Roger Weurding

October 9, 1921 - September 23, 2006

Dean Weurding's remembrances shared during the celebration of his father's life:

Dad will probably be a little embarrassed by all of this attention, but I’m sure he’ll understand.  My intent today is to pass on some of the things that my Dad experienced in his life that had more far-reaching effects than he probably ever could imagine.

I think Dad must have been somewhat mischievous as a youngster, and then later as an adolescent and young man.  The stories were slow coming from him, I heard most of them later in life, too late for me to have put them to good use.  I’m sure that was by design. A lot of the stories involved brothers or friends, while he was just a bystander.  I even believed that once in a while.

For instance, Dad and some friends, while students at Lawton High School, made sure that the fire protection system at Lawton High School was fully functional.  They meant no harm, I’m sure they just wanted to make sure that water actually would come out of the hose if needed.

There were the automobile stories.  Apparently, my Grandfather Weurding owned a 1935 Graham Paige automobile, a fine car with a supercharged engine.  For those non-motorheads in the crowd, a supercharger makes an engine produce a lot more horsepower than an engine without a supercharger.

My Dad said that you could hit 50 miles per hour in first gear, 80 in second, and who knows how fast in third.  He would quickly add that this information came from his older brothers, as he was too young to drive. Then he would talk about Grandpa being angry at the Firestone rubber company, because the tires wore out so quickly.  Dad blamed that on his brothers also.

I had mental pictures of Dad and his brothers careening about the countryside, seeing what the car would do.  But he was always quick to relate a story in which he was driving way too fast and just missed a car that pulled out in front of him.  He would say that his legs were shaking so badly, that he couldn’t push the clutch in, so the car just stalled as he came to a stop.

What a unique way to pass on a lesson.  That was his way of telling me that cars are fast and fun, but that you couldn’t hide tires that wore out too quickly, and also that things happen way faster than you think.

When Dad was 21, he joined the Navy, where he quickly developed into a proficient pilot. I loved to hear about airplanes, flight training, aircraft gunnery practice, and his various flying exploits.  Even though I heard these stories countless times, I never got tired of them.

I liked to imagine Dad in the magnificent machinery of the time, Stearman biplanes for training, then the famed SNJ, Grumman Wildcat, and Grumman Hellcat.

Carrier landings sounded like fun, even though Dad lost many friends just in flight training.  Dad just days ago was telling people that a carrier landing was a lot easier than it looked.

They say that the early 20’s are the most enjoyable years of a man’s life, and Dad did his best to prove that.  The Grumman F6F Hellcat had a 2000 horsepower engine.  The Grumman Aircraft Company advertised that the Hellcat was capable of over 300 miles per hour at sea level.

Dad was always one of those “don’t believe it ‘til I see it” kind of guys, and as the story goes, his squadron would regularly test the performance of their machines along the Oregon coast.

Even though you shouldn’t fly right at sea level due to the predictable effects of touching the water at 300 miles per hour, 30 feet above sea level was judged to be an appropriate altitude.  Dad would chuckle while telling us that it was apparent that that people walking or laying on the beach could not hear a squadron of Hellcats approach at 300 miles per hour, judging by their reactions.

Of course, all planes have ID numbers on them, so when he and his fellow pilots were quizzed about the complaints from the local beach goers, they explained that it must have been mistaken identity.  After all, how anyone could read the numbers on a plane flying at such a speed?

And if buzzing the beachgoers got dull, you could always fly up the Columbia River, testing your skills by flying under the bridges, which was most definitely a major violation of Navy rules, but who was going to notice, and there was plenty of room for a Hellcat under most of the bridges.

Dad would say that most rules were set with a little safety factor, so that you could bend them a little, as long as you knew why there were rules, and adhered to the basic principles.

In later years, Dad was quite an athlete from the sounds of things.  Basketball and softball were his specialties.  Dad played many years in the Kalamazoo city league on a team with his brothers. There were the basketball stories.

Tales of how to out-rebound a taller opponent by grabbing his shorts so they came off when they jumped, or standing on their feet so they couldn’t get off the ground.  Waiting until the opponent jumped, then putting just a little pressure in the small of their back to get them off balance.  “Nobody could out-rebound Lawt and I” he would say.

He would talk about playing Kalamazoo city-league teams, and beating them, and how these teams would leave the games infuriated that the small-town boys had beaten them by cheating.  “It wasn’t really cheating”, he would say, “I think the referees liked us”.

Softball was also the topic of many stories.  Those of you who are old enough to remember when Jack Moss was sports editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette may remember his occasional references to Bob Walterhouse, apparently a legendary fast-pitch pitcher from Kalamazoo.

One of my favorite stories was when Dad and Uncle Lawt played on a team that beat Walterhouse’s team 1-0.  I was left with the impression that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, you can never be counted out.  Dad lived that way, and always believed that.

Some of my first memories were wanting to go with Dad to the coffee shop, the hardware store, the post office and such on Saturdays.  Most times I could go, and soon I got to know just how many friends and aquaintences he had.  I remember too, that Dad never wore a coat.  He would just say “it’s not that cold out”.

I quickly observed that Dad was respected and liked by most people. Later in life, I observed that most days, Dad would be dressed in his Lawton Produce Company business attire, meaning salty overalls and t-shirt.  At times we wondered why Dad refused to get fancied up to go to the bank, or come to a baseball or basketball game.  I remember hearing an explanation.  “If you need to impress someone by the way you look, they’re probably not worth impressing”.

Speaking of the Lawton Produce Company, that piece of Lawton history has faded into an overgrown field, but was at that time a classroom in disguise.  I was too young to remember the move of the “pickle factory” from along the railroad tracks near the Welch’s plant to the site on Fourth Street.

Stories of loading rail cars with barrels of cured pickles were intriguing.  I later appreciated how much work that must have been while, at an early age, watching a lot of Lawton kids pushing two-wheeled carts stacked with crates full of fresh cucumbers, then tossing them crate by crate into the big wooden tanks, then hustling back to pick up more crates full.

Later on, this task was done with a fork lift and bigger 20-bushel boxes.  After growing up a little, I got to learn first hand about hard work at the pickle factory, spending countless hours shoveling dozens of wheelbarrows of salt into the wooden tanks full of pickles.

The full appreciation of the hard work involved in this business came in the winter, when every bushel of those cured pickles was removed from the tanks by my Dad, my uncle Lawton, and a hired man.

Most of the human resource activity, such as hiring, firing and discipline, was handled very simply.  Dad would tell prospective pickle-kickers, as they were called, “if you work hard, you can keep your job, and the pay isn’t bad”.

One sure way to get fired was to get into a pickle fight, like a snowball fight, but using pickles as weapons.  Wasting the profits was a term I heard many times.  One warning, and then the second time you were probably done.  Luckily, I learned that lesson by watching.

When things were a little slow during the day, sometimes the help would relax and sit down to enjoy a pop.  If we lingered too long, rather than telling anyone to get to work, Dad and Uncle Lawt would usually start cleaning things up, making repairs to machinery and such.  We usually felt guilty about the bosses working while we relaxed.  Another lesson, without them saying a word.

And Dad never shied away from doing the dirtiest of the dirty work, which Mom’s laundry basket would attest to.  I don’t know how many “kids” the Lawton Produce Company employed over the years, but I would bet many of them learned some good work habits there.  Dad led by example.

As I reached my middle teens, and started keeping a later schedule, I would notice Dad would spend at least 12 hours a day at work, then stay up very late just pacing the kitchen.

Many a pack of cigarettes would vanish in these late night sessions, which I later learned were spent mulling over what the sale price of pickles should be, whether buying or selling.  Some things are worth losing sleep over, I learned.

When pickles weren’t “in season”, Dad was able to get away with Mom for entertainment, going out for evenings to Lake Brownwood to dance with friends, or heading away for a weekend to Chicago or New York.

The group loved to have a great time, and once in a while, Dad or one of his friends would have to have a diplomatic discussion with an officer of the law.

Once again, Dad’s understanding that the officer had a job to do, and respecting that fact, usually resulted in a warning to behave themselves.  The principle of mutual respect of others’ jobs and opinions was deeply rooted in Dad.

The family vacations were a source of much learning. Topics included navigation skills, how to execute several illegal U-turns before arriving at your destination, and the deeply ingrained belief most people who were native to the areas that we visited went by names that probably shouldn’t be repeated here.

And that those particulars Canadians known as “Quebecers” really could speak English if they wanted to, but they just didn’t like us.  Also, all of the roads in Boston go in circles, and are named after the people whose names I can’t repeat.

In later years as my family and I vacationed, we visited many of the same places, and I would related these stories.  Derek and Brent certainly understood, as they were experiencing some of the same traits.  I’ve gotten very good a U-turns myself, probably some kind of hereditary trait.

Dad helped me build two houses.  His work ethic and building skills were indespensable.  The second of the two was built when Dad was 70, and many people were shocked at how hard he would work, even when the temperature was in the 90’s.

Sometimes we would have discussions about how straight and square a house needs to be.  I don’t know if we ever agreed, but we got the job done.  One night, I showed up after work to pick up where Dad left off that day, putting shingles on the roof.

I was surprised to see that some of the rows that he had put on were extremely crooked.  Not wanting to hurt his feelings, I took those rows back off after he left, and re-laid them, which took a few hours, but I never planned for him to know.

The next night, when I showed up, he chuckled as he asked how long it took to remove and re-lay the shingles.  “You didn’t think I was going to leave them that way do you?”  We shared many a laugh about the shingles over the years.

There are so many things that I would like to share about my Dad’s personality and character, but most of you already know, in fact that’s the reason you’re all here, I guess.

I realize that I’ve rambled on a bit, so I’ll  finish up.  I can’t help but wonder whether the adventures made the man, or the man made the adventures.  In either case, I think it’s important today to smile and laugh as we remember the character with character, Roger Weurding.