(delivered at his Celebration of Life Service in Cedar Rapids, IA on December 30, 2016)
It’s so good to be here together today. My dad would be happy to see us all together, just being together.
Dave Stavlund was so many things to so many people. He was a father, but he was also a grandfather. He was a son. He was a grandson. He was a brother. He was a husband, and an uncle. He was also a friend to so many. He was a co-worker, a customer, and a salesperson. He was a Bible study leader. He was a cook. He was that friendly guy who greeted you outside the front door of the church, the one who just wore a suit with gloves in all but the most brutally cold weather.
If you were coming to church, Dave didn’t want you to have to open the door– he wanted you to be greeted with a smile and a hello. For many, this was the transition from an often-stressful preparation and travel to church to a more relaxed spirit of worship and fellowship. A welcome into an outpost of the Kingdom of God. In an unfriendly world, Dave welcomed you into an alternate kind of community, saying with words and actions, Come on in, we are glad to see you.
Realizing this multi-faceted nature of a person has the effect of expanding our grief. We look around this room, and we are more aware of the many pains of loss. The many things the departed mean to so many people. The many ways we feel this loss.
But another effect of this awareness is the expansion of joy. We are more aware of the gifts that David Jerome Stavlund gave to so many.
So we are here to say “Thank you”.
I was honored to be there when my dad breathed his last, and that’s all I had to say: “Thank you, Dad.”
…and then, in the same moment, “Thank you, God.”
And to do that, I wanted to share three stories.
We had recently moved into a new house on Cavendish Drive in Rockford, IL. Dad is treating the kids to a basketball hoop. But rather than attach it to the garage where it will (as he said) “Rattle and shake the whole house!”, Dad wants to install a free-standing pole next to the driveway.
On Saturday morning there is a long piece of treated 6×6 stretched out next to the driveway. The former farm kid is no stranger to fence-building, and this is no different. So he gets out a family heirloom: an auger-type post-hold digger. Featuring a scoop at the bottom, a vertical metal shaft, and a horizontal wooden handle. Once we found the right spot, the twisting begins.
It’s hard work, and my skinny arms aren’t up to the task. Very quickly it changes from an act of strength to an act of patience as my dad takes over the work and I watch. But even that is tedious, and so I ask the inevitable “are we there yet?”… which receives a chuckle and a straightforward answer: “we’ll dig all the way down to the handles”.
I look up from the hole and the handles are as tall as me.
And he reminds me that the fences he built as a kid involved way more than one post. We will run into rocks, and roots. We will get stuck, but we will find a way forward. We will make a way forward. Please note: he is not shaming me with this new knowledge — he sharing it, showing me my capacity for hard work and determination. He is not dismissing me; he is empowering me.
A few years later, we are still settling into our suburban home. Dad’s going to install a brick patio, so he marks out the circular shape, grabs a shovel, and begins to dig into the grass to make space for the bricks as well as the bed of sand upon which they will rest. When he’s got the shape and depth figured out he does some calculations and orders the sand. Which is delivered with ceremony and celebration to the driveway by a dump truck. This must have happened on weekday in the summer; my dad must have been at work. My brother and sister and I got busy as we could, filling our wagon with plastic shovels full of sand, doing our part to fill that hole.
The pile only seemed to grow, though, along with the speculation that there was just too much sand. A few adult neighbors stopped by to weigh in as well, arms folded and heads wagging as they affirmed that the delivery was far too large… and also adding the worried concern about exactly how Dave would move all of that sand!
All of this doubt and speculation was dismissed with barely a shrug by Dad upon his arrival home from work. He grabbed a quick dinner, put on some work clothes, picked up a shovel and started filling the wheelbarrow.
How do you move a mountain of sand? With a shovel, and a wheelbarrow. A mountain of sand is no match for a Stavlund. We watched, and we learned. There are lessons in life that don’t involve lectures, or even words.
It should be noted that my Mom designed the brick pattern, and laid the bricks. A couple weeks later dad was parking his pastel blue old Weber grill on the new patio.
(by the way, that classic grill came into our family in 1974… it was by then about 10 years old, purchased at a garage sale for $15. Many Webers have come and gone, but ‘old blue’ was always his favorite, the best one on which to roast the Thanksgiving turkey. New stuff is overrated.)
Dave grew up on a farm, but as a young man he switched to a ‘town job’, working in the factory at Rockford Products. In our family, we called the products ‘cold form fasteners’, but most people know them as ‘nuts and bolts’.
(by the way, another by-product of this work was something my kids now know well. The absolute un-acceptance of any form of cross-threading. Is the peanut butter jar lid on crooked? Time for a family meeting. Is the milk jug cap on unevenly? Not okay. What if there was a tornado and the milk bottle was knocked over? Cross-threading is a curse. Properly threading fasteners is an important life skill!)
Over time my dad moved through the company, working in the office there, and eventually becoming a field rep. This led to a long career as a manufacturer’s representative to all kinds of businesses.
But Dave Stavlund was not a stereotypical hard-nosed salesperson. Or at least, he wasn’t the kind of salesman his managers were looking for. You could tell by the books they gave him, and the cassette tape training courses. Deal-making. Hustle. Shoot the big game. Land the big deals. Swim with the sharks.
You could see it when the fresh-faced recent college grads would come out to ‘spend a week with Dave’. They were young bucks, ready to run circles around him. Even as a teenager, I remember seeing this and wondering if this was training, or some kind of takeover.
This wasn’t his style, not at all. In a big world that moved fast, Dave Stavlund was deliberate, and caring, and personal. In a world focused on THE DEAL, Dave Stavlund cared about your spouse and your kids and your hobbies and how your car was running.
But Dave Stavlund is nothing if not persistent. He just hung on, and kept being himself. He kept at it, through loss of jobs, bad turns in the economy, and near stoppages in manufacturing.
…Until eventually Dave Stavlund got the last laugh. He would never boast or shout about it, but I bet it felt pretty good. In the end, there were a couple of powerful purchasing agents who didn’t want to deal with those young guys, the guys who treat you like a number, or a problem, or a goal. They wanted to be treated like a person. And they wanted their needs cared about, and their problems dealt with. They wanted Dave Stavlund.
In the twilight of his career, and with Lewy-Body dementia knocking at the door, Dave Stavlund just sat with that handful of accounts. He was making his company a ton of money, and doing pretty well for himself too. After years of unemployment and serious financial stress, he was taking his lovely bride on trips, cruises, and fancy vacations.
His career ended as it should… with poetic justice. For a guy who was too nice to hustle you, sell you something you didn’t need, or treat you like the means to an end. He was simple. Straightforward. What you see is what you get. And in the end, that paid off.
He loved God, and he loved people. Those twin commandments of Jesus: love God, and love your neighbors. It’s simple, really. But it’s not easy. It takes persistence, and determination. And it helps to have a good example to follow. We had a good example.
We are here because Dave Stavlund loved us. And he led us. We thank God for his life.