Friday, November 4, 2011

Port of Call

I first met Luvern Hinz at the home of my brother-in-law, Rick and his wife Melissa. On that day Luvern generously shared his bottle of port with me – nothing excessive, just a glass. Over that glass of wine was where I met a real-life George Bailey. Bedord Falls, the town in the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” was better because George Bailey had been there. Kimball, Minnesota was better because Luvern Hinz had been there.

Kimball is a small town in central Minnesota, and for over 90 years of his life, Luvern called it home. He died on October 20, one month short of his 97th birthday. Luvern was the grandfather of Rick’s wife, Melissa. I didn’t know him well, but I am blessed to have known him at all.

If not for extended family gatherings I would have never met him. If pressed, I would tell you that I am not a fan of these kinds of things. These family affairs will often have people seeking security by remaining huddled in familiar groups. Separated from each other across the room, any polite interaction between strangers hinges on a brave, yet awkward first step. I will usually find a seat in a corner where I can observe the unscripted play unfold with clumsy interaction between the characters.

Except one time several years ago I sat on a couch next to Luvern. I knew he was Melissa’s grandfather, but up until then I had not taken the time to talk with him. I have found over the years that the older folks have the most to offer. They have life experiences, stories, and wisdom to share. All you have to do is ask.

My first question to him was prompted by the dark liquid in his glass.

“What are you drinking?” I asked him.

“Port,” he replied.

“Port?” I said.

He then told me about how his wife had suffered from stomach trouble, so he picked up a bottle of port one day with the hope that this would settle her stomach. After having success with his home remedy, he and his wife would have a glass of wine together every evening thereafter; and even though she has been gone over 20 years he still has his glass of wine.

“Would you like a glass?” he offered.

“Absolutely,” I said as I sailed over to the cabinet and grabbed a suitable drinking vessel for Luvern’s port.

I found him very easy to talk to. Assuming that a man of his age was retired I asked him what he had done for work in his younger years. This was when I learned the value one man can bring a community. Without boasting, he talked about how he had worked at a grocery store, which he later purchased. He had built the town’s first bowling alley and a self-serve car wash. He had also delivered milk from a horse-drawn wagon.

In addition, I found out that he loved to golf; I would have loved to golf with him, but no one likes to get beat by a 95-year old man. It wasn’t until after he died that I learned just how amazing this man was. Most of this information I got from the obituary notice provided by the Dingmann Funeral Home in Kimball.

Luvern had served in the US Navy, and he, along with several other people, started the Kimball Golf Club. He had been on the city council, the school board, past commander of the Kimball American Legion, and had been a member of the Kimball Fire department, where he had served as chief. Plus, he found time to plant trees in a local park and build bluebird houses.

No one would have criticized him if he had completed just one activity. It would have been less risky, but as William G.T. Shedd said “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

Luvern didn’t stand at the dock and wait for his ship to come in; instead he worked hard and shared the fruits of his labor with his home port of Kimball.

According to the obituary, “Luvern loved his friends, his family and Kimball.” Every town should be so fortunate to have such a man.

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