Originally posted HERE on November 18th, 2008.
Well, I got the call this morning. We’ve been through a few holidays where we thought it would be Rip’s last, but he’s always soldiered through. Not so this time. My dad told me that Rip passed after midnight. He slept through most of yesterday, but woke up once and told his girls “the party’s been canceled.” Then went back to sleep. They figured he was dreaming, but he may have known what was happening. They gave him some morphine to make sure he wasn’t in any pain, and he just never woke up.
Things had been rough for him for a while. Years of smoking had all but crippled his lungs, and his son died a few years ago from lung cancer. It was doubly sad since they had been estranged for many years. Rip’s wife (my grandma, Dorothy) passed shortly after that, just after Rip had suffered a mild stroke but had mostly recovered from it. He didn’t want to, but he ultimately had to give up his house and move to an apartment where medical care was present all the time. There was very little argument from him even though everyone knew he’d have preferred to stay at home regardless of the consequences. A good soldier.
In the past few years, he was content with his nurse-approved portions of Canadian LTD and either a Brewers or Packers game. He had a stereo to listen to Bob Uecker call the games and headphones so he wouldn’t miss anything.
It’s hard to decide what to write about him. Some stuff won’t translate because he was unlike any other person I’ve ever met. Describing him is pretty impossible. He did much more than he said. He worked every day of his life, until his body just wouldn’t allow it anymore. He had the same hair cut since he was in the navy in WW2. He could build or repair anything. His favorite actor was Clint Eastwood. I think he’d take a ham sandwich over filet mignon, given the choice. He was a utility player, but spent a lot of time at short stop. I still have the toy chest he built for me when I was a little boy.
I have lots of memories. Lots. I think I got so much attention from him because by the time I came around, my grandpa was already pretty successful in his tavern and was expanding into the motel business. Lots of pressure was off to provide for the family by then. He could afford to have some fun. So, we shot a lot of pool. He showed me the beer cellar where they hid booze during the prohibition. He took me to a Brewers game (when Cecil Cooper, Robin Yount, and Rollie Fingers played) on a bus with other folks from Jackson. He made ice cream in the motel office while he smoked a pipe. He survived a boiler explosion in that same office. He had an infinite supply of quarters for soda, pinball, or video games.
Some of my grandpa’s life was set up for him. He inherited the dance hall from his dad. He probably inherited some business savvy, too, since Rip’s tavern was successful. And, if the gigantic piles of presents at Christmas every year were any kind of gauge, the motel business was successful, too. So he got a good start, but he capitalized on that and never quit working. He took what he was given and added his own ingenuity to set up a truly remarkable life.
I would be shocked if there was a person on the planet who had a bad thought about Rip. If he had any prejudices, you’d never have known it, but I suspect he didn’t. Strangers were treated like family. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
The bottom line is, he lived an ideal life. It almost seems impossible. I mean, there’s the blueprint for success. Solid ideas, strong work ethic, basic Christian principles – that’s Rip, and that’s how it should be done. That’s the kind of guy that made the 50’s an era of success and prosperity. He won a war, then he made his own town a better place. And, most importantly, he set the foundation for a strong, happy family.