Today on a cool day in Cedarville, Ohio my uncle is being honored for his life. Unfortunately I am all the other way on the other side of the globe in Cambodia hosting an international conference, so I am unable to attend my uncle’s funeral. The least I could do is to write a bit about how I remember his life. Probably the hardest part about being a missionary is being far away when loved ones die.
Anyone that knew Dick Brooker would talk about his laugh and his jokes. His jokes weren’t very funny, but that is what made them funny. Even when I told my son that his “great-uncle” had passed away he mentioned immediately about a joke he told. Paul, now 11 years old, only met Uncle Dick one time. During their brief encounter Uncle Dick said to Paul, “Do you know I can travel to the moon?” Paul was curious and said “really?” Uncle Dick jumped right in and said. . . “See I just did it. . . I am really fast!” That’s the kind of jokes that Uncle Dick told. Not so funny, but really cute.
I grew up in the Philippines so my time with my Uncle Dick was also limited. However, I have some very clear memories of him. I remember that he was once part of the US Navy. He had many adventure stories to tell about that, but he certainly never fit the profile of a “typical” sailor. He was funny, never rude, loved Jesus and the church and loved his family immensely.
He was my first and favorite barber. I could not wait to have a haircut by my Uncle Dick. Though he never graduated from college, Uncle Dick supported his family and put his kids through university cutting hair. He was a barber in the traditional meaning: swirly candy cane sign and all! He bought his own shop and cut his way into owning a whole apartment block in the college town of Iowa City, Iowa. Through that he made a good life for himself and family. During his down time as a barber he taught himself German. I am sure any German speaker would probably quince when he spoke, but he was proud to speak German every time we had a family gathering in is Brooker twang! At home he also taught himself to play the fiddle. No not a violin, a fiddle. He could tell you the difference. I don’t think he had a formal lesson in his life, but every holiday we got together he would entertain us with a new jig he taught himself.
His other claim to fame, other than being a barber-linguist-musician, was being John Wayne’s neighbor. Yes, John Wayne was not born in the saddle of a horse in some Arizona western film, John Wayne was born in Iowa! Winerset, Iowa to be precise. My Uncle Dick is from Winterset, Iowa just a few blocks away from John Wayne’s family home. As proud as he was to be “John Wayne’s Neighbor” I was just as proud to tell everyone “my uncle was John Wayne’s neighbor!” Never mind the details (like he wasn’t born with the name ‘John Wayne’), my Uncle Dick was a proud Iowan.
Uncle Dick was a loving father and grandfather. His children, Scott, Shelley and Sharie, were my closest cousins (as close I as we could be living on the opposite sides of the globe). Together they gave Uncle Dick nine wonderful grandchildren who he loved immensely. The greatest legacy is that all of their children and all of their grandchildren love the Lord!
My Uncle Dick and Aunt Barb each year would send me a check to support the ministry. I knew it was a sacrifice to give, but they were my biggest donor for many years. Their support was always quietly given. A check would just appear in the account each year. Nothing said and nothing expected. Year after year they would faithfully give. Even when we were together and I would thank them, they would hardly acknowledge what they had done. They gave from love in their hearts and certainly many lives in Cambodia have been touched because they gave.
Tragically in August of 2009 Aunt Barb passed away after succumbing to cancer. The loss was devastating to Uncle Dick. It was obvious to all. He lost his life-mate and best friend. When I visited him at his house over a year after Aunt Barb’s passing I saw that her things were all left just as she had left them. Uncle Dick still cracked his jokes, but clearly he was hurting. I think his passing last week was just of a broken heart; longing for his life-long lover. Today they are together again; embracing in heaven before their Lord.
To Scott, Shelley and Sharie I just want you to know I love you guys. May God grant you incredible peace and joy as you remember your loving father. His joy will be forever imbedded in my heart. Your wonderful families are a legacy of a great mother and father. Your father and mother leave a quiet legacy, and one of honor for generations to come. God bless you all!