End of an Era...

A mid-1990s Dick Wink, on the left , with the families he inspired with humor and love.

A mid-1990s Dick Wink, on the left , with the families he inspired with humor and love.

Dick Wink died this week.

It was sudden, somewhat shocking, and not a terrible surprise in the end. He always said he didn’t want to suffer the indignities of aging and infirmity. He never wanted to be one of those shuffling old men, like the character played by the late Tim Conway.

A bout with pneumonia triggered cascading responses by his nearly 89-year-old self that finally made breathing too difficult to continue. So, he just stopped, or as the love of his life for 70 of those years said, he took his final bow.

If you never met Dick Wink, I’m sorry.

He was the father of my best childhood friend, Dayna and her sister Debbie. When they moved onto our block in 1967, I was just flirting with the edges of puberty and miraculously, I now had a place of refuge.

If you remember your early teen years, you know how the impact of flooding hormones could interact with a typical American family and all its dysfunctions. I, however, had a civilized haven a few doors down the street where I could run when “those people” at home just didn’t understand me. 

My haven was a home filled with music and art – instruments, recordings, and paint canvasses. Something creative was always cooking in the kitchen, where mid-1960s austerity programs were underway to sock away funds for great family spring break vacations. I first experienced fried green tomatoes in that kitchen. And Sue’s sauerkraut balls remain legendary.

Mama Sue Wink was frequently involved in other creative projects – I remember making Papier Mache angels in the basement that involved gold paint, glitter, and lots of sticky glue. I still can’t believe Sue let us “help” her.

Dick was the ringleader of all the activity – all the culture, music and art. With a combination of sharply sophisticated humor and goofy foolishness, Dick would command our attention and engage in our worlds. He made our moody selves laugh – at our moody selves. And that wasn’t easy.

He was an open-minded liberal in the classic sense of the word. He personified the root of the word liberal, which comes from Latin and means “free” – and free he was. He believed in exploring new ideas, new places, new approaches if they inspired progress and broadened perspectives and knowledge.

With Sue’s energetic support, he created a home filled with noise, laughter, and frequent silliness well balanced with smart, thoughtful interest in elevating what’s good and important in life – family and the comfort of friends. 

He also somehow convinced us that his persistent home improvement projects were something we wanted to tackle with him.

There was the week we spent opening bags of potato chips to create a full tin of folded chips for a gift to one of his best friends who preferred his chips folded. And we thought it was fun. Then there were the grass paper walls. To this day, I shudder when I think of the hot summer we spent peeling that grassy wallpaper off the living room walls so their home could reflect the current look of walls painted to resemble marble.    

Dick’s legacy will leave an impact because he was more than my favorite Dad down the street. He was the first full professor at The Ohio State University – Mansfield branch where he served as associate dean and dean in addition to teaching music education to thousands of students. He authored or co-authored four books and launched the Mansfield Symphony Chorus and its popular Holiday Spectaculars. He was a long-time board member of the Mansfield Art Center, serving as chair for 5 years. And he poured his heart and soul into his role as the Chancel Choir Director at the First Congregational Church where he inspired remarkable performances of sacred music.

Fortunately, the man was larger than life so I will carry his lessons with me and do my best to impart their wisdom to my children as they have been to his grandchildren.

Live life large. Don’t be afraid to be silly or goofy in the pursuit of laughter. Don’t suffer the foolishness of those with closed minds. Pursue knowledge and experiences that elevate and inspire. And always, always take care of your family.