Case in Point

Facing the holiday season without several of Wilton & Durant's best


With Thanksgiving now in our rearview mirrors, we shift our focus to December and another holiday season. At my very muted Thanksgiving meal, which consisted of just my parents and I, we had the same talk with extended family that I’m sure most of you are having…

What about Christmas? That’s the next big holiday of togetherness — perhaps even more so than Thanksgiving. My extended family is still trying to make plans around having a large gathering for Christmas and, while I am a bit heartbroken, it’s truly what I’m thankful for.

Rather not get together this season, in order to ensure seeing everyone again next year. These conversations are hard. It’s a bit like the bizarro world. It seems, at least in my family, that the older the members, the harder it is for them to break tradition and not want to have a large family gathering.

However, it’s our older members that we must take care of in the midst of this pandemic.

Don’t believe me? Perhaps because I had COVID-19 and lived to tell about it. In fact, it didn’t hit me that hard.

Just read our obituary pages each week. Try and keep up. I’m not saying every obituary we receive is a COVID-related death. But there have been several in these small towns.

Every once in awhile, I do my best to briefly eulogize those we have lost in our communities. It’s the hardest writing that I do. Plus, the same question always dances around in my head: Whom do I eulogize and whom do I not? Frankly, if I have a connection with the person, or interesting anecdote, I want to share it with our readers.

I decided to look over our obits from November, just one month, and the connections are everywhere.

It began early this month with the loss of Ron Alpen, who died due to complications with COVID-19. Sadly, I’m just young enough that I never dealt with Ron during his hey day of owning and operating Ron Alpen Ford in Durant. My dealings throughout my career have been more with his sons Dan and Steve. Yet how can you not live in these home towns and not know Ron Alpen — or at least know of him.

My dealings with Ron were more in his retirement. He served on the Durant school board within the last decade, where we got to know each other as I cover most of the meetings. Of course he often called me "Erik," but I never corrected him. He was heavily into country music, and organized a Music Fest in Durant. At the end of every summer, he’d start coming into our office to work up ads for the events, always looking for a deal — like a true car guy. Then, in the end, he’d come in and pay in cash. He’d usually take a few minutes to "shoot the breeze" with me before leaving. I’ll miss that.

Then there was Jerry Johnson, longtime president of Wilton Savings Bank. Long before Wilton became a town of three banks and a credit union, Wilton Savings Bank was the bank in town. Again I’m too young to know Jerry all that well personally. Yet you’d be hard pressed to find any business leader in this town who didn’t have a relationship or story to tell involving Johnson. He was one of the pillars of the Wilton community for decades.

We also lost Wilton’s Herb LaMaack in November. A longtime bus driver for the Wilton School District, my lasting memory of Herb will be that he always had a smile on his face. I mean always — I’ve never seen the man with a scowl or appearing upset. He’d drive a tractor in ever parade, and come to every community event, for the meals and time spent with friends.

We said goodbye to Charles Wuestenberg of Durant in November. I did not know who Charles was, until I received a random phone call from him when the concept of the Durant history museum was conceived. He was one of the minds behind it, and invited me to his house north of Durant for a chat. I happily accepted and, upon being invited to his home, it’s like we quickly became good friends. He knew a wealth of Durant history, and taught me a lot in a short time. He also volunteered much of his time at the vision that became reality — the Tri County Heritage & Genealogy Museum. A wealth of knowledge like his is a shame to lose, he’ll be missed.

We saw COVID-19 claim another victim last weekend, when we lost Jerry Grings of Moscow. I often feel, and am told by many in these communities, that I attend more events than anyone. Comes with the territory of being a small-town editor. Yet if I were to pick a close second, in Wilton at least, it may have been Jerry.

If it had anything to do with county fairs, the Wilton school, or Beaver athletics, Jerry was there — and he always had an opinion. All you had to do was ask, and sometimes you didn’t even have to ask. He’d just find you, cozy up next to you, and before you knew it he had talked with you for 10-15 minutes. We had some unforgettable phone calls too.

Sometimes our views differed; most times they were in line with each other. But nevertheless, Jerry and I always had stimulating conversations. He made me think. And as a thinker, I always looked forward to our next talk. He’ll be missed.

These are just a few of the wonderful souls lost in the past 30 days or so. As my mind shifts to the end of the year and “Year in Review” mode, I felt it appropriate to pause a moment to remember them. Let us all continue to be very aware of what’s happening around us. Think of others before yourself this holiday season, so we can get to the other side and celebrate many more in the future with those we love most.