The ones that mark our lives


While growing older brings the usual complaints of stiffness, slower movement and other ailments, I’m convinced the worst thing about moving past 60 years old is finding the names of classmates, friends and mentors in the obituary column of the newspaper.

That’s been the case for me the last couple of months. Three of my favorite men in the world — men I respected and who played an important part of my education both in the classroom and in the real world — died. Most of us have people who have moved through our lives — some staying and some hanging around only briefly. No matter how long they influenced us, they helped shape us into who we are.

For me, three of these men were Professor Charles Wishart, Jerry Cockcroft and Harry “Heck” “Butch” Parrish. They were each an important part of the fabric of our community and will be sorely missed. They each were renaissance men who shared their unique gifts with so many of us.

I first became acquainted with Professor Wishart through my dad’s 1948 Arena. One of the treats for me growing up was pulling out Dad’s high school yearbook and thumbing through the pages. When I got to the football section, I found pictures of Dad and his classmates. If he was home, he would tell stories about his fellow players. One of the players was Charles Wishart.

As I got older, we spent our summers at the Surf Club and there I got to know the entire family — parents Corky and Charles and their children David, Ann and Steve. We swam on the swim team together. Professor was always a volunteer timer at meets.

When I was a journalism student at Indiana State, I was lucky enough to enroll in the Professor’s economics class. Anyone who knows me well can tell you I’m a right-brainer. Mathematics and science are beyond me. Give me history, literature, dance, music and writing.

But I learned and came to appreciate economics sitting in that big classroom in Holmstedt Hall. Page by page, I learned basic economic tenets that still serve me today.

I have one Professor Wishart story. One day in class, for some reason, we were talking about farmland values. He called on me and asked simply, “how much does farmland sell for in Edgar County?” I had no idea, but instead of giving that answer, I said, “$500.” He laughed and corrected me. For many years after, nearly every time I saw him, he asked if I had purchased any of that $500 an acre farmland.

Jerry Cockcroft was a social studies and history teacher and later the principal of Chrisman High School. I always said if I ever got selected to be on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” Jerry would be my phone a friend. He knew a little about so much. He loved to travel and encouraged me to do so. I traveled to Great Britain by myself at his and his wife, Pam’s, encouragement. I flew by myself for the first time, traveled London on the Tube and traveled to Stratford-on-Avon on a bus to visit the home of William Shakespeare. I’d heard so much about these places from Pam and Jerry I was completely confident.

Jerry and Pam also loved good food. We watched “Great Chefs” series on PBS and compared notes on our favorites. When “MASH” went off the air, we had a little party and laughed.

Losing Pam was a blow to Jerry but he was lucky in his three children, Amy, Doug and Shelby. I only regret we were never able to plan a trip to Harry and Bud’s because I’m positive Jerry would’ve loved it.

After Butch died, I watched a 23-minute WEIU video on Facebook about the Edgar County Courthouse. I think I will always remember him, how he looked that day the video was filmed. He was tan from mowing the grass at his country home. He was wearing that light blue summer shirt he loved and Khaki shorts with boat shoes. His beard was neatly trimmed and he could not stop talking about the Edgar County Courthouse.

Butch always had a good story when he was in the mood to share it. He loved history and the people of Edgar County. I’m so very thankful that he shared his research through his books. Every time the door chime rings at The Prairie Press, I still except to see him walking in with his orange stocking cap pulled down on his head, in one of his plaid shirts and jeans.