I’d like to tell you about our friend, Greg. Greg was a father, a husband, a friend and a farmer, and he was killed in a devastating car accident last week as a snowstorm blew into Fulton County.
And so it is that a tiny farm community in a corner of western Illinois mourns the loss of a man who loved so well and was respected by so many that 1,500 people passed through our little white church in the country to tell his family what he meant to them. 1,500 people. Just think about that.
Our community is reeling. So is our circle of friends, and our larger farm community. At just 56, Greg was a good man. He had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He was a good farmer, and he ran a farming and trucking business with his brother, Brett. He was a dealer for Precision Planting, and was, in fact, on his way to their winter conference when he was killed. He even let me write a story about him a few years back, sharing some of the ways he’s learned to plant no-till corn in the spring, and appearing on the cover.
I think of the hole left in this community, but even more so, of the hole left in his family. For his children, Nick, Erin and Emily, for their spouses and for his nine grandchildren.
But especially for his precious wife, Charlotte, who was the absolute love of his life. Greg and Charlotte just were not your average couple. They did everything together. They were like peas and carrots. They had been married 35 years last year and celebrated with a trip to Hawaii. They awoke every day together with a walk down the road, through the little town of Ellisville, across the Spoon River bridge, and back. Their daughter, Erin, lives just next to that bridge; she can’t imagine not seeing their little jacket reflectors bobbing down the road. I can’t imagine her not getting to see that.
And when John and Kendra Smiley led a marriage conference at our church last year and the room was filled with younger couples who are mostly raising small kids and hanging on by our ragged little fingernails, there were Greg and Charlotte. Married 35 years, they were still looking for ways to make it better. Full of wisdom but eager to learn, they weren’t content to rest. Marriage, as an institution, was important to them.
I remember a skit Greg and Charlotte did together at church, just a few years ago. I’m sure it had a point, though I don’t remember that point. What I do so clearly remember is that they were pretending to be an older couple, sitting together on their porch swing, reflecting on their life together and on how much they loved living it together. And I thought how they weren’t really acting; they were just playing themselves 20 years down the road. That was the point when I decided, I hope we can be like them. I hope my husband and I can know the kind of love and devotion that’s carved out over time and polished by love and experience.
Like my own husband, Greg was one of four worship leaders at our little country Bible church. The Sunday before he died, he and his beautiful Erin stood on stage and sang together. I remember him catching my eye as he dismissed the kids for junior church, as I held our squirmy 3-year-old who was asking approximately every 20 seconds, “When will it be time for junior church?” He saw and he knew, and he grinned at me.
Greg loved people. He couldn’t pass up someone in need. And he took every opportunity to build a person up. He was the kind of person who would stop me in church and tell me I looked pretty that day, and as I’d deflect and say something about how John got this sweater or this dress or whatever for me, he’d grin. “Well, you look pretty.” Not my sweater, not my dress, but me. The thing is, of course, that he did this with so many people. Stories have just abounded of Greg’s kindnesses. I have dearly loved hearing from our young people how Greg spoke to them as he did to me.
Still, to me, his lasting legacy will be of a marriage done right. My heart breaks for his precious wife. This was a man who lovingly laid out a fresh towel and her toothbrush for her every morning, who started her car and turned on her heated seats because he knew she hated to be cold. Who sought out a real cup when they traveled so she could have "hot tea in a hard cup." Greg and Charlotte were in the midst of remodeling their old farmhouse when he was killed; indeed, they had even moved out. Charlotte will have to finish without him. But how blessed she was, as was he, that they had so many good years together.
Their daughter, Emily, said it so well: if he couldn’t be by Charlotte’s side, the only other place he’d want to be was with his Savior. Greg’s passion was to bring people to Christ. To tell them of their Savior’s love for them, and that his life was changed through his relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s his real legacy. And that’s what the 1,500 people who showed up at his services saw in him.
Greg wasn't perfect; no one is. We all laughed when his son, Nick, said, "He was a sinner. He had hogs and hogs could make a nun swear." How true.
When it comes down to it, here was one man, in one farm community, in one township in one corner of a single county in the great rural Midwest who lived well, who loved well and who showed enough grace, honesty and integrity that his simply being gone has affected so many. His legacy will carry on for generations. Thankfully, it’s not often that I sit in our little white church in the country and listen as the steeple bell is rung for a life well lived. But what a life it was.
May we finish as well as Greg.