by Philip E. Repko

I paid respects to the family of a great man this week, joining a long reception line that included a Who’s Who of the little town’s ‘royalty’ over the last half-century. Unfortunately, I have had the chance to do the bereavement trudge far too many times over the past few years. I suppose, in a rational moment, I can accept the reality that saying good-bye to important people, more frequently as the years pass, is simply inevitable. I think I can also make peace with the understanding that as I get older, the frequency will increase.

In the past few years, we in the Boyertown area have suffered the loss of some incredibly important people. Very recently, the community mourned the passing of Charles Haddad, one of those people who dedicated himself to the community for a lifetime. Mr. Haddad lived a life of service, contributing to Build a Better Boyertown, the Carl Spaatz Museum, the preservation of the State Theater, and myriad other signature community programs. What made Mr. Haddad’s commitment different and special, among many other things, was his willingness to take a leadership role in the community organizations that spearheaded all these programs and more.

Charles Haddad; photo by Amy Muzopappa.

About a year ago, the community also endured the passing of a favorite daughter, Marianne Deery. Marianne was quite literally the mayor of Boyertown for about 20 years, and an ambassador for the little town in her role as proprietor of The Twin Turrets, an Inn and bed and breakfast that lent a distinct sort of class to downtown. She started her life of love, service, and friendliness as a member of Borough Council, and maintained a leadership role, like Mr. Haddad, in some of the programs of which Boyertown can be most proud.

Marianne Deery (center); photo by Jane Stahl.

The most recent loss affected the community in a different way, as coach and teacher, Mr. Bob Hillegas, passed away just a few weeks ago.

These three represent the best of this little town and community. Both Mr. Haddad and Mrs. Deery were prominent members of the municipal component of the town, while Coach Hill was an integral part of the school community, and as a coach, the athletics programs which have served the youth for generations.

What occurred to me in this instance, however, is that a lesson can be delivered and imbibed through this ritual. We all know that funerals are for the living. We sense that offering consolation to the family and friends of the one who has passed is really a life-affirming action. The guests essentially serve as witnesses. In brief, self-conscious, or heartfelt snippets of conversation, they remind the bereaved of what the life of this one person meant to them. The ceremony provides a type of validation; tallying all the ways that one person has touched the lives of so many others. This provides one measure of the value of a life.

You see, philosophers and poets have repeatedly reminded us that our imprint on the world will likely be faint and ephemeral. Wordsworth told us that all the “little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love” constitute the best portion of a man’s life. However, what I think I have learned recently is important. The little acts are neither little nor unremembered. Moreover, these are not the best portion of a man’s or a woman’s life.

I think these acts are profound, and their effect is exponential. Their impact and influence will linger in the values, actions, and beliefs that our heirs and assigns will likely pass on to their heirs and assigns. I do not make light of grand gestures or celebrated accomplishments. Even those who make the greatest art, or build the most magnificent buildings will have a shelf life that is regularly short. In most cases, the tremendous achievement will outlive the man or woman.

Of course, the Caesars and the Shakespeares will last for a millennium or two, but there simply aren’t so many who will be able to climb to such a pedestal. Thus, the measure of a man or woman ought to be viewed primarily by the affect they have had on their peers. All the little stories that are shared in the receiving lines are the ones that add up to greatness. The message that is delivered, over and over, throughout the process, is to tell the survivors how often and how monumentally the deceased left his or her mark on the world.

This realization has captured my attention for a few reasons. I played a game of “what if” with myself as I watched the parade of people make their way through the visitation line. What if we forget to employ an accurate gauge to measure our contributions? What if the things we should be aspiring to are quieter and more subdued than we usually imagine? What if we all need to completely rethink what it means to plan and shape our lives, to pursue paths that will meet our needs?

"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another. There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up." -- British writer Charles Dickens 

I watched a generation of Boyertown people deliver their testimony. They all paid tribute to someone I think was a great man. I did not attend the funerals of Mr. Haddad, or Mrs. Deery. However, I did speak with people who did attend. The litany of stories weave a magic spell as they try to do justice to the lasting value of these wonderful people.

Bob certainly earned the accolades that are commonly recognized: he won championships and was inducted into Halls of Fame. He deserved all of those. Yet eavesdropping on the conversations in the line around me - when my circle wasn’t one of the ones reminiscing – those accomplishments were not the ones being lauded. If the conversations are to be given fair weight and measure, the most important thing we can do is to act as a shoulder, a pillar, a cheerleader, a model, or an inspiration for others. 

Robert Hillegas with Boyertown Area Senior High football team; photo from Facebook.

Setting goals, making money, earning distinctions, building businesses and careers – all of these things are worthy and important, of course. Without our establishment of mountains to climb or oceans to cross, we will certainly fall short of becoming our best selves. The most important things are not ones we can easily measure at all. Rather, the way we conduct ourselves in pursuit of those objectives – even the ones where we fail – is far more important, and certainly more indicative of our contribution.

There is a saying that all politics is local. I have come to believe that the only valuable measure of an individual is also local. We can take some satisfaction in our lives, and the quality of our efforts ONLY through the eyes of those we loved, or those who truly loved us. Public opinion on a global scale is meaningless. Community opinion is everything.

In the very recent past, the Boyertown Community can chronicle the passing of some remarkably important people. Marianne Deery, Charles Haddad, and Bob Hillegas and a few others operated in very different circles of the Boyertown community. They have in common the truth that their respective greatness can be weighed through the impact of relationships they formed, and the culture that they helped to create. Because of their simple execution of love, kindness, consideration, and loyalty in and around the town they served, they are perfect illustrations of a life well-lived.

Perhaps every generation in every small town can boast of people who rose above the rest to form lasting and truly impressive relationships with the members of that same group. Such a fact does not diminish in any way the greatness of any one of those mentioned. Instead, I think I have learned that it is far more important for the rest of us to try to act similarly. Show everyone you meet, and especially those you serve that your values are pure, and impregnable, and dedicated to the welfare and well-being of others.

Perhaps this is too heavily philosophical. If so, I will accept responsibility and critique. I simply have come to believe that we need to catalog our successes and failures by only one measure: how well has our example served to lift, inspire, support, console, or validate other people. We are right to try to make a mark or contribution to the world, but that world may be comprised of only our immediate family, or just our team, or our classroom.

The goal, then, is to stand as a pillar to your village, your town, your coworkers. If your constitution is not to be such a weight-bearing component, then serve as the welcome committee. Assume a role as the one who champions causes, or be the voice of music and celebration. Be a difference maker by helping others to make a difference. When the tallying is completed, the personal and individual gifts will be the only measures that really matter.

[A 1979 graduate of Boyertown Area Senior High, Philip Repko returned to BASH to teach English for many years. In 2007, he left to become an assistant principal in the Daniel Boone School District, and following that he served as the principal of the Most Blessed Sacrament school in Bally. Most recently, he has retired from Saint Mary Catholic School in Schwenksville where he also was the principal. Now taking on a new challenge, he plans to retire for the fourth and final time in 2026. In his spare time, he writes.]

More News from Boyertown
I'm interested
I disagree with this
This is unverified