In memory

My grandfather, Lyle Dankleff, served in the US Army in Korea. He passed away in September, and his military services were heart wrenching. I’m grateful for the young cadets who served as Honor Guards, as well the veterans responsible for the 21-gun salute. The entire experience made me incredibly proud of our collective past and future.

As we mark Veterans Day, I’ll share below the remarks I made at Grandpa’s funeral.


Thank you so much for joining us here today. I very much appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts about my grandfather, Lyle Eugene Dankleff.

Grandpa was born to John and Bernice on November 14, 1932. He attended Avoca High School, and graduated as valedictorian, earning a regents scholarship to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

He met my grandmother, Carol Ann Wallen, shortly there after. She believes she first saw him at Rich Norris’ home, but he said he’d noticed her much before, at a dance in the old Unadilla town hall.

Grandma wrote, “We were both so completely smitten with each other, without saying anything, we knew we would marry. There was never anyone else for either of us.”

They were married before Grandpa began his service in Korea as part of the U.S. Army.

Though they spent their first years of marriage apart, they wrote letters to each other—every day. She kept at hand a photo of an astonishingly handsome young man in a military uniform, while he tucked a tattered and creased photo of a stunningly beautiful young woman into the pocket of his military uniform the entire time he was overseas. Looking at these images now, these two portraits alone made it quite easy understand exactly how and why this began.

But my own understanding if their 50 year love affair started much later, as their third generation.

When you lose a grandparent, you don’t just mourn for that person. You mourn for your childhood and your family, and so if you’ll indulge me for a moment…

I grew up a mile and a half from Grandma and Grandpa’s farm. We were fortunate to have ample time there—all four of us, and to see how they worked together to take care of their land.

At home, Grandpa would drink coffee all day, thick with sugar and cream–whittling us spinning tops and teaching us rhymes and riddles from his wooden rocking chair. Heady pipe smoke would curl up from behind his paper, and his glasses would slide down in his nose as he peered over at us.

He taught us about birds and sundogs and weather aphorisms I still believe today. He was patient and kind to us, as even the strictest of parents are, I suppose, once they become grandparents. He showed his lily gardens, pointing out the different varieties, and let us play for hours in the barn while he worked on machinery nearby.

I noted in the obituary that Grandpa worked tirelessly for nearly 60 years, well past the point where it was necessary–or wise–for him to so. His first attempt at retirement failed, and when I asked why, he replied, “Retirement was supposed to have been a joint venture.”

Losing Grandma was heartbreaking, and I don’t believe he was ever the same. And, so, his work continued.

He was stubborn and unyielding, especially in the last years of his life. But that’s likely what saw him through difficult years prior – years that drove other farmers to find far more reasonable and predictive ways to make a living. Thanks to his perseverance, though, the legacy of that farm is a part of each of us.

If Grandma were here, and a million times I’d wished she was, to guide us through tragedies and celebrations of holidays and weddings and babies – if were here today, she would say, “Take good care of each other.”

She’d be so pleased with my Dad and Rose, and Greg, all of whom took exceptional care of my Grandpa, making decisions with his health and his heart in mind, allowing him to live the life he wanted to for as long as absolutely possible. Each step was painful, these last few years, but each difficult decision was made in good care for Grandpa.

And now, he is—at long, long last—truly at rest. I believe they are once again together, taking good care of each other.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rebecca's Mom on November 11, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Such a beautiful tribute! Your grandfather was one of the most hard-working men I have had the privilege to know. Well respected and a friend to all. He scraped up smashed kittens from the highway before you arrived home on the bus, hauled an orphaned calf you named “Sheeba” home to the barn to be bottle-fed when you were three-years old, rescued a box of puppies someone dumped just down the road and thought the world of the two of you. I have the painted spinning tops, which he made from wooden spools (of sewing machine thread) — one for each of you.

  2. It truly is such a lovely tribute, Rebecca. Well written and full of love and admiration.

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