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Obituaries contain fascinating facts about local folks

June 30, 2002|by BILL KOHLER

You can learn a lot from an obituary.

One night a few weeks ago, I was skimming the pages of the paper and came across a full page of obituaries. As many readers of The Morning Herald and The Daily Mail can attest, this is not a new thing.

Sometimes, the papers run two pages of obituaries.

What many may not know is how informative these 200- to 300-word write-ups are every day.

Obviously, the obituary section is a solemn final tribute to someone who has died, and I'm not losing sight of that. I've read plenty of obits about good friends, beloved grandparents and business acquaintances, and I always felt they were a way to honor this person one last time.

What struck me about this page was the wealth of fascinating information about these folks. I did not know a single person on this page, but after reading their obits, I felt closer to them.

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This page represents a daily account of local history, painting a broad canvas of how things were and how things will never be again.

Here are a few samples:

-- Some people live such interesting lives. One woman on this page attended two arts academies - one on the East Coast and one in Florida. Her only job listed in the tribute was at Garfinkles Department Store in Washington, D.C. She probably devoted her life to raising a family.

Another man was a retired and decorated colonel who had also received a business degree from a prestigious business school. He spent most of his life in the real estate business in the metropolitan New York area. I bet he had some great stories to tell.

One man, who apparently did not graduate from high school, showed that you don't need a fancy education to be a success. He owned and operated an automobile dealership in the Waynesboro, Pa., area for 30 years and worked in real estate for 10 more years before retiring.

-- Others lived simple, humble lives, working hard and raising families. They left a legacy of sons, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to carry on their names and traditions.

Some women were homemakers, while some of the men listed on this page were military veterans who worked at places such as Grove Manufacturing in Shady Grove, Pa., and Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pa. Another man was a farmer who later built homes and churches.

One man owned his own plumbing business and taught plumbing classes to high school students. He later became a member of the local school board.

-- My, how names have changed. Instead of names like Dakota, Mariah, Devin, Katie, Bryce and Madison, survivors' names were a sign of the times. One person was survived by relatives named Lucille, Edna, Bessie, Esther, Nellie and Frank.

-- People stuck together for life. One Sunday school teacher and homemaker was married for 55 years. Another man was married for 58 years. Other were married 49 years, 38, 32. One man was survived by his wife whom he married in 1930.

-- Obituaries tell us who we were. We were hard-working, went to church, served our country, raised families, joined the local American Legion or Moose and got involved in the community.

-- They also keep us updated on people we may have lost touch with over the years. We find out how many children a former classmate had, or where Mrs. Jones' four sons ended up.

Since I moved back to the area, I've learned from obituaries how people I knew from one time in my life were related to a person I am friends with now.

Fear not, though, the obits and funeral homes have also kept up with the times. At the end of one woman's obituary, came the seemingly misplaced words: E-mail condolences may be sent to ... and it gave an Internet address.

Bill Kohler is Tri-State editor at The Morning Herald. You can reach him at 1-800-626-6397, extension 2023, or by e-mail at billk@herald-mail.com.

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