The Funeral of Fred Kallmeyer – November 19, 2004

I ran into the Grim Reaper just the other day. He was sitting on a bus stop bench, panhandling for the fare. He was a mess. I could see through his torn, black cloak that his knees were skinned and bleeding. His knuckles were raw and his hands were shaking. A little bead of sweat dangled from the end of his nose. I said to him, “Reaper, you look awful. What happened?” He didn’t look up, just stared at the ground and said, “Kallmayer. Fred Kallmayer.”

Fred died on Tuesday morning. Death could take nothing from him. I remember a line from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, “I will die, but that is all that I shall do for death.” Death goes for those things that give us life, and will take them if we let them. But Fred wouldn’t let them go. Fred did what he did for as long as he could on his own terms, filled each day with the same joy, fired each day by the same faith, sustained each day by the same hope. Death could not touch these things, because they are the things of life. And if Fred Kallmayer was full of anything, it was life. No, the Grim Reaper had a hard go of it with Fred Kallmayer. I imagine he is down at the Grim’s Bar and Grill by now, telling the story.

That’s OK. Fred loved stories. When he wasn’t telling jokes, oh, he loved to tell a story. His favorites had to do with people who had shown some integrity, folks who had shown some selflessness or courage, folks who had put others first. “I knew a guy,” he would say, and then laugh that little laugh. . . . “I knew a guy who could have been a millionaire, but he decided it was more important to be honest” that was the kind of story Fred liked to tell. . . . . . or, . . . .”I knew a guy . . . . made a promise and kept it even though he would have been better off to let it go . . . I knew a guy . . ., he would say, who had great faith, or wisdom, or love for children. He loved to tell those stories as reminders of the goodness in the world.

His is quite a story. Married to Nan for over 50 years, three kids, grandkids, a great grandchild, so proud of you all. “Couldn’t live a day without her,” he said of you, Nan. He bragged on the boys, encouraged the grandkids, delighted in the in-laws, loved his friends.

One of Fred’s great gifts to us as his family, as the people of his church, his friends from work or from his social circles . . . one of the great gifts he leaves us with now. . . is his story.

You may be talking to someone who was a true friend, . . . and you will find yourself saying, . . “I knew a guy”. . . and you will tell of Fred’s enduring friendship through light and dark, through up and down..

You may be speaking of someone who showed courage and grace in the face of trial . . . and you will find yourself saying, “Yeah, I knew a guy” . . .and you will tell how Fred Kallmayer modeled for us grace and hope even as he began to lose his physical battle with cancer.

You may hear someone speak of someone who as a pillar of his or her church, and you will find yourself saying, “Yeah, I knew a guy”. . . . and you will speak of his deep commitment to his church, where he served in at least 25 different leadership capacities over the years, who helped to mold other leaders. . . who often shared his faith. You might say, we oughta retire his number.

You may hear someone speak of someone who had a passion for serving, and you will find yourself saying, “Yeah, I knew a guy whose spirit of optimism and love of country helped to sustain this great nation, not just with words, but with deeds. And you’ll speak of his service in the Army, to his community and church, and in his retirement his steady and compassionate service with the Provena Auxillary.

Yeah, friends, we knew a guy . . . as husband, father, father in law, grandpa, friend and colleague . . . and because we knew him our lives are better, our hope stronger, our faith deeper, and our joy brighter.

And to all this remembrance and flattery and fuss, Fred might respond to us with one last story, turning the attention away from himself, lifting up another.

“Yeah, I knew a guy—skinny kid from Galilee. Real smart, focused like crazy, but the kindest person I ever knew. Kept some fast company, but I guess it turned out alright. Showed me everything I needed to know about living a full and joyful life. Taught me what’s real and what’s not. Taught be about hope, about sacrifice. Taught me how to be a good and true friend. Taught me how to love my family and my fellow men and women. Gave me a second chance. Gave me my greatest possession, . . . faith. Followed that fellow my whole life. Hope you do, too.

I’ve gone to see him now. He has made me a few promises, and I know he’ll keep them. He always has. He’ll keep these promises for you, too. . . . . .And when he does, I’ll see you again.”

Godspeed, Fred.
Amen