I was with my 87-year-old father when he died last week. I had lots of time to reflect on his life and mine and how he influenced me.
My dad could make, build, fix, or do anything. I never saw him fail. From him, I learned the importance of belonging to the union, which I have done every year of my professional life. He once was on strike for a whole year, but in the end, he won numerous rights and benefits for his fellow rivermen.
My dad went to a one-room school, Kickapoo Creek School, in rural Marseilles, Illinois. He was the only kid in his 8th grade graduating class because his two classmates flunked. Those are all the boys in the school above, and my dad is the sixth from the right, the one with the hair sticking up and no hat.
He never had the chance to go to college because he was orphaned at thirteen and forced to go to work right out of high school, even though he had "a stack of letters this high" from colleges who wanted him to play football. He landed a good job on the river and worked his way up to become a master pilot of a towboat, earning the title "Captain." In our family, it was a foregone conclusion that we would go to college, and dad paid for it. He was proud of my brother's and my careers in education and of our advanced degrees. And he felt the same way about his granddaughters' educations.
My dad taught me to read, put me through college, and supported and encouraged me in everything I did. He empowered me and made me the person I am today.
My dad's last words to me were about my upcoming retirement. He said, "You're doing the right thing. You're doing the right thing. Retire as early as you can." He should know--he retired at age fifty-six and enjoyed thirty-one years of retirement! That's what I want to do.
Thanks, dad, for everything. We love you and miss you.