When I first conceived the idea for this column, many years ago, it was first and foremost centered on talking about people – living, dying, laughing, crying, and doing the things they do. Today, it is about people dying and the living they did.
Doug “Chet” Bunting passed away this spring. This one hurt. He was a good man, smart as a whip, funny, talented, quirky, amazing athlete, and a great friend to many people. He loved his family, caught a lot of fish, harvested many deer and elk, played a mean guitar, and was one of the few people who scared me when a “Name That Tune” challenge arose at elk camp. When it came to classics of the country persuasion, he was golden. My favorite memories are around an elk campfire in Eastern Oregon, swapping stories, crooning country classics, and drinking good whiskey. Chet’s lively rendition of The Battle of New Orleans was always a camp favorite, as was a sound-effect laden Ghost Riders in the Sky. He even humored my occasionally in-tune Amarillo by Morning and was too polite to wince at a sour note. You might have known him, and his brother, Paul, as walkers. They walked a lot, separately, but always walking. Concrete work, and was he ever a pro, took its toll on his back and knees over the years, but his boss, Rich “Archie” Manning said Chet was the most loyal employee and friend imaginable. The one thing most impressive about Chet? He was real. No sugar-coating, no games, and no beating around the bush. He said what he thought, meant what he said, and did not mince words. You always knew that if he were quiet, he was thinking, and if he were talking, it was pertinent and brief. Chet was as real as it gets.
Karen Palmquist left us in April. We became friends when I worked with Silverton Area Community Aid (SACA) and spent many an enjoyable time with her husband, Dick, our then-inventory manager, and her at their home, SACA events, and the Elks. She was a wonderful woman, a fun and funny person, and a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister-in-law, and friend. It was a joy to share “happy hour” at the Palmquist home, hoisting a cold beer, scotch, or in the mornings, a good cup of coffee. Always laughing, telling stories, and just enjoying the company. Her laughter was infectious and real, and she was both private and humble. A genuinely good person. News of her passing in late April took its toll on a lot of family and friends. I am going to miss them both.
“St. Elmo” was one of kind. Elmer Valkenaar. Teacher, educator in both academics and life, and loved by so many people, adults and kids alike. An Air Force veteran, true jokester, and the original “Dad joke” purveyor. Ask me about why dogs sniff each other. The joke, for daughter Lisa, was her dad’s favorite and a perfect example of what made him tick – fun, laughter, and a genuine love for people. For son, Lou, the memories are great. “His retirement celebration at the high school was remarkable in that he was a substitute so long and so often that he was there as much as a full-time teacher. The celebration was like a real-life reenactment of the final scene from the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus… A beautiful expression of love and appreciation.” He had a Bob Newhart dry, droll wit, and a heart that made room for everyone, until they gave a reason not to. What I will always recall with fondness and respect, from 55 years of history and friendship, is St. Elmo calling basketball games at the high school. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please stand for the national anthem, and please remove your hats.” His values were strong, time-tested, and not up for debate. Every so often, we lose an icon. Rest easy, St. Elmo. Yours was a good life, and we are better for being part of it.