It's not often that one gets to walk with an angel. Yet, if there are angels surely we shared one named Patti Wagner. She was just a country girl from an
farm who came to the city for school and taught all the kids a thing or two
In my little world I was a late bloomer when it came to girls. I was far too busy in grade school to give them much notice. There was adjusting to a new town, new friends, an overwhelming sports schedule, learning to play rock and roll, trying to keep up the grades, and being a model alter boy among many pressures.
Add in paper routes, caddying at the golf courses, Cub and Boy Scouts, working for my dad and practicing thousands of hours at baseball, basketball and golf and time was a very precious commodity.
All the time I expected to be attending Walsh High, an all boys school at the time. Then came the
fire that destroyed the girls
high school. Suddenly everything changed
and the boys and girls were thrown together for the first time at the old Navy
Base. Our class of '64 would be the
first co-ed class to graduate. Ottumwa Heights
It was tough being a new freshman with those upper classes determined to put us in our place. In addition, the freshmen came from three different schools and were together for the first time far from town.
That was where I first noticed Patti and before long we became great "secret friends." Over the next four years we would run in to each other at different events and times and if neither of us had a date, which was quite often for me but not so often for Patti, we would talk and talk and just enjoy each other's company for hours on end.
There were times others would be with us like Edith Tray, Curt Trilk, and Mary Ann Conroy and we wound up in some rather odd places as we talked through the night like graveyards, houses under construction, and even just sitting along the side of the river.
Like I said, the times were not often but we made up in hours for the lost opportunities. Patti could talk about anything and everything and to me she was a stabilizing force because she could laugh about my wildly fluctuating passions for world affairs. Yet we chose to keep our occasional meetings a secret.
After graduation, our lives changed but our friendship didn't and Patti was the only person in the class I stayed in touch with for every decade of our lives. First it was by letter and phone, then email and phone.
We counseled each other through our problems, disappointments, dreams, and hopes and it seemed whenever either of us needed a friend the other was always there. That was Patti. Solid as a rock and always ready to help out a friend.
After she got sick we talked and emailed often as she moved from
Colorado to Maryland
to North Carolina
and my only regret was five years ago when I got sick and was not able to go
see her these past few years.
My many adventures over the years gave her a lot of laughs but she was genuinely interested in them and wanted to hear every detail of the good and bad. Then she always encouraged me to keep pursuing dreams.
We talked a few times about how it might have been if we had been together all those years but Patti was never one to dwell on lost opportunities. Besides, she would point out, had we been together we would not both have our wonderful children.
She was very special and will be missed by family and friends. But, she would never let her own health problems stop her from living, from loving and from inspiring others. I was one who found her shoulder always there to lean on whether I was in Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Arizona, or California.
|Another empty chair|
I was honored to know and cherish Patti Wagner and will always remember her smile, strength, adventurous attitude, curiosity, and genuine interest in everyone who knew her. Mostly, because she was so connected to her faith in Jesus and strength in God, I will know she is home and one day we will see her again.