Three weeks ago today, my sweet and tender grandpa passed away, watching a Suns game with my grandma. It was unexpected and it was heartbreaking. A day does not conclude before I have a thought or two about him. He had a profound impact on me. I was asked to give his eulogy at his funeral, and since speaking, I've had a few requests for a copy. So here it is. Read about the life of a man who made so many people happy. I love you grandpa... ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
In the summer of 1928, the world got a large dose of wonderful. On the eighth of June, from Salt Lake City, Utah, Helmer and Caro Lena Kjergard welcomed William Edward, into the world. He lived in a quaint neighborhood marked Colette Court until he was 5. Around that time his only sibling, his sweet younger sister Carole, was born. As a young boy, the inner cowboy called. He was a frequenter of a local horse ranch, where he fell in love with riding horses. I imagine that this was one of the earliest evidences of his outpouring of love for all living things. A move brought him to a home that was walking distance from Liberty Park, where he’d spent countless afternoons throwing a pigskin around, and slugging baseballs on the diamond with the neighborhood knuckleheads. These leisurely afternoons always concluded with a dinner date with his family, at promptly 6 o’clock, or punishment would proceed him.
Being the son of a Father who managed movie theaters, he reaped the benefits, spending long days catching the latest motion pictures, and slurping silly amounts of seven up. At age twelve, my grandpa was introduced and baptized into the religion that he would spend his entire life in service and devotion to. His introduction to the Church was initiated by his friend Bob Wilson, who ironically would later date his future wife. “Billy”, as his buddies and classmates coined him, attended Liberty Jr. High, and South High School. His teachers labeled him a daydreamer, as his attention would drift towards the open windows and the sunlit sky. Though he did find his wood-shop class to be most compelling. He snagged his first job at sixteen renting rowboats to the locals at Liberty Park. This would be the first of a long series of jobs that my grandpa would hold as his work ethic continued to grow.
In the spring of 1946, my Grandpa graduated from South High. It was soon after, that the course of his life would be altered forever. It was at his own friends mission farewell party, where he met his eternal companion, Lydia Weiss, the woman who would illuminate his soul, and light up his life. My grandpa told thousands of stories to thousands of people in thousands of places, but the story of when he met my grandma was retold the most. Age never tarnished this tale. She was the most beautiful girl his eyes had ever beheld. While he was infatuated, she was indifferent. She denied his advances, and that was that. A year passed, her missionary left, and my Grandpa snuck back onto the scene with vigor. They reconvened at the gold and green ball, and this time, she couldn’t resist him. During the following five months their love blossomed. They spent numerous nights at the Lagoon, indulging in concession stand treats before dancing the evening away, cheek to cheek, under the expansive Utah sky. The twitter-pated couple would regularly attend temple sessions together, as the gospel remained paramount in their relationship. While romance was alive, the Lord beckoned.
At age twenty one, my grandpa was called to serve in the Texas-Louisiana Mission. For two years he spread the gospel, taught families the plan of salvation, aided the sick and afflicted, and traversed rugged Texas terrain in search of souls hungry for light and truth. He and Lydia stayed connected through the postal service, and when he returned home, they married in the Temple, on July 16th, 1951. They honeymooned in Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, and begun their lives in Salt Lake City.
After working long hours at California Ink Company, they relaxed by sharing fun moments rollicking in a bowling league together. But a job transfer sent them to the golden state, as he continued employment in Berkley California. In 1955, they had their first child, a daughter, Julienne, my Mom. In the years 1958 and 1959, they were blessed with two more beautiful girls, my aunts, Nanette and Kimberly. Life was as precious as you could imagine with four lovely girls in your life. My grandpa would wash their hair in the evenings, he’d take care of their cat, even if it peed in his briefcase, they’d watch football games together, and while he loathed the sand, he still made tireless trips to the beach with his girls. He even taught his daughters how to kill bugs with a shoe, though he’d chase them with the bug if they didn’t finish the job!
Their fridge was always stocked with cartons and cartons of ice cream, a delicious dream for any family. The ice cream was a product of my grandpa’s longest employment. He was a local milkman for seventeen years. His days usually started in the early morning, even before the birds arose. Navigating through the hustle and bustle in San Jose, he dropped off milk on doorsteps, and even had a key to many of his customers homes, placing the dairy in their refrigerators, but not before meticulously cleaning and organizing every inch of the fridge. Some customers not only came home to fresh milk, but a spotless kitchen to boot. This attention to detail was so exhausting that his girls recall his uncanny ability to fall asleep anywhere, at any time. But the milk waited for no man, so in special instances like Christmas, my grandpa would wake up even earlier to complete his routes to provide him the time to be home with his children when they awoke. On occasion, the demanding hours did arrange for unique windows of time with his girls, as they would get to enjoy a surprise embrace from him as they returned home from school in the afternoons.
My Grandpa’s favorite sport was golf. He was obsessed. He’d watch it, he’d play it, he’d dream it, he even taught it to his grandkids years later. My grandma knew of his deep adoration for the game, so she took lessons to give them the chance to spend leisurely time together. Bill, tickled with his wife’s thoughtfulness, reciprocated the kindness by vacuuming the entire house each time before they left to play. That type of service to one another was always apparent in their marriage. Never afraid of showing affection in front of his girls, my grandpa provided a tender example of how a man should treat a woman, as he would hold my grandma’s hand, and kiss her, always making it known that he adored her. In some moments when she wasn’t home in time to start dinner, Grandpa always improvised, and would get dinner started for her. He delighted in serving her.
His passion to serve knew no boundaries. Much of his service took place in the church, where he fulfilled high demand callings such as high priest group leader, and twice served in a bishopric as a counselor. He was a faithful home teacher, and always had an interesting story or thought to share. He was always dedicated to the work and would continuously keep his eyes open for an opportunity to serve. Though my grandpa avoided camping at all costs, when the chance to take my mom’s non-member friend on a boys camp out arose, he happily accepted the chance to bond with a boy and share the gospel with him at such a crucial age in that boy’s life.
In the twilight of his career, GE hired him to be a vital part of their nuclear division. He worked there six years before making a move that would land him close to his family and grandchildren. Westbrook Village, located here in Peoria, Arizona, would be his last home. After he retired, my grandpa divided his time to many worthy endeavors. With the love of his life by his side, they attended the Mesa Temple regularly as Temple workers, diligently serving in the House of our Lord. He remained actively involved in his wards and in his callings until the very end. Skirting across this state, and making many adventures to Oregon, he and my grandma have brightened the lives of their children and grand children.
In attempt to convey the wide range of my grandpa’s personality, I’ve relied on the experiences, interactions, and the knowledge of those that knew him intimately and were strongly impacted by his lasting example to help me in this undertaking. It became even more visible to me while preparing these remarks, that my grandpa led a love-filled life, and felt rewarded by the endless blessings that the Lord saw fit to pour out on him and his family. So it became his life’s trademark catch-phrase, “I’m so blessed it’s ridiculous”. That expression most often started and ended all of his monologues. The perpetual story-telling always included that humble hallmark. His humility was emphatic. So I have felt inclined to share with you a few of the reasons that made him grateful towards God.
My grandpa loved my grandma. She was so important to him. He was known to say “I don’t know how she ended up with me, I don’t know how I got so lucky”. When he would share the story of when he met my grandma his face lit up like the fourth of july. The excitement of retelling that first account with his forever bride always remained the same, even through over sixty years of marriage, the emotion of it all was as strong as the first moment he met her. When my grandma first ushered “I love you” -- maybe the most important phrase in all of language, to my grandpa, his eyes widened, his face brightened, and if he had a tail it would have been wagging. He replied back in disbelief, “REALLY?!” It probably sounded so sweet to him, he was hoping she’d say it twice. My grandpa’s love fulfilled a place in my grandma’s heart, a love that she mentioned to me she needed and wanted in this life. His love and romanticism always served as a reminder to never forget even the smallest tender moments shared by the ones you truly love because they deserve to be cherished.
My grandpa loved his family. He was an affectionate and tender man, who could be found crying during a movie or a musical. A gift that transcends generations, is a treasure. And he left us with a treasure called “the big papa hug”. Nicknamed by his great grandchildren, this hug is anything but ordinary. When he greeted you, he’d smile from ear to ear, shuffle over to you, wrap his arms completely around your torso, and clutch you so hard you either thought, ‘wow this is the kindest man I’ve ever met’ or ‘I think I just broke a rib’. His hugs were huge. They could squeeze the sadness out of anyone. He loved his family dearly and so at every birthday, at every christmas eve, at every easter, at every important family event, we would be the recipients of this amazing act of love. He wouldn’t let us leave without one. So now the big papa hug lives on through his family, through his grandkids, and great grand kids. He’s taught us how to love larger than we thought we could. I recently found out that this expression of love was appreciated by more than just my grandpa’s family. Even grown men in the church looked forward to his hugs on Sunday’s.
My grandpa was genuinely interested in the lives of all his family. When he saw you, it didn’t matter if you had seen him two days prior, he’d still ask with all the sincerity a man could muster, “How are you doing? You doing okay? Can we do anything for you?” These are polite conversation starters, but you always knew he meant it. Every time. My grandpa’s greatest accomplishment was his family. So throughout the years he supported all of us in all that we did. When Randy, one of his grandsons, went to the skatepark while he was in town, Grandpa braved the heat, sitting on the bleachers, watching him ride. On Christmas mornings growing up, he’d wake up hours early to set up playhouses, and organizing presents, making sure everything was presented perfectly for Julie, Nan, and Kim. Additionally, he taught two of his grandsons Chris and Mike about work ethic when he let them tag along to clean an office building to make a few extra bucks. He gave them responsibilities, and duties, he trusted them with their tasks. My sisters also remembered the sunny afternoons when he would pile us in like sardines into his golf cart and he would drive us around the neighborhood, as we felt the hot wind in our faces. Every encounter he had with his family, gave him the opportunity to tell us that he loved us so much, and that he prayed for us, and he was so concerned for us in all our trials. My grandpa had to have been a sizable man, to possess such a full heart.
From the horses he rode as a kid, to all the pets he handled through years, Grandpa loved animals. My mom had a german shepherd growing up, and grandpa would add cream cheese to his dog food, simply because he wanted his dogs to have better tasting meals. In his later years, when he would come over to play games, and say hello, he’d plop down in a chair in the corner of the family room, and the dogs would come. They’d hop in his lap, and stay there as long as they could, it’s as if they could feel the love emanating from him.
My grandpa loved the Lord. He was a walking testimony. His testimony of the Gospel was vivid and real, and he shared it with everyone, day after day. He’s probably bearing it to someone right now. He loved having conversations about the gospel, and about the doctrine. For a few years, about once a week, I’d go to my grandparents house, have breakfast with them, and play scrabble with my grandma. During those breakfasts, and once in awhile interrupting our scrabble matches, he would pose a doctrinal question... What does the plan of salvation mean to you? Does faith help you in your life? He delighted in a doctrinal discussion. He loved talking about our Father in Heaven, and His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. And he would always try and evoke responses from people, get them talking about their testimony. He was comforting in a sense that he could create an atmosphere where you felt comfortable sharing those personal feelings. Grandpa elicited many wonderful spiritual experiences from his grandchildren, and that will never be forgotten.
He was a devoted home teacher. He rarely missed his monthly visits, and would let no excuse get in the way of doing what the Lord entrusted him to do. In the last year or so, Grandpa would occasionally trip and fall. On one such occasion, on a Sunday afternoon, in the process of falling, he cut himself, and blood stained his white shirt. It was quite the scare but it didn’t phase him. He had a home teaching visit to make, and gosh be darned if he was going let a little blood stop him from reaching out to that family to make sure all their needs were met.
My grandpa lived a life that invited the spirit. On those scrabble days over at their house, while we played, he studied. As a photographer, I loved quietly sneaking up on him and snapping a few candid photographs of him, with his nose buried in his scriptures. Those will always be sacred images to me. But by having the spirit with him, he was able to comfort those that needed comfort, and mourn with those that mourned. In the last week of his life he met a woman in a doctors office visit. She didn’t look distraught on the outside, but on the inside she was heartbroken. My grandpa felt an impression, a quiet voice, to tell her a story about forgiveness. She responded with tears in her eyes, “I’ve had such a rough morning, and that was exactly what I needed to hear, thank you so much.”
His love for the gospel of Jesus Christ was quietly powerful. Because of this love, and because of this commitment to the Lord, he has created a lasting example that will ripple through his family. It was these loves that instilled a lifelong feeling of gratitude in my Grandpa. He was blessed with a loving wife he felt privileged to be with, a growing family he loved so deeply, and a knowledge of the truth he held so dearly. He was so blessed it was ridiculous, but the reverse is also true. His ridiculousness blessed our lives.
In the 5th grade, my sister Kaylee was learning new vocabulary words. The list was in the “i’s”, she came across the definition of idiosyncrasy, which means: odd habits. Immediately the image of grandpa entered her mind. He had sock colors for certain days of the week, he logged his milage in a notepad with every tank of gas he filled, he’d give his daughters precise times, “I won’t be home at 3:30, I’ll be home at 3:34”, he rarely took off his shoes, he was a pack rat but he would give long explanations of how everything was actually organized in a simple way, at least in his mind, and he had plethora of pens and paraphanalia in his shirt pocket, all of which he claimed to carry out important daily purposes. Though once in awhile it did make his big papa hugs quite threatening.
There were positives to being so particular. His cars were always in pristine condition, things around the house usually stayed neat and orderly, but most of all, it made his family laugh. All of us loved his quirkiness. Roaring laughter was had when he fielded our questions attempting to understand his reasoning behind why he chose yellow socks for Monday’s or why he had a routine for folding a kleenex a specific way. It was as if we learned something new and interesting about his funny behavior with every encounter. He was quirky. And it was always hilarious.
His language was also peculiar, and memorable. He had a variety of phrases and words that he said frequently, usually out of irritation: “oh for petes sake... for crying out loud... the point is... gminitely...” His eccentric behavior gave us all enjoyment.
It’s important to note a few of the things that made my Grandpa happy. Musicals brought a smile to his face. Many grandkids can attest to this adoration because they’ve sat through many viewings of “Seven Brides, For Seven Brothers” and “West Side Story” with him. And though singing wasn’t one of his strong points, he loved to do it.
Watching the Phoenix Suns gave him so much delight. He and my grandma would take pleasure in the playoff games, and would endure riveting last minutes, frustrating losses, and sweet victories. It was so fun to have a hip grandpa, that knew the names of all the players.
He loved a good hat. He almost never went outside without one. He had a chevron hat, disney hats, he dabbled with berets, and would even be seen fashioning a fedora from time to time.
He fell in love with cars, specifically Cadillacs while he worked part time at Hotel Utah doing valet. He kept a photograph of a car he owned for a short time, tucked in his wallet, and would draw it out, whenever the subject of cars came up. He loved that car.
My grandpa was a man of many layers. He had a diverse collection of interests and loves. His bizarre habits and meticulous behavior made him complicated in such a charming way. And the love he possessed for his family and the gospel made him feel like he was blessed beyond reason. He was happy. He radiated that joy when you were in his company. You couldn’t help but smile as he ‘d throw back his head to give out his famous inaudible laughs. He was a warm blessing to so many. You are all a testament of that. Someone had said about my grandpa “that they could see sunshine in his face”, and it was for that reason that he made others happy. I can assure you the sun still shines and he’d want us to know and feel that. My aunt Kim mentioned to me that when my Grandpa saw her, he’d always say, “I am so happy to see you, I’m so glad you’re here”. I know that is exactly what he would say to all of us today, as we’ve gathered together to celebrate his remarkable life.