If you're like me, the last several days on Facebook had a common theme. Sudden and unexpected death of an iconic legend. Public grieving over someone who truly made a difference in many lives. Shared memories and pictures taking us back to a happier, perhaps even sweeter, time. Then, yesterday, a remembrance of life in his hometown attended by those closest to the departed. Part of me wishes I could have been there. But then, Houston is a long way from Nebraska.
Nebraska, you say? I thought Prince was from Minnesota! He was but the opening paragraph was not about Prince whose death sent shock waves through social media as well as news outlets. The radio station at my fitness club went through an afternoon of Prince-only selections. Our minister, David Yasko, wore a purple tie this Sunday in honor of the late musician and even quoted from the opening lines- Dearly beloved- from the mega hit, Let's Go Crazy. I almost had a Prince moment early in the week in a devotional about The Bangles when I almost included the story of Prince giving them his song, Manic Monday, because he had a huge crush on lead singer Susanna Hoffs. Reports from those who knew Prince cast light on his giving and spiritual nature. Like all of us, he was flawed. But if you're reading this, or writing this, we have the blessing of still being alive.
No, the opening paragraph was not about a musician whose talent may have rivaled Michael Jackson. Instead it was about Phil Towle, a man from York, Nebraska who defined York, Nebraska. He was born there, grew up there, starred in athletics there, and came back to teach future generations there. The Facebook tributes were heartfelt and touching as I knew they would be. Phil, or Coach to many, passed away suddenly last week at the age of eighty. He was as much a public servant as you could be, involved as a minister, mentor, teacher, elected official, volunteer, and in countless other ways. Every small town that thrives has men and women like Phil Towle. I mentioned this on Facebook but at the risk of redundancy, I'll repeat it. When I graduated from York High, my folks moved to California for a year so Dad could do his Ph.D internship at Pepperdine. I had no place to stay until the dorms opened at York College so Phil, his wife Gayle, and their kids Tom and Betsy took me in. I had a ten speed bike and a job at the Jack And Jill Supermarket and American Legion Baseball games at night and I had food and shelter. You know what's interesting? I didn't play football for Phil and I never had him as a teacher but it didn't matter. There was a need and he was there. My guess is there were thousands of stories like that this past week in a small town in Nebraska. That's just kind of the way things work.
I have another guess. That is none of my Facebook friends mourning Prince had a relationship with him. That's OK- we all need heroes from afar. But I would also guess everyone who mentioned Phil on Facebook knew him well. Prince was famous in an international way but Phil was famous in a 6,000 population midwestern community kind of way. There's a difference. That's me signing autographs in the shot at the top of the page. The young lady is Jolanda Junge, not sure about the boys. It was at a fund raising basketball game at the City Auditorium to purchase weight room equipment for YHS and my guess is Phil organized the event and maybe even played against the opponents, members of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team. The kids had books to acquire the valuable Husker signatures but asked for mine as well, probably because I played on the basketball team and sometimes got my picture in the newspaper. When my family moved away, so did I. But folks like Phil, they are lifers. If you aren't from Nebraska, you probably never heard of Phil but believe me, he influenced several generations and that won't stop with his passing. I always thought it was interesting that when yet to be king David was given a chance to become the son in law of King Saul, he seemed reluctant, saying in 1 Samuel 18:23 that he was little known. This was after he had slayed Goliath and the crowds had already made up legends about him. You know, maybe Phil thought he was little known but like David, nothing could have been farther from the truth. He mattered because people like him always matter. We just need to make sure they know before they die.
Applicable quote of the day:
"I don't believe in age. When you wake up, each day looks the same so each day should be a new beginning. I don't have an expiration date."
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org