My father: A eulogy.

The funeral was very cathartic – it actually helped me gain a testimony of the necessity of rituals around the important times in life (birth, marriage, death, etc.).  However, I have had a hard time getting the distance required to say what I really wanted to say about my dad.  I keep crying every time I try to write this eulogy, as it means I really have to admit he really is gone.  I know that he isn’t really gone, and I can’t imagine what it would be like for me if I didn’t have a solid testimony of the Gospel, but it still

This is not the tribute my father truly deserves, but it’s the best I can do for now.  I feel I’ve delayed too long, so I will post the best I can, rather than wait too long for more distance.

I am not going to “Speak for the Dead” – someone else may be able to do that for my father. He was certainly aware of his own weaknesses, but he was one of the best men to live on this planet: the quiet servant of God who found a place where he could do God’s will; he never aspired to more than what he did, because he felt that he was where God needed him to be.

My father’s like was multi-faceted, so the only way to even do it a little justice is to write about him from many different viewpoints.

Mormon: This aspect of his life controlled all the others.  It is impossible to understand my father without this.  Everything he did was in the service of God.

My father was a pioneer in the church, as his family were the first people converted in Homer, Alaska – a struggling branch in remote, rural Alaska. The church gave direction and purpose to his life.steve.wolfe_

One of his gifts was leadership in the church.  When my father was called as District President, no one thought our district was anywhere near becoming a Stake.  However, my father shocked everyone when he declared that if Home Teaching were to increase to near 100% levels, we would become a Stake.  He tirelessly visited the branches and wards of the district, pushing this initiative.  And while we never quite achieved perfection, home teaching did improve significantly, and our humble district became a stake.

When he was called as scoutmaster, I had been the only Eagle Scout in 12 years for the troop (mostly due to his constant help and encouragement).  After his calling, around a dozen Eagle Scouts received their rank under his tenure.

One my dad’s wisest sayings: “There are over a dozen men in this ward who would make excellent bishops and nearly all of them would be great stake presidents – not one would make a halfway decent scoutmaster.”

The gospel was ubiquitous in our house.  We read scriptures nearly every day, had FHE nearly every week, and had family council every Sunday.  My mother told me very few families were as well organized and consistent as ours, even in the church.

My father also gave up his Sunday afternoon nap to do family history work.  I spent many Sundays helping him pour over microfilm and microfische.  He still has several cabinets full of genealogy work. He was so through, I can honestly say there’s not much I can do.  However, I am determined to pick up where he left off (one of my goals this summer it to get a handle on just what he still needed to find. At this point, records don’t exist for what’s left).dad2

Wrestling Coach (and competitive wrestler):  Anyone who knew my dad outside the LDS Church (and many of those who knew him in it) likely thought of his as this first (though he saw himself as a Mormon first).

He had several national championships himself, and many more state championships.  As a coach, he won many awards and his team won several state championships (and many individual championships).  After a school principal who favored basketball over wrestling unfairly forced my dad out his coaching position at the high school (where the program then collapsed, as planned), he found a nearby (in Alaska, a 45 minute drive is “nearby”) village of Old Believer Russians and offered to coach their team.  Despite almost no talent pool (there were, at most, 8 boys in the entire high school), he managed to create a team that also fielded several state champions (and place winners), and he won awards for coaching as well.  However, the best tribute to all this isn’t the awards, but the lives he changed.  A friend of mine (and Baptist preacher) Clint Walker, covered this aspect in words more eloquent than I can equal, so I’ll just link to his essay on my father:

(excerpt: “Coaching was more than a way to stay athletic for Steve. It was his vehicle for reaching out and loving kids, of helping young boys become men, of reaching out to the lonely and downtrodden, the lonely and the lost, and using sports to help form them into the kind of people they could be. It was his mission and his ministry.”)dad1

He also wrote several books on wrestling.  Call Me Coach and Call Us Champions covered his early glory days at Homer High School.  Call Us Olympians covers later times but focuses on Tela O’Donnell, an early female wrestler in Alaska who also made it to the Olympics.  He was working on the fourth -“Call Us Russians” – covering his time coaching at the Old Believers’ school when he died.

He also published an exhaustive index of the High School Wrestling rules, and self published several books on coaching wrestling.

Right up until the week before he went to the hospital, he could still out-Bench Press me (though I take some consolation that my squat and deadlift were higher).

Teacher: Related to wrestling coach, but subordinate.  He was an excellent teacher, but he taught so he could coach wrestling.  He was not a teacher who did some coaching, he was a coach who happened to teach as his day job.

However, he was an excellent teacher.  I recall, coming into his classroom one day after I had just gotten back from my mission, and I saw a few students standing around him, absolutely excited about the latest lecture he had given on Ancient Egypt.  I had never really thought of my father in that light, but I had several students tell me just how engaging and helpful he was as a teacher.

Landscaper:  He started this business in order to teach his children a work ethic and help us pay for missions and college. He grew up on a ranch, so he knew how to work hard and he wanted to pass this on to his children.  I only learned late in life that he never took a salary as the owner of the business – he gave it all to his workers (mostly his children).

My dad loved to quote this old saying: “The journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step.”  Landscaping teaches that in a very direct way, when you have several acres to mow or turn into hay, or 1000s of square feet of sod to cut, haul, and install.

In fact, treating my graduate work like it was a landscaping job helped me graduate on time. steve

Autodidact:  My father also loved to learn.  He read translation of ancient Greek and Roman classics often.  When he wasn’t teaching, coaching, doing church service, wrestling, or doing landscaping work, he was reading.
My father was one of the old-school Mormon scriptorians. He read widely but eclectically.  He had translations of the Dead Sea Scroll, lots of book on apocryphal works, Biblical and Middle Eastern history, and more.  I have no idea how he read so much, but I believe it’s because the work ethic he was raised with (and tried to instill in his children) didn’t allow him to have down time.  He always had to do something.

Lover of Science Fiction and Fantasy: When he wasn’t doing any of the above, my father loved to watch science fiction and fantasy movies (he also read books in those genres).  In fact, if my father had one flaw (and this isn’t really a flaw), it’s that he had no critical sense at all.  He would watch the cheesiest B-movies and the best artistic films and everything in between and love them all.  As long as it had aliens, spaceships, magic, monsters, or something along those lines (and didn’t have explicit sex, he did draw the line there), he loved it.

It made for an interesting and varied intellectual palate.  My father would discuss Socrates and the theory of forms in one breath, and the next be talking about some no-budget post-apocalyptic science fiction film (and at some point, always, always, always, he’d quote scripture or a prophet).

I miss you dad.  I know this isn’t what you deserve, but it’s the best I can do.  We’ll meet again.steve3

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About Ivan Wolfe

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was over 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has six kids and four stepkids.

19 thoughts on “My father: A eulogy.

  1. Ivan, that was really touching. Your dad sounds like a marvelous man. Thanks for taking the time to write and post this, and my condolences to you and your family. It is great that you have a testimony that you will see your dad again, because I am sure you will.

  2. Thank you for sharing these aspects of your Father with us. He sounds like a wonderful Dad.

  3. Condolences to you and yours. Having gone through the same thing a few years ago, I totally agree with you that though The Gospel is true, it still hurts. I see the pain of parting as a reflection of how much we loved them. So it is a good pain.

  4. I think the picture you painted is pretty clear. I feel a little like I knew him. Well done. Peace to you and your family.

  5. My condolences. Your father sounds like a wonderful man, and I look forward to the day when I get to meet him.

  6. I look forward to being introduced some day. After you’ve had plenty of time to catch up, of course.

    It’s posts like that that make you feel what God means when he says that people are his work *and* his glory.

  7. Pingback: Eulogy for a Good Man | Junior Ganymede

  8. Sorry to hear about your Dad’s passing. He sounds like a really fun person to know. I had a quiet laugh about the bishops, stake presidents and scout master comment …. my dad says the same thing.

  9. It’s a lovely eulogy, Ivan. A worthy effort for a worthy man. Thanks for sharing it.

  10. Another thing about your dad that I remember him talking a lot about was music. I smile every time I think of him making fun of groups like Foreigner because they were too whiny (“I want to know what love is” is an example), and at the same time appreciating music that has a certain poetic sensibility to it. He was always selling the Moody Blues, and even expressed some appreciation for Jimmy Buffet.

  11. The Moody Blues was his favorite band. Them and Simon and Garfunkel (from my mom) were basically the soundtrack of my childhood.

    Thanks for the comments so far everyone.

  12. One my dad’s wisest sayings: “There are over a dozen men in this ward who would make excellent bishops and nearly all of them would be great stake presidents – not one would make a halfway decent scoutmaster.”

    I am one of the men of whom your father spoke, except I would probably make a lousy bishop and stake president as well.

    Such a beautiful and fitting tribute to a great man. I feel similarly about my father and cherish every moment I have with him. God bless you and your family while you await a joyous reunion with your father.

  13. As a big-time wrestling fan, I loved reading about his wrestling legacy. I googled him further to corroborate his national credentials (won National Coach of the Year in 1986–the year I placed 2nd in my state–and inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2010). I sure would have loved to have him as my coach.

  14. Because of my dad, Wrestling is the greatest sport ever. BYU lost a lot of my support when it cut wrestling (and then when it forced the sci-fi symposium LTUE out, well that just proved to me BYU has gone astray).

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