Myron Conrad Knauff
A Life Worth Celebrating, Wisdom Worth Heeding
Now we come to a time for reflecting on a gift from God – a gift known by various names: “Dad, grandpa, Mr. Knauff”; but a gift we’re simply going to call “Myron.”
In a few moments, we’ll to invite some of you to come up and share a “Myron story” with us, but first I’d like to give the broad outline. And to do that, we need to go back to the very beginning, which means going all the way back to 1919. Now 1919 was the year…,
- World War I formally ended with the Paris Peace Conference (although fighting had stopped when an armistice was signed in November of 1918).
- U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was awarded the Noble Peace Prize for his part in establishing the League of Nations, which (along with the conclusion of “The War to End All Wars) was taken as a sign humans were finally ready to live together without fighting.
- Of special interest this year: 1919 was in the middle of a global pandemic far more deadly than COVID 19.
- And since this is a day when we’re also thinking about sports, it’s worth noting that 1919 was when Babe Ruth hit the longest Major League home run (about 580 feet), and super-athlete Jim Thorpe finished his six-year baseball career. However, the Black Sox bribery scandal trumped both as the major sports story of the year.
- All that said, the biggest and happiest news of 1919 – at least in the Miami County, Indiana farm home of Truman and Clora Knauff – was the birth on July 14th of their fourth child, Myron.
Daughter Orpha (OR-fuh) and sons Gerald and Glen joined in welcoming the newest addition to the family, or – as Truman and Clora may have thought of him – the newest farmhand. I say that because Myron’s memories of his childhood were almost all pleasant, but a lot of them revolved around work. Especially when he turned ten and the Great Depression hit, having work was very definitely a good thing.
One of Myron’s earliest memories was the birth of his sister, Orma June, when he was three. But after that, his life revolved around work and school. Before long, he was milking cows, feeding chickens, and driving horses or (better) mules to plow for corn and soy beans. Even with kids to help with labor, the Knauffs almost lost the farm when there wasn’t enough money to pay the whopping 125-dollar-per-year mortgage. Happily, a government program helped prop up their lending agency and the crisis was averted.
At school, Myron was a star student and a star athlete – though he admitted being a star is easier when your high school only has about 50 people. He played baseball and basketball. In 1937, after graduating from Deedsville High School, Myron went to Franklin College, where he again played basketball and baseball. He earned tuition money as a busboy, dish washer and waiter from 5:00 to 8:00 AM and (often) again at night. Wages for his first 18 hours each week were garnished by the college, but anything after that was his to spend. On at least one summer he was also employed as a farm manager. One thing he spent money on was a blind date in 1938 with Miriam Chapin. He was nine months her junior, but she was taken with this hard working, smart, athletic and handsome young man; and agreed to marry him. They tied the knot on December 21, 1941 – about six months after Myron graduated and two weeks after Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Myron took jobs teaching math, physics, and physical education in Chili, Marion, and Deedsville, but it was only a few years until he was drafted. He would serve from October of ‘43 to April of 1946.
Myron’s military career started with training in Pensacola, Florida; then he was assigned to UCLA where the navy wanted him to study meteorology. Always the academic, he excelled; and also found time to play baseball on a team that included future Yankee great, “Golden Boy” Bobby Brown. Myron even fudged his record just a bit to make the team. They already had a first baseman, so he claimed non-existent outfield experience, and ended up starting every game and lettering when it was over. Being on the school team was especially cool for Myron because the navy said players did not have to march.
When his training was done, he was assigned to the Aleutian Islands as a weather forecaster where he helped guard against Japanese attack and produced forecasts that informed allied efforts all over the Pacific.
After he was discharged in 1946, Myron came home to kiss Miriam and to spend time with his first born, Paul, whom he’d only met on a brief leave a year earlier. He also resumed his teaching career, first in Monroe, then in Twelve Mile. He earned a master’s in Education Administration from Ball State then took a job as the principal for grades K through 12 in Hebron.
Myron and the family (which now included three sons: Paul, John and Mark; and a daughter, Mary) stayed in Hebron from 1954 to 1968. He taught math, physics, and physical education and dipped his toe into school administration as an elementary principal when called upon.
He loved pretty much all aspects of education, but sporting programs took first place in his heart. He was proud of winning the occasional sectional against much bigger schools, and even took several Hebron teams to play against Valparaiso. At the time, his players were convinced Valpo was paying off the refs, though Myron tried to explain that Valpo’s victories probably had more to do with their comparatively huge student body.
During all this time, Miriam was a full-time homemaker and part time volunteer (though she had made sewing machines at the Singer factory during the war). But if she did most of the parenting, Myron certainly did his share, mostly by earning money working at school. His children were often mystified that he’d come home, sit to read the paper, and immediately fall asleep in the chair. Only later did they connect the dots and realize he’d been out of the house at 6:00 AM, long before anyone else stirred. The kids also took advantage of their dad’s constant presence in school – never by asking him to show favoritism (if anything, Myron did the opposite), but they did love having access too school facilities like the gym.
What they may not have enjoyed quite so much was the way Myron made sure he taught them his Depression-era work ethic. He saw to it the boys always had work to do: chores like putting up storm windows and mowing, or jobs like paper routes and helping at the drive-in. He was a role model in this regard, often spending what little time off he got during summers as a carpenter.
Myron was also the family’s disciplinarian, if you missed curfew he might very well send the police to pick you up. And if you were on a team, you could count on sitting out the next game, even if you got in five minutes late because you stayed for punch and cookies after a church revival meeting. Arguing it wasn’t fair because some other kid got exactly the same punishment after getting to his house five hours late thanks to an amorous night with his girlfriend on lover’s lane? That did absolutely no good. Rules were rules, especially if your last name was Knauff. (John, I’m looking at you.)
After 14 years in Hebron, Myron and the family came to Valparaiso where he became both the principal for Flint Lake Elementary School and an assistant superintendent. In that latter position, the community soon discovered he had a rare talent for spotting and hiring excellent teachers, teachers who could excel in the classroom and also in leading any of a variety of extracurricular activities where they would be truly a part of students’ lives and passions.
Once (back in Hebron), I’m told, he hired a man who turned out to be an excellent and much-loved teacher, but didn’t have the degree he claimed to have earned. The hundreds of other hires he made in Hebron and Valpo were all good.
In our fair city, Myron quickly learned that any doubts he may have had about the integrity of Valparaiso’s athletic program were unfounded. He became what our local paper calls “The Number One Superfan of Valparaiso Athletics.” Myron pretended he attended as part of his job, but the truth is he just loved supporting young athletes and attended well over 10,000 events: track, baseball, basketball, gymnastics, and more – boys’ teams and girls’. Speaking of girls’ teams, Myron was twice elected to the board of the Indiana High School Athletic Association and proudly helped the state become compliant with Title Nine.
One of his proudest educational achievements centered on his daughter, Mary, who was intellectually challenged. Myron and Miriam had been encouraged to put her in a state hospital for the mentally ill, but only had to visit the best that was available back in the day to realize it was just a hellish kind of holding tank. They returned and helped start the Vale Day School in a Lutheran Church basement. That led to a building at V.U. and eventually morphed into the Self School on Ransom Road. When Mary became an adult, they joined other parents in starting what would become Opportunity Enterprises. Always the aim was educating the handicapped to have as full and productive lives as possible.
In 1985 at age 66, Myron kind of retired. I say “kind of” because he filled in to do whatever his community needed: once, for instance, he was a part time principle. And you can’t run cross country through this community without passing 10 or 11 worthy projects and organizations he had a hand in (before or after “retiring”). During his 24 years on the Center Township Advisory Board, he helped plan and finance one of our fire stations. He was an active leader of First Baptist Church and the Kiwanis Club. He was an important part of the N.E.A., the I.S.T.A. the I.H.S.S.A Council and Board of Control, the Indiana Association of School Superintendents and Principals, Porter County Retired Teachers, the Porter County Conference…; again, if the community needed him, Myron was there.
In 2002, he lost his beloved life partner, Miriam. In 2016 he had to say goodbye to both Mary and his ability to drive. Happily, he went to live in the Pines Village Retirement Community where he was quite popular among the residents, and (of course) something of a leader. He still went to games; still enjoyed his children, 8 grandchildren, and 15 great grandchildren; and he still taught – this time, teaching all of us how to grow old with dignity, humor, faith, and style.
Well, it was a good life, that life. I’ve been talking for 15 minutes and I haven’t touched on the rare vacation to California, Wisconsin, even Hawaii – usually in part to attend a conference of one kind or another (although one trip to Dollywood when he was in a wheelchair was unabashedly just for fun). I didn’t mention his wish that he’d spent time fishing with his kids (though the boys tell me he was always there when needed). I haven’t said anything about his faith life, which included church, prayers at meals and bedtime, and motivated his desire to serve his community a love his wife. I haven’t mentioned his humor or…. well, a lot of things.
On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I’ve touched on enough.
I’d like to end with a few words that Myron might want said on his behalf as part of this time. He was a man of deep faith, passionate convictions, and love for all of you: what would he say?
We’ll get to that in a minute.
For now, though, it’s your turn. Do any of you have a brief “Myron story” you’d like to share? As his oldest son, Paul has agreed to start us off. He’ll not only share some memories, he’ll also model what we’d like you to do, which is: come up to the mike. Give us your name, tell us your relationship to Myron (we’re a small group, most of you know each other but Rev. Jim and I don’t, so – indulge us); and then, share. Paul?
(Paul and others share. When Dave feels we are done:)
There are obviously many more stories we could share, but it’s time for us to move on. As we do, let me invite you to continue this process of passing on wonderful memories in the days, weeks and years to come. For now, though, this:
Myron’s sons and I spent some time asking what he might want said on his behalf at this time. And it DID strike us there was advice he’d want to offer.
As a Depression Baby, he was very good at saving and investing and he might underline something the pandemic has taught us: it’s good to be frugal and put something away for a rainy day.
On the other hand, you just know he’d encourage us to be generous – with our money, but especially with our money and time. He’d invite us to find the joy and satisfaction that comes from community service.
As a lifelong Christian, he’d probably encourage his loved ones to practice the discipline of attending church and praying; but mostly I think he’d want us to find joy in rooting for our fellow human beings (on the playing or off).
I’m positive he’d want me to say “Thank You” to a wide variety of people: to the folks at the Pines who gave him a good end-of-life expereince; to the community that cherished his contributions and the students whose lives he felt privileged to touch; and especially he’d say thank you to his family and friends. We’ve been waxing on about what he did for all of us, but Myron would want us to know that his relationships were the most important things in his life; he was grateful for them and for the love he received. Yeah, I’m sure he’d want me to say, “Thanks.”
And then there’s one last thing. The family and I agree that Myron would encourage everyone who loves him to keep this day in perspective. Tears are sacred and appropriate, of course, but he would remind us: “I had a lot (a LOT!) of years of GOOD health. When the end came, it was painful, but I’m glad it’s over. I thank God I wasn’t forced to linger and that I got to keep at least most of my mind right up until the very end. Picture me now,” Myron might say, “meeting old friends and family members (Miriam and Mary). Imagine me looking for a job to do (though I may check out the heavenly baseball fields first). I now get to join the ‘Great Cloud of Witnesses,’ cheering you on, rooting for you to do the right thing creatively and well. No, don’t feel sorry for me. Instead, live your lives fully; grab all the gusto you can; and love one another. Love God, and God’s children, and God’s church (and if either God’s children or God’s church act a little crazy now and then, know that God, who is always faithful and always dependable, would tell you to love them anyway). And when it comes time for YOU to die, as it has for me, then be sure of this: death is not the end of our story. Praise be to God, because of the love we have seen in Jesus Christ, death is just the start of a whole new chapter.”
…Well, I think that’s SOMETHING like what Myron would tell us. At the very least, I know he would like it if we ended this time of remembrance by revisiting the “table of memory…” A table he sat at countless times in his years as a churchman….
(we will end with communion, prayer, and a benediction)