A soft rumbling rolled slowly from low clouds as I crossed the street Monday morning. A few drops of rain spatted against the windshields of parked cars along Second Street. As I stepped off the concrete onto dark pavement, I noticed that the white sedan that is usually parked right in front of the building was missing. I was also pretty sure I knew why.
It has been nearly two weeks now since Dennis Strange left his house to make a quick run to Long John Silver’s to pick up food for the family. He never made it back home.
Dennis seemed to be the picture of health, at least to casual acquaintance. He had a robust appearance and a gregarious nature. He was friendly, outgoing, a man who loved people and loved to laugh. Even to someone like me, whose sole basis of observation was the occasional passing on the sidewalk, two things were obvious: he was friendly and he was devoted to his wife.
Tammy has worked for years as an administrative assistant in the Natural Science and Math department for Cowley College. Dennis seemed to show up nearly every day for lunch with her. Sometimes they ate over at the college deli, The Jungle. Sometimes they ate in the department lounge/workroom. Regardless of where they ate, it would be apparent to any onlooker that Dennis was exactly where he wanted to be, enjoying being with his wife and whomever else happened to be around.
A sudden and severe heart attack ended all that while Dennis was in the drive-through at Long John Silver’s that evening. He was only sixty-two, the same age that I am.
As I sat in his memorial service held in Brown Theatre on our campus, I noted a few things about a man I didn’t really know. The large portrait on the easel on stage showed the expression of a man who loved life. His cherished motorcycle sat between large bouquets of flowers, a dynamic symbol of freedom and adventure and in his case, family and friendship.
One of his daughters talked about the early rides with her dad and eventually, the pleasure of owning her own motorcycle and riding alongside him. Friends spoke of their rituals of riding with Dennis. They all spoke of his love of people. “He didn’t care whether you were rich or poor, whether you were clean or dirty. He didn’t care how you looked or how you smelled. He didn’t care what color you were or where you came from. He was going to talk to you, regardless.”
One of the son-in-laws was quoted as having said “He was the most Christ-like non-Christian I ever knew.”
In the stories that were shared—and even in the ones people said shouldn’t and couldn’t be shared—all agreed that Dennis Strange was playful and mischievous, adored his daughters and grandkids, was deeply devoted to his wife, and loved Arkansas City. He was clearly a man who genuinely loved people and enjoyed his associations and encounters with them. The few hundred people sitting in the audience shared their grief, chuckled at some comments and laughed out loud at others. And as we watched the video scrapbook of Dennis’ life, all of us honored his memory in some way or another.
To have our few flaws acknowledged and our best traits celebrated, to be remembered with tears and laughter and honored with a fine, fierce loyalty is a pretty good thing, I think. It would be quite a challenge to leave a more notable legacy than family, friends and a community that knew you loved them.