Renaissance Man

Bob-BeikertMy dad wore size elevens, but the shoes he filled in my life were much bigger. He was a man of faith, a loving husband who sacrificed for his kids, he had an impeccable work ethic, and was remarkably resourceful. He owed much of this to his parents, Andy and Margaret Beikert, who also passed down this legacy to their 19 grandchildren.

Young Bob started going to church three times a week when he was just a tiny baby, as evidenced by his “Cradle Roll” registration at 3 days old. His parents were from large farming families in western PA, a place where they say “you’ns” instead of “ya’ll.” They met at church, married, and had seven children. Bob was the oldest and the only boy. They lived in a 325 square foot house with no indoor plumbing.

My father told me that he grew up greatly impacted by the gospel; his mother faithfully reading Bible stories and praying with him every day. When he was 9 years old he made a public profession of faith by walking down a sawdust aisle in the old tabernacle.

Long before Dave Ramsey was a glimmer in his mother’s eye, young Bob Beikert knew first hand about frugal cash-based living. He was a child of the Great Depression, and it impacted him for life. As a 15 year old he toiled beside his father to build the family a bigger home – it took 3 years because everything was paid for with cash. In the process, Bob learned how to cut trees for lumber, and to plumb, wire, and drywall – skills he was using right up to the end of his life.

My dad was the first in his family to go to college. He worked hard for a year and a half to save up, and his paychecks also bought my grandparents a new stove, chime clock, cabinet radio and a heavy brass floor lamp that’s still in my parents’ living room. He drove off to college in a brand new ‘49 Ford paid for in cash – $1795. That’s where he met my mother. They were married in 1952 and lived on a meager $35/week, supplemented by Dad’s resourceful trolling of country roads to scavenge discarded soda bottles and cash them in for 2 cents each.

I remember him being able to sew. And his popcorn, cooked to perfection the old fashioned way, in a pan on the stove with hot oil, making a huge racket as he shuffled the pot back and forth on the burner.

But my all time favorite (read: diet downfall) has always been Dad’s homemade chocolate sauce. I’ve passed the recipe on to my kids who agree it’s the best. As a matter of fact, we had some just last night, over my sister’s peanut butter pie…Cocoa, real butter, evaporated milk, sugar, and vanilla. Simple ingredients, and Heavenly!

And speaking of food…there was never a meal at the Beikert table that didn’t start out with a prayer of thankfulness for the Lord’s provision. I have tender memories of my Dad leading a prayer over his hospital dinner tray just a few days before he passed.

Bob Beikert had a real heart for helping and serving others. There was no job too intimidating or complicated that a hammer, screwdriver, can of WD40 and some determination couldn’t repair. He was known as a fix-it whiz with a knack to repair literally anything – and if he didn’t know what to do, he would figure it out. How he did that without Google I’ll never understand…

Early in their married life, my Dad bought a ‘53 Buick that had been totaled. He outbid the junk dealer by a dollar, fixed it up into a shining thing of beauty to tote his bride around, and sold it a couple years later for a nice profit.

I remember more than once, waking him up minutes before the school bus came (he wasn’t exactly a morning person) to fix one of my shoe buckles.

Years before people were posting on Pinterest, Dad found great joy in repurposing furniture. Once, he snagged an old recliner thrown out to the curb by a neighbor and snuck it into the shed to transform into a gift for our mom. He took my treasured pottery shattered into a hundred pieces and painstakingly put it back together again.

Dad’s retirement consisted of long days of painting and wallpapering as a self-employed handyman, and getting fussed at by my mom and us kids for climbing up way-too-high ladders to do things a 75 year old man had no business doing.

In 1963, my courageous dad packed up and moved his three little girls and an extremely pregnant wife halfway around the world to the Philippines where driving was…an adventure. He never really got used to the random, totally unorganized free for all that passed for driving etiquette in Manila – a place where stop signs were merely suggestions.

If I had a peso for every time I heard my dad say, “Where’d you get your license? In a Cracker Jack box?”, I would be a rich woman. (I can neither confirm nor deny that he may or may not have occasionally shouted that out the window, much to the chagrin of my Mom and the silent cheers of us kids.)

Dad was business manager for the ABWE mission in the Philippines, so he had to navigate the crazy cross-town traffic every day, traveling between our house and his office or the bank. He was known to carry a million pesos in his briefcase, after he’d cashed a large check wired in from the States for the other missionaries’ monthly funds. Sometimes he carried cash in the bottom of his shoes when he rode on public transportation.

He raised chickens in our garage, got my little brother monkeys for pets, and miraculously resurrected an above ground swimming pool from another missionary after it had been smashed to bits in a typhoon. He salvaged the pieces and finagled a bit of resizing in order to put it up in our back yard – it hosted many happy hours of swimming and a couple of church baptisms as well.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are the stories Dad told when he tucked us in at night. Every night we begged for “just one more Sammy story.” We could never get enough! Across the Pacific Ocean, halfway around the world in a strange, hot, humid, dirty, noisy and exciting new place, Dad’s stories helped to make our new home feel wonderful and safe and connected us with familiar things left behind in the States.

It was only years later that I realized “Sammy” was my father, as a boy. The stories of Sammy on the farm were memories of his boyhood in the 1930s. Bob Beikert was not a man of many words or easily expressed feelings, but through the medium of storytelling he found a wonderful way to share his childhood with his kids.

He also had a unique sense of humor – it was dry, for sure – often going completely over the heads of people that didn’t know him that well.

When Dad was admitted to the hospital this past January 9th and then transferred to skilled nursing care, the drugs they were giving him for pain were really messing with his ability to process exactly what was going on. It was, quite honestly, a very difficult and emotional transfer. But I knew things were beginning to normalize when a tech walked past his room with a very large container of what they call “output” in nurse-talk, and Dad looked at me and said, “man, that really makes me thirsty.”

Dad was not a gregarious extrovert, but every church he and my mom attended found him at the front doors on Sunday morning, greeting visitors and welcoming them with a friendly handshake. He loved sharing his faith with strangers, neighbors, grandchildren, and friends. He was truly a modern day Renaissance man.

My father passed away on January 26, 2015 at 4:46 in the afternoon. We were at his side when he took his final breath and peacefully stepped beyond the veil. This post is based on the eulogy I shared at a memorial service where we gathered to honor him and celebrate his life. You can read his obituary here.


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