Friendship Defines a Life Well Lived

Written by Laurie Halladay on February 14, 2013

Dick Vollrath was a great friend in life. . .and death

They say most people would like to know that their time on earth made a difference.

That is definitely true of my dad’s best friend, Dick, who died just before Christmas last year at the age of 92.

I kind of suspect God kept him on earth so long since he did so much good in his quiet, unassuming way.

His equally generous and caring wife of more than 60 years shared her life with him. They raised a family that spread across the country, but was brought together every Saturday night for the weekly family email from Dick.

While there are many family stories, I knew Dick as a role model for friendship.

Dick moved to our hometown after I left for college. He used to say that my parents took them under their wing and made them feel welcome, but I could see that Dick brought much joy to my dad’s life, too.

Laurie’s father, A.J. “Baer” Kohler

Dad had a golf buddy, someone to play bridge with at the local men’s club, a fellow Lutheran, and a sports fan to share his passion for University of Michigan football games.

I kept hearing about “Vollrath.” I can’t count the times my dad would say, “I have to call Vollrath.”

The two organized Fourth of July golf outings and picnics for their circle of friends, joined the group for Wednesday dinners at the country club, had their Kentucky Derby parties and bets through the years, and Friday night dinners with widowers–Harold and Bill–at their favorite restaurant.

In the autumn, on Saturday afternoons the four of them would gather in Ann Arbor for tailgating and football games at “the big house.” The Michigan-Ohio State game was a tradition they shared for years. Those were the good times.

But, a true friend is there when the chips are down. When my mom had surgery, Dick showed up in the waiting room to keep my dad company and to be with him when the diagnosis was cancer.

Dick was the one to pick me up at the airport and help my dad organize my surprise visit for my mom’s 87th birthday.

When my parents couldn’t get back to Michigan for health reasons, Dick and Jody came to Florida to cheer them up. I know my dad made frequent calls to Dick during that difficult time when he was in a wheel chair.

Dick was there to pick us up when we returned to bury my mom. He attended to all of my dad’s needs–listening when my dad needed to talk, or sitting quietly with him as both of them mourned. He was the rock.

My dad returned to Florida with me, but Dick was still a big part of his life.

When the end came, and my dad had to make the decision to continue treatment or accept hospice, he had me get Dick on the phone.

I left the hospital room as they talked, and have no idea what they said. The next day, my dad told me he wanted hospice care.

I followed my dad’s wishes for visitation and a big church funeral. As an only child, I didn’t have a lot of close relatives. But, I did have the Vollraths who stood with me at the funeral home.

When I didn’t know how I could walk up the aisle following my dad’s casket, it was Dick who gently supported my elbow.

He continued to “visit” dad at the cemetery which wasn’t too far from his house. He would drive by our family home, and send photos of the floral arrangements I ordered for the grave.

Through the years, I kept in touch with Dick and Jody. We tried to keep some of the traditions alive like the horse-racing bets and cards for special occasions.

On the few times I came back to Michigan, one of my first stops was at the Vollraths.

Age was catching up with them, but they wanted to stay in their home. They had helped so many others in their circle of friends, but when their own health problems arose, they were reluctant to accept help from others.

I wanted to be there to do my part.

But things have a strange way of working out. My best hometown friend, Nancy, and her husband, Bob, were deacons at the Vollrath’s church. They had an opportunity to “adopt” the Vollraths as part of a church-outreach program. Nancy kept me in the loop, and I saw that she was doing for Dick and Jody what I had not been able to.

I heard from Jody how much Dick loved talking golf with Bob and how much Nancy was helping. The four of them were bonding and the Vollraths were accepting their help.

My best friend helping my dad’s best friend. . .something about going full circle.

When I saw the email from Bob and Nancy last December 21 with the subject line of “Dick Vollrath,” I began to tear up knowing what it would say.

I called Nancy, and together we cried and shared our memories of a great man and friend.

I want to think that my dad and Dick are together again. And I know they are because friendships like theirs do go on forever.