about 100 acres of riverbottom flats. This was news to her since she had not even seen the farmhouse. If you have ever been to the farm, she agrees with you that it was one of the best decisions he ever made.
Cindy arrived a year after Debra followed 17 months later by Michael. Now that he had a boy, they slowed down a bit. Three more boys arrived in two year intervals, Joseph, Paul, and Ted. They now had six children under ten years of age. More importantly, now he had a barbershop quartet he could work with. Julia made her appearance two years later. Lois fulfilled her dream of eight children when Jay joined the family four years later.
When Lois moved back here in 1953, there were only three other members of the Mormon Church in this area. She faithfully travelled to the nearest congregation in Schenectady to attend her Sunday services. True to his word, Jim allowed the children to be raised in the Mormon faith. He remained active in the Lutheran Church up to the time Joseph was born in 1959. He had thought that over time, Lois would waiver in her faith and join the Lutheran church. However, Lois’ faith did not waiver and her love for the gospel of Jesus Christ increased causing him to sincerely investigate whether the Mormon faith was true. After months of investigation, he got down on his knees and asked Heavenly Father whether it was true. He received an unquestionable answer to his prayer that it was. That was the turning point in his life as he embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ten years ago, dad wrote the following: “that there isn’t a day goes by wherein I don’t thank my Father in Heaven for:
1) Meeting Lois: The Lord put an angel in my path
2) Her love of the gospel causing me to sincerely investigate the mormon faith
3) For me getting down on my knees and asking Heavenly Father if it is true and to have the courage to be baptized and join the Mormon Church.
He went on to write
What a difference that one decision has made:
1. In my life: to have the Holy Ghost as a constant companion when I’m worthy to help make many right decisions.
2. In Lois life: to have a worthy priesthood holder to have and honor her as mother in the home
3. In our marriage relationship: to have an eternal companionship to work through all the joys and heartaches. To realize and know the healing power of Christ’s Atonement to work through a tragedy as difficult as the loss of our beautiful daughter Julia.
4. In the lives of our children: to have the anchor of the teachings of the Gospel to teach our children sound principles so they weren’t tossed to and fro by every wind of false doctrines. The greatest joy we have as parents is to see our children become the individuals their Heavenly Father wants them to be.
5. In the lives of our children’s children: to be taught these same principles and doctrines for generations to come.”
For the next fifty years, dad’s life was driven by applying the gospel principles taught by Jesus Christ. He loved the gospel and our Savior.
Shortly after his baptism, a congregation of the Mormon faith was organized in Central Bridge and dad was the appointed and ordained to be the presiding leader. He remained in that position for the next sixteen years.
The church members first met in the house next door but they wished to have an actual church building to worship in. At the time, members of a congregation had to provide 20% of the cost of a church and church headquarters would provide the remaining 80%. The members of the church were of modest means and had no way to raise that amount of money. Jim, with some other members of the church, formed a construction corporation named Liahona, Inc. to build this church. Jim was the president of the corporation and along with other members of the congregation donated 20 % of their labor put into building the church to raise the 20% of the funds needed. Without these generous donations by Jim and many of the members of the congregation here today, this building would not be here.
Jim’s decisions were not influenced by the love of money. (Many times, we as kids wished they were, but that wasn’t dad) When he bought the farm, he was just out of college with no money. No bank would lend him the money so he went to the owner of the grain mill here in town, Earnest Howard. Mr. Howard loaned him the money because he believed in him. That was 1955. He planted corn and the crop looked great. Then in October, the first of the three major floods that have hit our farm flooded and damaged the crops he was going to use to pay the mortgage. Mr. Howard was a patient mortgagor. Not only did Mr. Howard teach my father about trust and belief in people, he showed mercy and gave him time to make the payments.
Although we children did not know it until we had grown up, it was difficult financially raising eight children on a farm. We didn’t know we were poor or about the many times our parents struggled in paying the mortgage on time. But Mr. Howard taught my parents about empathy. He believed in mom and dad and allowed them to pay the mortgage when they had the money. Dad always remembered that mercy and showed that same mercy to others. He always believed people would do the right thing in the end. If people disappointed him and were not as trustworthy as he believed they were or should have been in business dealings and otherwise, he would say, “He must have needed the money more than me.” And he truly believed that.
Dad was not easily offended by others. He would frequently counsel his family and others to “Let it go. Don’t let someone else’s problem become your problem.” He would go on to say, “It’s not worth losing a friend over.”
In his adult life, dad did many different occupations, school teacher, GE supervisor, insurance salesman, construction business owner, and landlord. But even with those jobs, he always wanted to be a farmer. He loved to plant seeds and see them grow. Every spring for the past fifty five years, he planted crops on the farm. In June of this year, as his body was weakening and unbeknownst to us all the cancer growing, my sons and I were privileged to work along side of him as he drove the tractor and planted this last crop of pumpkins.
Every year toward the latter part of August, he would walk the fields to see what kind of stand of pumpkins were growing. The foliage covers the ground so you have to actually walk in the field to see how many pumpkins are beneath the leaves and how they look. But this year was different because he was too weak to walk. He had always been so big and strong to me, it was difficult to see him in that condition. So I walked the field for him. It was a beautiful crop with many pumpkins just starting to turn orange. I picked a good-looking medium pumpkin and brought it up to the house to show him and told him the crops look great for October.
Two days later the flood hit the valley, taking with it the foliage and most of our pumpkins and leaving the few remaining unsaleable. Among the lovely flowers sent to our family that are here with us, I have placed the only surviving pumpkin. He always had on a his hat, so I placed it on the pumpkin.
For the past 26 years, Dad has been able to able to provide for his family and bring joy to many families. He had a vision of affordable, family fun and created the pumpkin patch. It brings great joy to him to see families together enjoying each other’s company on the farm. He is a kid at heart and with his love of building tree forts still within him, he designed and built a four-story tree house on the farm around a large maple tree for the grandkids and public to enjoy. He is blessed to have a wife who allowed him the flexibility to build a fort which became more and more elaborate as the building progressed and in the end cost more than what he purchased the whole farm for.
Even in the pumpkin patch, dad’s love of the gospel comes out. He has always tried to live the Ten Commandments. One of the commandments is “Thou shall keep the Sabbath Day holy.” Being a farmer and having animals, dad knew there were some jobs that had to be done on Sunday, feeding and caring for the animals. But he never did work on Sunday which could be done on another day. We never did hay on Sunday even if it was going to rain on Monday. We never sold animals or produce on the Sabbath. He believes it is the Lord’s day. So when he started the pumpkin patch, it was never a question of whether to open on Sunday. We didn’t. That decision was made long ago – money lost was never a factor. He is a man who stands by his convictions and those who came in contact with him knew it.
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Many of you know these are the tenets of the boy scout law. Dad was a scouter and embraced the scout law. Those twelve characteristics describe dad. He volunteered and was active in the scouting program his whole life donating countless hours of service in helping the youth. Even up to this past spring he was the merit badge counselor for family life, personal finance, citizen in the community, nation, and world working with the scouts in Troop 46 here in Central Bridge.
One of his few regrets in life was only becoming a life scout. You have to complete all the requirement before turning 18. He didn’t want his sons and his daughter’s sons to have that same regret. He, and his wife, instilled the tenets of the scout law and love of scouting in their children. All five of his sons are eagle scouts and next month, the eleventh of his grandsons will be receiving his eagle rank. All his sons and many of his grandsons are scouts and/or active in scouting program.
Before I close, I would like to share a couple of my father’s thoughts on dying.
When he was courting my mother, dad’s grandmother, whom he was very close to, suffered a stroke and was fading fast. Dad wrote the following to her in one of his letters: “She’s not in pain, thank goodness, and I feel the good Lord has chosen this as her time to go. Death, I feel comes as a kindly physician, relieving people from their aches and pains- performing the only operation that will relieve them of their difficulties. We shouldn’t be concerned with death – our job is living. When you bury someone, we bury a body, but not a life – the life lives on forever.
When I was a little boy, dad explained death in simple terms a little boy could understand. He said, “Remember when we went to the Hill Cumorah pageant in Palmyra and it was late at night when we drove home. During the ride home, you fell asleep. When we arrived home, I carried you up to your bed. The next morning, you woke up rested in your bed. Death is like that. One day you will go to sleep, and while you are sleeping, Jesus will carry you to his house and you will wake up with him there the next morning.” Those words have given me solace from that time up to this day.
In closing, please think of dad and ponder our own life experiences as I would like to read a poem dad recited frequently when speaking at many of his friends’ funerals:
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning . . . to the end.
He noted that first came date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears.
But he said what mattered most of all,
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth . . .
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars . . . the house . . . the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard . . .
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left,
That can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real,
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never love before
If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile . . .
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy’s being read
With your life’s actions to rehash . . .
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent your dash?
May we treasure our memories of knowing Jim as husband, father, grandfather, cousin, uncle, teacher, and for all of us here today, a friend. And until we meet again try to emulate qualities of his life that he has taught us through the years is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen