Good memories take some of the sting from death

Death is a hard master.

Forget about your own impending demise, just thinking about death brings on all kinds of thoughts. Some of them aren’t your proudest moments because anger is a big part of the process, but anger can’t hold its head up when memories take you back to happy times.

That’s the beauty of visitations and memorial services. No one chides you for the number of tears that slip off your cheek, nor do you get questioning looks when you laugh. It’s a mixed marriage of sorrow and cheer. A good marriage.

I was gone when Walt Stevens died. I didn’t hear his service or try to hold back tears. Now when I think of him, it’s always a happy thought that pops into my head. He hired me for my first job in journalism way back in 1968, but more than that, he made it easy to be happy at work.

And strange, of all the memories, I remember most being tucked between him and the ad manager in the big blue car The Messenger owned at the time. I drove it when I went into the area to do stories, but for some reason on that night, Walt and Jay – and I cannot for the life of me remember his last name – wanted the car.

Maybe they were just going to Walt’s place because that’s where that memory ends – in Walt’s driveway. It’s like a dream in that it makes no sense. But it was real, and it’s one of the things I remember because that short drive to his house was so much fun. I was too scared to say much, but those two were in it for the long haul and having a darn good time.

I’m not the only one with memories of what used to be.

Duane “Oley” Olson died on New Year’s Day this year. Known as the voice of the Karl King Municipal Band, he played in the band for 65 years – mostly the euphonium. He was the band’s announcer for 56 years.

After he died, his wife Nancy received a letter from Dick Johnson, a radio deejay in the early 1950s. He had a memory swimming through his mind and wanted it share it with her.

“That is certainly not the way I would have preferred to start the New Year,” he wrote. “You may or may not know it, but Oley and I go back to the early 1950s when I was the late night disk jockey on the old KVFD ’78 to Midnight’ show.

“He and Tommy Tomlinson (Duff Thomas) and Reggie Schive used to come down every night and pull records for my show. They were three of the most talented musicians in (Fort Dodge High School). I used to call them ‘The Unholy Trio,’ but they cautioned me not to ever mention their real names on air. I always suspected their families were unaware of the participation.”

You just never know what memories will pop up when someone dies, but you always know those memories will be precious.

So long friends, until the next time when we’re together.

Sandy Mickelson, retired lifestyle editor of The Messenger, may be reached at