In direct comparison with my son's words, my husband, separately and alone, wrote a eulogy that came from his heart, too. What follows is my husband's speech given to attendees of Wally's funeral a little over one month ago.
Dad, the Hero Next Door
Many of you may have heard the story of the millionaire next door. The man who quietly goes about his day, not dressing the part or acting the part of a millionaire, while quietly enjoying the financial reward of his his hard work. Today, I would like to talk about the hero next door, My dad, Walter Proehl. He did not wear a cape, and he did not fly over buildings, but he was indeed a hero to many.
One of the things that made Dad so extraordinary was his ability to make every person he encountered feel important. His smile and grace were infectious and brought a ray of life to every person he met.
I would like to relate some of the qualities that I remembered about Dad. If you remember him or these or other qualities, I hope they bring a smile to your face and a joyous memory to your heart as they do for me.
Dad was a teacher. At a young age, he taught me to have pride in our name, telling people when they pronounced it incorrectly (it is not PRO-EL - it is PRAYLE).
He taught me charity as we delivered food to the needy at Christmastime and fixed lamps for little old ladies who could not afford to buy new ones.
He taught me the importance of doing the job right. To this day, I can still see examples of his work in many places: wrapping tape around your wires just so, placing the holes for the wire straight and at the proper height.
Dad selflessly shared what he knew with anyone who wanted to learn. When Dad did not know how to do something, he found someone who could teach him.
Dad was thrifty. He knew the value of hard work, and he knew how to save a dollar, whether he was buying a car or a Christmas tree.
When you asked Dad how much something cost, he would always be able to tell you the cost, which was great. But when you got to hardware store, you realized that sometimes that prices he quoted you were in 1950 dollars.
Dad was patient. There are ten years between my sisters and I. For ten years, Dad waited for his son, and as I gre, he taught me how to check your parts and read the directions before you start.
Dad was strong, his muscles firm from years of turning screwdrivers and climbing ladders.
Dad could fix ANYTHING. When yo asked Dad to fix something, he would take a small notebook out of his pocket and write it down. He would methodically work through everything on his list until it was done. It was not until a few years later that I learned that Dad had more than a few notebooks in his pocket.
Dad appreciated a party, and he was never afraid to be on stage. As a teenager, I found it a little embarrassing, but as a man, I wondered how I could even get a small sliver of that charisma.
Dad was faithful; he loved the peace he felt in church and drew comfort from the prayers that he said every day of his life.
Dad showed the world how to love, as he walked through life hand-in-hand with Mom, even arranging for her to get flowers as he lay in the hospital.
In 8th grade, for my science project, I decided that I wanted to make a demonstration of the hydrological cycle or the life cycle of water, if you will. When I told Dad my idea, he never showed ay doubt as I described what I had in mind. As was his way, Dad rolled up his sleeves and worked next to me several evenings for the next week. When I walked into school the morning of the science fair, I had a two-foot-by-four-foot box that had a desert, mountains, an ocean, and clouds that actually rained.
No matter what I wanted to do, Dad never said, "No." Instead, he said, "Let's go." Dad was not a big outdoorsman, but when I wanted to go shooting, he took me. When we went fishing, and there wasn't much biting, he knew that sometimes a twelve-year-old boy has as much fun driving the boat as watching the bobber. When I wanted to try hunting, he took me. Even on days when we got nothing, he took joy from spending a day in the woods with his son.
When I joined Boy Scouts, he bought a tent, and we went camping. Dad was there even when it meant going when it was 12 degrees outside.
When my sons joined Scouts, and no other adult stepped up to help, it was Dad who spent a week with me at summer camp. We slept in tents, went for hikes, and walked about a quarter-of-a-mile each way three times a day for meals in the heat of St. Louis in July. Did I mention that Dad did this when he was 76 years old?
Dad was a gentle man, and all of you who knew him saw this in his actions and in his words. Dad was never one to use foul language. This does not mean that Dad never uttered a bad word. On a couple occasions, he would get really frustrated with something or someone and let loose. Mindful that there may be young children around, Dad would harken back to his German roots, and declare, "Scheisst!"
The other occasion when you might hear Dad say a cross word would be when he was driving. Dad has never been qutie as heavy footed as Mom, and as with many aspects of his life, Dad was pretty deliberate in his driving. Sometimes in our travels, we would encounter that rare breed of drier that even wore down Dad's patience. It was at that point that he would declare that person to be a "JACQUES."
Dad loved to travel his whole life and was fortunate to see all 50 states and many foreign countries. A vacation with Dad was sure to be an experience you will not forget. Dad was not able to sleep late or lay on a beach all day. He was up at 6 in the morning and ready to roll; there were places to go, and things to do, and he did not want to miss a single thing.
When we traveled to San Juan Capistrano to see the swallows and got there to find the gates locked, Dad climbed the fence. A few years later, when Dad and Mom went to Campobello Island in Canada, the home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dad clambered out on the rocks to get down to the beach. Although his trip proved a little more eventful, not even a broken arm could slow down Dad.
I am so fortunate to have my own family that continued the tradition as we have crossed the country seeing the Grand Canyon, the sands of Myrtle Beach, the monuments of Washinton, D.C., and the geysers of Yellowstone. What a beautiful world that Mom and Dad showed us.
For Those That Are Still Here
For Dad, his journey on this Earth is over, and he has been set free. For those who are still here, I would like to share one part of a short homily I heard a few years ago.
In 1982, two friends set out from Baltimore, MD for Albuquerque, NM on a 9-month sabbatical from teaching. These friends had lived in Baltimore all their lives and wanted to go someplace where they could look out the window and know they weren't on the East Coast. And if you have ever been to Albuquerque, you know you aren't on the East Coast. You are barely in the US. One friend followed the original plan and went back to Baltimore after 9 months. the second friend had a 5-year journey in the high desert of New Mexico. "I learned that there are more shades of brown that you could ever imagine. I did not see the different shades at first. I thought the whole state was just brown. But after a while, I started to see the nuances, the different shades of brown into green. The desert requires careful attention to detail. I learned that the desert blooms, and blooms amazingly after a rainstorm. Little buds and blossoms and flowers and insects and animals come out after a storm, for a short period of time, often not to be seen again, until the next rainstorm. They survive on those droplets of rain. I learned that water is both powerful and precious. The ground is so hard and dry that the arroyos and ditches and intersections flood quickly in a rainstorm. Children in New Mexico learn at a young age to move to high ground as soon as a drop of rain falls, because otherwise, it might be too late. Water is so precious in the Southwest. I saw amazing efforts to conserve water because it is so scarce. And I learned that while some things are essential for survival in the desert - food, water, shelter, blankets (the desert gets cold at night), gas (one of the first things I learned in Albuquerque - make sure you have a full tank of gas when driving through the desert) - other things just weigh you down, are excess baggage, are unnecessary. The desert is a place of stripping down, of embracing what is essential, of identifying what is necessary. A time to name what I needed to let go, and what I needed to hold dear. I ask you to remember the story of Moses and the Israelites in the desert. They had left a familiar place (even thought it was an oppressive place, it was still familiar), and they were wondering if their dreams of a Promised Land were worth the trouble. They were hungry, thirsty, frustrated. Maybe we should go back. Maybe this isn't worth it. What does God say to Moses in the midst of this crisis? God says, "Moses, you are in a hard place, and I want you to find the hardest thing in this hard place - a rock in the desert. And I want you to touch this rock and believe that living water will flow from it." And Moses does, and water flows. It was just enough for the Israelites to continue their sojourn through the desert. They learned that God is in the hardest place in a hard place. And I think about us. We are on a journey through the desert, in a kind of hard place right now, wondering whether our dreams are worth this trouble, this stripping down. We are thinking of what is essential, what we need to let go, and what we need to hold dear. Like Moses and the Israelites, God is asking us to believe that God is in the hardest place in hard place - to believe that living water will flow if we but touch the rock in our desert. Remember, Moses had to do some work - he HAD to touch the rock.
Dad is done walking in the desert. For all of us who are still here, when you think of Dad and you start to feel a little sad, I want you to remember, he has left the familiar place and gone before us. Like Dad did his whole life, he has done the hard work, and he was the living water. Dad has touched the rock, and water has flowed. We should all be so lucky to drink from that water!
And that, my friends, is such good news that we ought to say a resounding Amen.
Dad was never in doubt about his priorities in life. He had an incredible integrity demonstrated as he showed his faith to God, Mom, family, and country.
I could write many more pages, describing the qualities of this wonderful, caring soul. I could write many more pages filled with the stories that each of us shared with Dad.
But today, I can think of no better way to conclude than with this thought: Dad, thank you.
I can think of no better higher compliment than could be given that to say, "He was like his father."