These are a few personal recollections of my father-in-law, Rodney Lansaw (1922-2008), and some brief highlights of his life story. Rodney was born on January 14, 1922, in Breathitt County, Kentucky. He would have been 100 years old today. I invite and encourage friends and family to share a word or two about Rodney in the Comments below.
I started dating David Lansaw 30 years ago in 1992. Things were a lot different in those days, particularly in places like rural Indiana. But when I went to meet David’s family for the first time in Churubusco I felt immediate acceptance. I recall in particular that David’s niece, Taunya, embraced me especially and did everything possible to help me feel welcome. I also felt very welcomed by David’s parents as well.
My parents are both gone now. Janice and Rodney became my second parents. My Dad died in 1998, ten years before Rodney, and Janice remains my mother to this day. She’s now 95 years young! We visit her as often as life and COVID permit.
Rodney was a character! He had a quiet sense of humor and a distinct twinkle in his eye. He’d drop a line and smile in his special way. I always enjoyed the time I spent with him.
But he could be stubborn too. Janice and Rodney had one of those big floor model color TVs, a rather substantial piece of furniture. Janice still does now! After a while the TV was wearing out and eventually everything was green. The trees, sky, people, everything. We tried adjusting it for a while but it proved futile. “Rodney, you need a new TV” we kept saying. He wouldn’t hear it. He insisted the TV was fine. I’m not sure what finally changed his mind. Maybe we just wore him down, but eventually he replaced it with the TV Janice has today. I don’t recall hm ever really acknowledging the new TV was better.
I shot this short video in the mid-2000s as we sat in the dining room at David’s parents’ home. Rodney was slicing fruit for a salad. I love this clip because it captures perfectly his quiet sense of humor. I also enjoy Janice in the background with her watchful eye!
I recall that about the time David and I first started dating, before I’d met the family, Rodney and Janice were downsizing and selling their home in Huntertown where David grew up. It was a large property with a barn. Rodney had a tractor and other equipment they had to auction off. As I recall the story, it broke Rodney’s heart to part with that tractor. David later bought him a John Deere plaque that still hangs on the wall today.
Although Rodney gave up the tractor he kept his beloved fishing boat. I remember it well, though we never went fishing together. Not my cup of tea!
Rodney went through an accident-prone period, though thankfully nothing serious. One time David and I arrived to visit and found a note on the door. Everyone was at the Emergency Room. Rodney had sliced open his hand on a table saw.
The Magic Wand
Rodney’s favorite hangout was a place I really love too: The Magic Wand. He’d go up there a few times a day to get a cup coffee and chat with locals and the waitresses. I love the place for the greasy food I shouldn’t eat and vanilla malts (with extra malt, please). “Magic Wand” itself is a bit of a misnomer, though. Every square inch of the inside decor features clowns and clown memorabilia . I would expect something more magic oriented, but no matter. It’s a favorite!
50Th Wedding Anniversary
Another fond memory is Rodney & Janice’s 50th Wedding Anniversary. Friends and family crowded into a hall in the business district of their small town. David’s ex, Bob Pence, served as the photographer. It was a great time.
Several times over the years David and I have gathered up available family members for trips north to vacation along Lake Michigan. We stayed in cottages by the lake and visited places like South Haven, Grand Haven and Saugatuck. These were great times and a terrific area for antique shops!
I mentioned antique shops and have to make aside here. In 2008 we found one place near South Haven that not only had antiques inside, but also a number smaller buildings and sheds all stuffed with things. It was a large property with lots of trees and there were items scattered all around the grounds. You could spend hours looking around. I found two toys that I could swear I had played with as a child. It was if the exact objects I’d owned had somehow made their way from Cleveland to find me decades later. I regret to this day that I didn’t buy them. Curiously David’s family had the same experience. They found this violin that looked exactly like one they had owned. Exactly. To this day David is convinced, but they didn’t buy the violin either.
Service in World War II
For a long time this was the side of Rodney that I knew and loved. But there’s more which he rarely spoke of: his service in World War II. It’s something he and I never talked about. I can only imagine that it was just too dark and difficult.
Rodney served in the 79th Infantry Division during the war. He was severely injured in France and was awarded the Purple Heart.
He participated in the Normandy Invasion in France in June 1944 where he landed at Utah Beach. Later in Cherbourg, France, he and his comrades took cover in a building to escape sniper fire. The Germans then bombarded the building and it collapsed. About 50 soldiers were in the building when the Germans hit it. Rodney was among just 3 or 4 who survived but he was gravely wounded.
It was an arduous recovery under care on a hospital ship for several months. He developed an infection that almost took his leg. His body was full of shrapnel, some of which was never removed and periodically bothered him the rest of his life.
I can’t imagine what that experience must have been like, except that it had to have been truly life changing.
David has been doing calendars for his family for years and has assembled quite a collection of scanned photographs. These are among the best with Rodney. I’ve enhanced these and other pictures throughout this post with special software that sharpens and clarifies. These are the best versions available. You can click on any photo to open a slide show.
Rodney got along well, but he had diabetes and of course there was the shrapnel still in his body. He fell ill in 2008 and was hospitalized. David and I got word that we needed to come to Ft. Wayne. The Lansaws are a huge extended family. We all took up residence in the hospital waiting room keeping vigil. The hospital staff was wonderfully accommodating.
The day Rodney died I was due back in Cleveland for 6:00 AM flight the next day. I had a work commitment in Washington that I had previously missed when my mother died and I couldn’t miss it a second time. I held back in Ft. Wayne until the last possible moment. I finally had to leave. David called me just as I arrived back in Cleveland to tell me that Rodney had passed.
When he died at age 86 there were maybe 20 people or more crammed into Rodney’s tiny hospital room. Frankly I can’t think of a more moving tribute that reflects the quality of the man and what he meant to everyone. We all felt we had to be there with him.
As I’ve said, Rodney was my second Dad. I loved him and miss him. Happy 100th Birthday!
On Saturday, January 15, my husband David posted the following on Facebook about his Dad.
My family is celebrating a milestone this weekend. Yesterday marked what would have been my dad’s 100th birthday, he passed away almost 14 years ago in February, 2008.
He was born in 1922 in Breathitt County Kentucky, tobacco and coal country. He was one of 12 children. He served in the Army in WW II and was severely wounded in 1944 during the invasion of France. After some recovery time he returned home and married my mother, Janice. Together they had 5 children and somehow managed to keep the family in one piece. They must have done something right because we all grew up to have good lives. My mom is still with us at 95 years old.
Family was important to Dad. For his entire life he kept close ties with all of his brothers and sisters. Weekends meant visiting with family, or spending time with his kids at home. Vacations usually meant a road trip to visit our Kentucky relatives. When the grandkids starting coming Dad turned into a classic grandpa. He doted on his grandkids, even though he didn’t always remember their names. And there were a lot to remember — 12 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren, 5 great-great grandchildren.
When he had some leisure time, Dad loved to fish. Catching fish was not his specialty, he never caught that many. He just loved to sit for hours on a boat or a dock and wait. Sometimes, the fish showed up and sometimes they didn’t, but he didn’t seem to care. He just enjoyed the experience and not catching anything gave him all the more reason to go out a week or two later and try again.
Time gets away from you. I remember when I thought my dad was immortal, that he would never die. Now it’s hard to believe that he’s been gone so long. You know, birthdays are life’s gentle reminders that we only pass this way once. Life doesn’t give us do-overs. How you behave in each moment determines how the people you leave behind will remember you.
David included several photograghs that I didn’t use in my post above. As with all the photos throughout this post, these have been enhanced with software that sharpens and clarifies detail. You can click any photo to open a slide show.
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