I lost another friend last week. Dennis was sixty-five. One of those big men, about six foot five or so, with a big laugh you could hear a half a block away.
I met him fifteen years ago. He and I were in graduate school together. We were the two oldest people in our class. It was a challenge.
We spent four years taking night classes, earning our MBAs. We worked together, writing a lot of term papers and doing projects. We both wanted to teach in a college or university.
His obituary hid the man he was.
I was not going to write about him, not a single word. His death upset me. I put if off for a week.
I lost that battle this morning.
It takes a special kind of person to go back to college when you’re over fifty years old. We were “unconventional students”. Dennis and I were older than three or four of our professors. We both had owned businesses and kept our families fed for years.
I’m not sure if they were teaching us or reminding us of what we already knew.
We talked a lot about the future. What we wanted to do, what was driving us to go back to college. We were staying up studying late, burning the midnight oil and all that sort of stuff.
After thirty years, Dennis had sold his dairy farm. He had escaped that life. His kids were grown and out of the house, living on their own. He wanted to coast towards retirement.
He needed something to do with his life. He had dabbled in politics, got himself elected to a county office. That’s not what he wanted. He was a part-time preacher in the Methodist Church.
He reminded me I needed to use better words on more than one occasion.
Two nights a week, we grabbed our books and headed to campus. Those chairs were just as hard then as they were 30 years earlier. Now, they use white boards and markers, instead of the blackboards and chalk of yesteryear. We watched as the professors transitioned from overhead projectors to power point presentations.
They still wanted us to read, study and write papers. They challenged us with horrific exams.
Two months ago I saw him downtown. He was as fit as a fiddle, as they say. He was still on the job working for the state. He had already put in ten years.
“I’m keeping busy, you know how it is.” He told me. “I travel a lot. It’s a good job. Got to have something to do. I have one more year, then I’m thinking about retiring. But, as long as my health is good, I’ll most likely just keep on working.”
I answered with my situation. “I think I’m retired, but I’m fighting it as hard as I can.”
He looked down at me and just laughed.
“Mike, you got to keep doing something or you’ll dry up and die.”
May God bless you Dennis.
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