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Final words and hopes for the hereafter

I heard an important message from an old friend the other day.

Actually, I was one of more than 50 people who heard words that were left for us by a man who played many important roles in our various lives. We had gathered on the blacktop outside the former Belmont school — a place where I spent many, many hours of my childhood. And the man who brought us all together there was one who I met in my childhood, and who influenced me then, as a teenager and as an adult every time we chatted or our paths happened to cross.

I was there with friends, neighbors, schoolmates, village leaders and members or the Belmont United Methodist Church congregation to honor and remember Stan Sobel. Stan was a longtime resident of Belmont, an active member of the church, an infamous science teacher at Union Local High School, a school board member and a one-term mayor of the community.

In each and every one of those roles, he gave his all. In the words of some of the speakers, Stan was a “doer.”

Stan died in December of lung cancer. He fought a long battle against the disease, but he had no illusions about how serious it was. When he told me about his diagnosis, he was matter-of-fact and straight-forward about his prognosis, but he remained determined to make the most of whatever time he had remaining.

When he passed, the Ohio Valley and the entire world was caught in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, no formal memorial service was held at that time.

So, in true Stan fashion, he put in the time and effort to be certain he left a message for those who would want to be there to say goodbye. During the memorial on May 23, village Fiscal Officer Ricky Burkhead read aloud a letter that Stan had written to his friends. For those who knew Stan, and for everyone who can benefit from hearing his words of wisdom, I share his letter with you here:

“Hi, I am glad you came to visit with me this last time. Although I have passed and have moved on to a afterworld adventure I still wanted to keep with my tradition of wanting to get in a few words.

“First, fret not about my demise because I have always lived with the knowledge that there is no such thing as forever. That thought certainly does not make it any easier for me to say goodbye. After all … who wants to say goodbye to a journey that one has enjoyed for a lifetime. But I always have believed in a hereafter … maybe not the one you envision … but one where my ideas, energy, encouragement, drive, and such are adopted and carried on by those around me. People have always been at my core. All the stories, tales, and half truths that I have enjoyed with others should be told with gusto. A little bit of me will be with those tales … as crazy as they may be.

“Second, it is amazing how folks who are the closest to me have gathered together to pray for me. As a religious person I do believe that there is a next adventure. I do not know the exact nature of that but I do believe that what I was is no longer a physical entity, but rather a memory. Hope some keep those memories.

“Third, I have tried to live by the idea that we need to be humble to many and kind to most. As I grew from a young man to an old man that idea of being kind to others seems to be diminished. If there was anything I hope that my life stood for (it) is accepting others as they were and treating them with kindness.

“Fourth, …”

“And this is where it ended,” Burkhead told the crowd. “What would have been fourth? We’ll each have our thoughts about Stan to help us fill in the blanks.”

Burkhead was right. We all had our own thoughts about what else Stan would have said. Mine ranged from memories of biology and physiology classes to times when Stan shouted to me about his frustrations over work or union matters or village business being stalled. I imagined some of his antics and heard in my mind some of his quips that lightened the mood, even when we were dealing with difficult circumstances.

I was so glad to hear from Stan again!

Thanks, Ricky, for sharing that letter with us. Despite choking up a few times, you did a great job of conveying some of Stan’s final thoughts.

As we mark Memorial Day this weekend and remember others we have lost, particularly those who gave their lives for our nation, let’s learn from Stan’s words. Keep people at our core. Look forward to the next adventure. Accept others and treat them with kindness.

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