WILTSE: A rare eulogy, but well-deserved

Over the years, many of my friends have passed away. Of my 60 or 70 golf cronies, only a half-dozen are left.
Mar 27, 2014

I’ve never written a eulogy before, but this man is extraordinary. He died a month or two ago. He wasn’t a golf crony, rather a neighbor of some 30-plus years.

Mr. Earl Vieau was a master mechanic aboard the Hains and I expect that he was much more of a self-taught engineer that a mechanic.

You remember the Hains don’t you? Well, if you were a citizen of Grand Haven of more than 30 years, you do remember the Hains. It was a dredge that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owned and was berthed here in Grand Haven. When the Corps of Engineers decommissioned the Hains in 1983, Earl very reluctantly retired.

After he retired, he was always poking around his house and yard looking for something to do. He had one of the neatest houses, yards and cars in Grand Haven, and that’s saying a lot in this Dutch town.

I had a young maple tree in my frontyard. It was about 25 or 30 feet tall. It blew over in a wind storm which left it lying on its side and with a deep cavity in the ground. I chopped up the branches and trunk, but puzzled over what to do with the stump.

Earl came over and took over. He got down in the hole and, with an axe and a shovel, got that stump out of there without the use of a tow truck or a tractor. For him, it was something to do.

He was always helpful to his neighbors, because it was something to do.

Earl was a very active walker. He had a definite route. He lived on the corner of Orchard and Wisconsin. He would walk up Wisconsin to Taylor, Taylor to Beacon, Beacon to Robbins Road, Robbins to Sheldon and back to his house. He did this every day, sometimes twice. He never deviated from this route.

One time, I had an errand to run and decided to walk. I met Earl and walked a little ways with him. I suggested to him that he change his course and accompany me, but no — he would not alter his course.

Earl’s wife, Catherine (“Catie”), was very ill with cancer in the early 1990s. She died in the mid 1990s. Earl grieved greatly, never outwardly. He rarely mentioned Catie to his friends, but I’m sure he grieved for her privately.

A couple of years after Catie’s death, he had many women friends (mostly widows) come to him with gifts of cakes and pies. He was polite and I think he never suspected their intentions. He was polite to them, but ignored them. He was true to his Catie and considered himself still married to her.

Earl was a deeply religious man. I don’t believe he ever uttered a curse word, and that’s saying a lot for a mechanic who must have busted his knuckles many a time trying to tighten a nut. Yet he never wore his religion on his sleeve. He never mentioned anything about it to me. He never proselytized or criticized.

He went to Mass every day. He usually walked, the only time he deviated from his usual course; however, he would take his car during inclement weather. I remember many a time I would be going to work and there was Earl walking to Mass. I’m sure that many of his prayers were for Catie. 

We lost Mr. Vieau about five years ago to that most cruel of diseases, Alzheimer’s, where one dies five years before one dies. I personally do not believe in the idea of a Christian heaven, but I hope Earl and Catie are enjoying their eternity together.

He was an honest-to-goodness Christian, unlike some of our politicians who use their religion to spew their hatreds and to justify them. There was absolutely no hate in Earl.

As I said before, I have never written a eulogy before and will probably never write another (unless it be autobiographical), but this man was special. He deserved it. A finer Christian never existed and he deserved this final salute.

— By Ralph Wiltse, Tribune community columnist

Comments

Vladtheimp

I never knew your friend/neighbor, but after reading your heartfelt tribute I feel a sense of the kind of man he was. I'm certain he is looking down with appreciation at your eulogy, at the same time believing there was no need for you to go to the trouble.

It seems there are fewer of such men around in these enlightened times. Thanks for sharing.

16damons

Obviously, you have been blessed. My father once told me that if I ever had a true best friend that never gave up on me... then I was a wealthy man. I have had many friends, but never such a best friend as my wife. At this point I would to honor someone. Jerry (Gerald) Darling. Grand Haven jail ministry with such a good heart, I could never explain... and his brother Joe... pushing the book cart. Every once in a while a person must reflect and wonder about the blessings they have received. Jerry and Joe. Two older gentlemen that never asked for themslves... but only gave to others.

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