Rich VonKanel to many was a relative, a mentor, and a friend…but to me, he was my next-door neighbor. Rich and Loretta have lived across the street from me for the past twenty years as I have grown up to where I stand today. The funny thing about most neighbors to me is how all our life we can live so close together, and yet our lives are so far apart. We say hello while getting the mail, or maybe we have taken meals to each other in times of need, but for most neighbors I’ve seen, the interaction often stops there. This, however, was not the case between Rich and his dear wife Loretta. Countless times the two of them would invite my family and the neighbors beside us to come swim at their home in the summer. I had some of the best memories there, as we would jump off the diving board or have cookouts by the fire. He and Loretta never forgot one birthday and were always so generous with their time and love, always supporting me when I went overseas for mission’s work or had a need with my church. Rich in particular taught me so much about life. I can remember one year, my family and I went to the VonKanel’s farm in Carrolton with some of the neighborhood families that would gather with us in the summer. When we pulled in the drive by their farmhouse it seemed like the land never ended. The acres and acres of field and beauty got me so excited as I stood looking out past their barn. We spent most of that day swimming in their pond as Rich showed us the immense size of the fish beside us, and later carved pumpkins with us as the fall was approaching. The real thrill came, however, when Rich pulled out some four-wheelers and one of our neighbors brought their go-cart for us all to use that day. All the men with us decided to get on the four wheelers and race around the property together. So, Rich came up to me and asked if I would like a ride with him to which I responded yes quickly. As I rode beside him in the go-cart, he pushed the gas down taking it’s speed to the max. My hair flew back as Rich pointed to different birds flying around us in his field, telling me what kind of birds they were and taking me on the trails where he would often feed the deer on his property. He smiled next to me as I clutched the side of the cart in fear and excitement. But the one thing I distinctly remember him saying in our time as we raced past the trees with the sun shining a spotlight on us was, “We really have to cherish each day, Dylan. That’s for sure.” And in all the years I knew Rich growing up, it seemed like he didn’t just say statements like this, but he lived them. While so many people lived life as if it were a go-cart race, Rich would simply smile and cherish each day, sipping them slowly. Oftentimes when I would see him out doing lawn work, he would have a smile on his face, waving at just about every car that passed his home, and no matter the day, he genuinely cherished life with a grin. Rich taught me what it meant to enjoy the moments that are often looked over and to live life with gratitude beyond words. From his love for his wife and family down to the very food and drink he tasted, I witnessed through him what it means to sip life slow.
And I think if we are being honest, all of us can learn something from the legacy that Rich left. In this life of busy schedules, busy places and busy people, it seems that taking some time to slow down and love one another, as he did, is exactly what we need. Maybe living a life of wonder and curiosity is just want we need in times like this. Where so many are rushing to simply get by and survive, Rich lived differently. He realized life was much more about thriving than just surviving in the short time that we all receive. King David in the Bible wrestled with this similar idea when he wrote, (Psalm 39:4-7 NLT) “Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered – how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath. We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.” Today, as we reflect on Rich’s life, we are called to the same. To place our hope and trust in the Lord in these times where sickness runs in our nation and hope is a word everyone is looking for. Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35 NLT) as all of you in this room can attest to this love that Rich showed. So, today we can take comfort in the fact that for all those that place their belief and love in Christ, life does not end at the grave, but continues into eternity. Today is not the end for Rich VonKanel nor does it have to be for any of us who have this faith. And I would go as far to say that if Rich was standing here beside me he would tell us all to love well, have hope and until we see him again…to cherish each day.