We held a Celebration of Life Service for our Dad on July 11th in Missoula. It was a wonderful ceremony with lots of friends, former colleagues and students, relatives and old friends who traveled great distances to be with us. Many people asked for a copy of the Eulogy. I’m not sure I remembered to send it to all of them, so I’m posting it here. Jana
Thank you all for being here tonight to honor the life of Dr. Richard Dale Vandiver, our father, brother, grandfather, husband, teacher, and friend.
For those who don’t know me, I am Jana, his second daughter. Today I represent my sister, Joni, my brother, Jack and all of our children – our father’s pride and joy, his grandchildren, Hadley Kay, Sadie Lou, David, Kaylynn, Michaela, and K.C..
It is difficult to summarize a long and successful life, tougher still to put into words all the aspects of our dad that we loved so much.
Some of the details of his life: He was born on New Year’s Day 1938 to Paul and Irva Vandiver, brother to Norma Jean (sitting with us today). They were raised in a strict Mennonite home, attended a one-room schoolhouse. He got his first traffic ticket at the age of 9, driving their tractor on public roads. He was quite proud of that ticket.
He attended GoshenCollege in Indiana where he fell in love with and married our mother, LaVon Springer.
The Goshen Website reads:
At Goshen we’re passionate about making peace. If you believe in care of the earth and care of one another, if you put your faith and God before anything else, this is the college for you. We’re for people who want to serve the world with joy in the name of peace.
Peace, Joy, Care for the Earth and People were always important to him.
In the years that followed, he acquired his many degrees, and his three children.
Then in 1971, he came upon the proverbial fork in the road, his final choice between a higher paying job in Florida, or the position here at UM in Missoula.
He often told us, as an apology for not taking us on more exotic family vacations, that a third of his salary was in the rivers and mountains around Missoula. And so, as we made Montana our home, he made certain that we learned to appreciate the land and the beauty that drew him here.
Our weekends were filled with drives on narrow mountain roads, squiggly lines on a forest service map…”let’s check-out this road, see where it goes” he’d say as he pulled off a mountain road into what looked like merely a break in the bushes. We’d drive high up in the mountains looking for rocks, fish, deer, grouse, wild flowers, or just a place to have a picnic.
On those adventures in the mountains, we were always in awe of his eyesight. We’d be out on one of those roads, we’d all be looking outside, wanting to be the first one to see the deer or the bear or the bird. Sure enough, even though he was driving, it was always dad who spotted it first.
And so we thought it was especially fitting that when he passed away, as an organ donor, his gift to research was his eyes.
After he left Montana, he lived in Massachusetts, Florida, and Colorado. In each place he met friends, embraced the local food and traditions, and he continued to seek out nature and spend as much time there as he could. He loved and was loved by many wherever he traveled or lived.
Eventually his parents moved from Montana back to Oregon where they had relatives and friends. And so, as their health waned and he knew they needed him, he moved back to his beloved PacificCoast to care for them until they both passed away.
It was when he lived in Oregon that he fell in love with his wife Janet. Together they shared a life that included travel, children, grandchildren, love of nature, good food, and friends. Janet was continuously by his side in the last months of his life, caring for him as the aggressive rare liver cancer took over his body.
Dad had little tolerance for laziness or nastiness, he had no use for television, video games, or the electronic devices kids play with these days. If you felt sorry for yourself he wasn’t the one to go to for sympathy. Instead he’d deliver a sarcastic remark to make you laugh, followed with “So, what are you going to do about it?”
But always, always he was there for us with a hug strong enough to squeeze the sadness right out of you.
He was a strong man with a clear sense of who he was. Anyone on his Christmas List will long remember his holiday cards listing his children, his grandchildren, his travels, and always at the end his digs on George W. Bush or his current political views.
Dad wrote in his will “It is my wish that no funeral be held for me other than a brief memorial service at which people who are my friends and family celebrate life and have an inexpensive party. I would like for my remaining family and friends to be inspired to think about the importance of life, the beauty in nature, the injustice in material and social inequality, and the divine in every human being.
So, no pressure then…
We are here to celebrate him and his life. He made it clear, knowing how we felt about him, that he didn’t want us to waste any time mourning his passing.
His words do a good job of summing up who he was.
- He wanted us to be inspired. The form it took was not important as long as we were inspired and passionate enough about something to work hard at it.
- He wanted us to think about the importance of life. His belief was that the secret (if there is one) is that life is important. It is a gift we’ve been given.
- He wanted us to think about the beauty in nature. As evidenced by the stacks of photographs that he took now sitting on a table in the narthex, he loved nature.
- He wanted us to think about the injustice of material and social inequality. I’m afraid this is going to be your homework, given to you by Professor Vandiver. I’m not qualified or brave enough to tackle these subjects with you here.
But I can tell you that this is how he raised us. To research and know a subject so you could form your own opinion and not simply reiterate what you’d heard or read in the media. And he had a big heart. He was a generous man in many ways to many people. He found more joy in giving than in getting. He was a pacifist and a conscientious objector. He knew what he believed in and he was strong enough to stand up for his beliefs.
- He wanted us to think about and be inspired by the divine in every human being. We were so, so lucky to have Richard Vandiver as our father. But the lucky-luckiest ones were his grandchildren. To see him interact with them, from the moment they were born. He not only could see and appreciate the divine in each of them, he reveled in it. He was their champion, their greatest fan, their Grand Father.
For friends and family but particularly for his grandchildren as you live your life with him no longer here to guide us remember this:
Live your life the best that you can with purpose and inspiration, with love, kindness, respect, and joy. Remember that life is important – it is your gift. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of those you love. And love large. Love many and give with your whole heart.
Make the effort to show those closest to you how much you care for them, and treat others with the kindness and respect you would wish for yourself.
Educate yourself, learn from your mistakes, and forgive yourself. Don’t ever stop changing, growing, and learning.
Be generous and grateful and just like when you are camping, strive to leave your world a better place than how you found it.
Spend time in nature as often as you can. Care for it, plant seeds, appreciate the beauty, protect the earth and all her creatures.
And finally, make the effort to see the divine in every human being including and especially in yourself.