R.I.P., Ken Stauffer

Ken Stauffer

Ken Stauffer

Mostly when the phone rings, I let it go to voicemail. There’s usually a robot on the other end, selling something, and reading it the riot act — to wit, Isaac Asimov’s Second Law of Robotics — is every bit as effective as shouting at the television.

But on Monday, I picked up, having recognized the name on the Caller ID. And that’s how I learned that our friend Ken Stauffer had died.

Ken and his family settled in the neighborhood before we got here, just across the street from the house we eventually bought. We shouldn’t have gotten along, I suppose. Left and right rarely do these days, and the Stauffers and O’Gradys would never have the same political signs decorating their respective yards come election season.

So what? The Stauffers were the sort of conservatives who put many a so-called progressive to shame. James 2:17 types who rarely talked the talk but walked the walk, Ken and his wife, Ellen, worked hard, lent a hand to those less fortunate than themselves, and raised three of the most interesting children I’ve ever met. Scott, Will and Margaret were neither intimidated by nor contemptuous of their elders, and in our years across the street we watched them blossom into fine adults.

We’d shoot the breeze and share a laugh in the street, break bread and tip a glass from time to time, enjoy all those little interactions that make a neighborhood more than a collection of boxes with roofs on them.

When the kids grew up and began scattering — Scott to the Army, Will and Margaret to college — Ken found a new job in Atlanta, and he and Ellen moved away.

The four of us went to dinner before they left for Georgia. It was the last time we would see Ken. His death at age 50 stunned his old neighborhood, where he is remembered as a dedicated runner and occasional bicycle commuter; a husky guy with a hearty laugh, who enjoyed jumping out of perfectly serviceable airplanes while attending the U.S. Air Force Academy; a “boyfriend” who perked up the little old ladies with his visits to the gym; and a devoted father who hoped his children would find lives they loved, as he loved his.

I spoke with Scott on Monday, and he was bearing the weight as best he could. He said the family had gathered around Ellen in Atlanta, and that he planned to write his father’s obituary, as I did for mine. Shortly afterward, on his Facebook page, he posted a photo of Ken helping Will get all dolled up for his wedding earlier this year.

“This is how I want to remember my father,” wrote Scott. “At his best, taking care of the people he loved. Thank you for all you did for us, Dad.”

23 Responses to “R.I.P., Ken Stauffer”

  1. khal spencer Says:

    The good ones die young, eh, Patrick. I guess that’s why the Grim Reaper never comes for me.

    I’ll grieve for your loss and for the Stauffers. Like you, I know a few James 2:17 types from the other side of the political divide. I often get along better with them than I do with some of the lefties who have not learned that faith, whether religious or political, without works, is dead.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      K, folks like these give me those fleeting glimmers of hope that keep me from applying for a job as janitor second class on that one-way trip to Mars, where I could be in the political ascendancy for a change — the first Red on the Red Planet.

  2. Patrick O'Brien Says:

    A good neighbor is hard to find and harder to lose that way. To have a neighbor who is also a friend is a true treasure. They must have valued your company to call and let you know. You are a lucky man to live in a neighborhood as you describe.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Gents, Ken was one of the good ones, it’s true. A genuinely nice, thoughtful guy, the sort who talked with you, not at you, and who always seemed to have a smile at the ready.

      It’s been a privilege to live in this neighborhood, among some of the finest folks you can imagine. Bibleburg is a strange place in many ways, but I wouldn’t trade the years we’ve spent here for anything.

  3. Libby Says:

    A lovely tribute and farewell.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thanks, Libby. You’d have gotten a bang out of Ken. He was one of those rare adults who never quite shed a certain boyish quality. I bet a lot of his kids’ friends would go home and think, “Jeez, I wish my old man was more like Mister Stauffer.”

  4. weaksides (@weaksides) Says:

    Well done Patrick…life has a way of painting us into convenient boxes and whatnot; but reality has its own version of events oftentimes.

    On another note, Stinco de Fucko marked 43 laps around the ball of fire for me. I “celebrated” by clicking off 148 miles at the coast. Thanks to booze and friends for making it all possible.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Holy moly … you’re gonna have to change your handle, Hoss. Ain’t nothin’ weaksides about riding 148 miles. I can sometimes manage 148 minutes. In any case, a belated happy birthday to you.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Happy loop around the sun, Hoss. You gotta get caught up, though.

      On that note, O’Grady and I have to think of something appropriate for that big, ugly sixty laps around Mr. Sun that hits us both between the eyes next year. Should we make it….

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Oy. Sixty. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I got my first mailer from the AARP?

        Birthdays are troublesome beasts. Eighteen saw Uncle Sam transform from kindly banker (savings bonds) to Shanghai Sammy (draft board). Twenty-one freed me from bribing winos to buy my booze.

        Thirty meant I could no longer be trusted. Forty was when I first thought, “You know, it’s not like I was ever exactly handsome, but maybe it’s time I started shaving in the dark.”

        Fifty was when I realized that all that hair I lost in my 30s and 40s was coming back — in my nose and ears, and on my shoulders and back.

        Sixty? That’s probably when the medicos will start sawing my bits off. I hope they get my eyes first, so I won’t have to watch.

      • khal spencer Says:

        I never thought of Circle Game as a portent of doom, Patrick, but as I passed the bell lap for sixty, those thoughts started occurring. I honestly don’t know where the time went. Seems just like yesterday that my buddies and I were riding our motorcycles south of Rochester to carelessly drink too heavily and listen to a Grateful Dead knockoff band (Old Salt). Jeeze, how the time flies when you are having fun.

        Twenty saw us on East River Road south of the University of Rochester, on motorcycles, riding way too fast on a high BAC, letting fly sparks from footpeg metal, and living to tell the tale. Nowdays, I would die doing that and Larry would have something suitable to say. 21 was quitting NROTC, realize I had to work like a maniac on my dreadful GPA and figure out how to pay for college. Thirty was waking up on a January morning, in the middle of a painful divorce, thinking “well, I don’t feel any different than 29 and that was bad enough”. Forty was freshly remarried, buying a house for the first time, and burying my mom. Fifty was huddled on a couch here in Los Alamos with the worst flu of my life. What will sixty bring? Oh, Lord….

  5. BruceM Says:

    You young punks are breaking my heart! 🙂

    Just wait ten more years when everything hurts and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work. But I’m back on the bike working off winter’s fat.

    • Patrick O'Brien Says:

      Amen Brother Bruce. Now I only have 5 years on the two who are whining here, but 64 is nothing. Now, 65 might be. Medicare decisions, no more 10 year driver’s licenses, and half way to 70 is something to consider. I ‘ll ask you for advice next year.

  6. Larry T. Says:

    Left or right, nobody gets outta here alive, as they say. I’ve only stared the grim reaper in the face a few times, but if there was a second or two to think before whatever happened did or didn’t, I’ve (so far) been able to say, “Well, if my number’s up now, I can say I’ve had a pretty damn good time here on earth” with no regrets. Selfish? Probably. But I don’t expect a lot of mourners when I finally check out for good, unlike OG’s neighbor.

    • khal spencer Says:

      I don’t worry about mourners at my funeral. I’ll be dead. If anything, it would be more of a burden on my wife.

  7. Patrick O'Brien Says:

    Patrick, are there any houses for sale in your neighborhood? I would tolerate a little cold weather in trade for some good neighbors that talk to you instead of waving every now and then out of their SUV windows.

  8. John O Says:

    I hadn’t seen Ken in a while. The move explains why. Sad to hear of his premature passing. Damn

  9. Glenn Warmkessel Says:

    Very nice tribute Patrick! I grew up with Ken in Hellertown PA and all of his old buds there are still reeling from this horrible news. As you can imagine, Kenny was the stud of the block, the best athlete, fun loving, and a best friend in the true sense of the word. We had a lot of fun growing up, and as the 10ft tall bullet proof young bucks we thought we were, did a few stupid things that could have meant our demise at an early age. Our graduating class was pretty small, < 200, and Kenny was, as you would guess the most popular guy in the school. The girls loved him, as the ladies in your neighborhood can probably attest to! He was friends with everyone, had no pretenses about him, and always had a soft spot in his heart for anyone disadvantaged, weak, or marginalized in any way as evidenced by his strong connection to the special Olympics when he was at the Air Force Academy. What you see is what you got with Ken…sometimes a smile and pat on the back is you were a good guy, sometimes a right cross to the jaw if you were being an asshole. He was BA but also had the compassion of a saint. And yup, we grew up blue collar and conservative, loved and respected our family and neighbors, fixed what was broken ourselves, and took that love of family neighbors with us where ever we went. My heart goes out to Ken’s mom and dad (Kay and Woody) and his siblings (Stacy and Barry) and hope they feel some comfort thinking that God must have needed a good warrior in heaven with him fighting for the good guys. We love you and will miss you dearly Kenny!

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Glenn, my condolences on the loss to you, your friends and your hometown. Ken was a great neighbor, the best you could ask for. I’ll think of him every time I cycle through the Air Force Academy and see the cadets skydiving. The world is a colder, less interesting place without Ken in it.

  10. Khal Spencer Says:

    Nice picture. He looks way too young and fit to be dead.

  11. Sheri Walker Says:

    My old friend Glenn! What a nice breath of fresh air! I was shocked (still am) over Ken’s death. As you know, our family grew up doing everything with the Stauffers and all are like family to me, even though I haven’t seen Ken in many years! My daughter and I I just spent the day with Kay and Woody a couple of months ago and I got to see all the new pictures of the family including Ken’s grandson! It was lovely to see them all and I am still in grief and shock that Ken is not here! My heart goes out to Ellen as they were just experiencing life together with kids moving on! I’m sure that Ken’s children are crushed with grief! I also can’t imagine how Kay and Woody and Stace and Barry are all dealing with this! Special family… tremendous loss! Trusting that the Lord has a plan in all of this and praying for the family!

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Thanks for commenting, Sheri. The Stauffers will be attending a memorial service here next week and we’ll be able to express our condolences in person. We’ll pass yours along.

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