Wednesday, November 22, 2006

November 22, 2006
It was on this day in 1963 that Charlie Waters and I left Mohave County High School during lunch hour to go get my drum set at my parent's house on Ricca Drive. We were going to be playing for a dance that night in the Girl's Gym. I stopped at my dad's Phillip 66 gas station on Hilltop and he came out to the car and said, "The president's been shot." Needless to say, the dance was cancelled and America turned a dark corner. And speaking of Charlie, as promised, here's his eulogy to his sister, Sara Ann, which he gave yesterday at the funeral in Kingman:

The Teacher's Lessons: A Eulogy for Sara Ann Hargrove

By Charlie Waters, her brother

So what do you say about a sister who as a toddler wished upon a star for a little brother who turned out to be you . . .

Who as a pre-teen was your dance partner at 721 Gold Street in Kingman, trying to copy all the moves we saw on American Bandstand . . .

Who set academic and leadership standards that while making you proud, you knew you could never live up to. It would only be later that you realized and accepted how hard she had worked to achieve such . . .

Who showed you the ropes in college and just smiled when you returned her car on Sunday night with an empty gas tank . . .

Who 33 years ago worked for you as a reporter at the Mohave Valley News for $100 a week even though she knew more than you did and had already taught school for five years . . .

Whose passion for children and learning and the English language and literature and theater and family and friends and all things good were a beacon to thousands of students, many who kept in touch even years later and whose hearts, like her family and friends, now have an unfillable void . . .

Whose selflessness knew no boundaries, and who underestimated and downplayed her importance and her own beauty, both inside and out.

I guess that about all you can say is . . . "That was Sara" . . . and "Thank you" . . . and "Lordy, I am going to miss her."

Dan asked me to deliver a euglogy to my sister . . . and his beloved wife of 39 years . . . soon after I got to Bullhead City on Friday morning. I have thought of little else since. For those gathered here today to celebrate her life and mourn our loss, I want to do her life justice. But also, like one of her students, I didn't and don't want to disappoint Mrs. Hargrove.

At least for some of you, those who got to know her later in life and those too young to have shared the stories, a bit of our family's heritage will give you some knowledge about what Sara came from. (Yes, Mrs. Hargrove, I know that I am not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition.)

One great grandfather, many times removed, was a captain and surgeon in George Washington's army. A hundred years later, another was a U.S. Calvary officer who once served under General Custer. Our grandfather . . . and my namesake . . . was a Wobbly miner and union secretary who fled Colorado after the Ludlow Massacre and later became general manager of the Tom Reed mine in Oatman.

He also was a state senator from Mohave County and wrote Arizona's first workers' compensation bill. He died when our father was just 10, and the man we knew as our grandfather . . . John Putnam, my brother's namesake . . . was a gentle soul whose demeanor and wiry frame belied his background. He was a muleskinner at age 13, driving a freight wagon from Chloride to Wickenburg to earn a living. He walked from Tucson to El Centro, California, to get a job as a young man, and later was deputy sheriff and the only lawman to keep the peace in Oatman when it had thousands . . . yes, thousands . . . of rollicking hard-rock miners. And he didn't wear a gun. As our father recalled, "Nobody messed with John Putnam."

Our Dad was an award-winning writer and passionate reader who is a member of the Arizona Newspaper Hall of Fame; our mother an all-star basketball player and softball player who went on to set records in track and field at what is now Arizona State University. Her father was offered a chance to play major-league baseball in the early 1900s but had to decline it because it didn't pay enough to support his family. Oh, how times have changed.

I share this with you not to brag or in an attempt to elevate our forbearers in your eyes. Our family tree, like most, certainly has its share of 'ner-do-wells and poseurs hanging from its branches.
I write and tell you this . . . particularly to our family . . . simply because Sara's life and achievements, in a much different but maybe more significant way, have elevated our lineage.

When Jill and Michael, and Rylee and Ryan, and their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren tell the young ones where and what they came from, Sara will stand tall. How could she not?

They can tell the story of a young woman who loved to learn, loved to dance, loved to help and please others; a magnet people were drawn to because of her commitment and leadership and strong moral fiber. They can tell of their ancestor who became her high school's first female student body president, well ahead of her time and the women's movement, and who led by example and inclusion.

They can tell of a wife and mother always there for them, who embraced her principles and always . . . always . . . put herself last. She could be strict, at times even stern, but no one could miss what the Greeks called "agape" . . . her unconditional love.

They can tell of the great teacher on the family tree, of her passion for literature and writing and words and knowledge, of her willingness, even eagerness to get involved with her students inside and outside of school.
For if she didn't believe in them, who would?

They can tell of the March 2006 day, when Sara first became so sick, when paramedics argued about who would be on the ambulance that might transport their friend and former teacher to a Las Vegas hospital.

They can tell of November 17, 2006, when a 1,700-student high school, where she had taught for 24 years, closed its doors and sent its students and teachers home upon learning of her death. School officials would later say they had not informed students that Mrs. Hargrove had died because she was so beloved they feared they couldn't fill the need for grief counselors.

In a story in Sunday's Mohave Valley Daily News, David Heath and Deanna Long may have best described what she has meant to those students.

Heath said that, looking back, she was the one teacher who really cared about him: "She pulled out the creative side of me. She made me more expressive. I was really an introvert in high school and she made me more comfortable with putting my feelings and emotions into my writing. I have carried that with me ever since."

Long, who now lives in Texas, says simply that Sara changed her life and those of many others: "She was an amazing woman, especially for the kids who were not on the right track. . . . She stuck by my side through thick and thin."
At a memorial service that is planned for next week at the school, I am sure that faculty and students will have the chance to say what Mrs. Hargrove meant to them. For the next few minutes, however, I would like to share what our Sara has meant to her family and friends and what I believe she would want us to take from her life and her passing.

Sara Ann Waters was the product of a great love affair that began when two unlikely sweethearts met at Bisbee High School. Arizona native Dick Waters at first made fun of the new girl’s Southern drawl. Martha Dean Lucas and her family had moved to Bisbee for her mother's health and the prospect of jobs at the Phelps Dodge copper mine there.

Love blossomed, but after graduation World War II also called. Still, they married and on October 22, 1944, that union produced a baby girl.

Years later . . . and two days before Sara and Dan would marry . . . our father wrote about her in his "People, Places & Things" column in the Mohave County Miner: "First of all, Sara was supposed to be a boy. I lost a lot of money to fellow Air Force officers when she was born. But I've always been glad because I would have never wanted her any other way than as God gave her to us.

"After a brief glimpse of her as a baby, my first recollection is of stepping off a train in Bisbee Junction at the war's end to meet a little blond-headed doll with the biggest smile I had ever seen. Wrapped in a white sweater and red pleated skirt, she was a real sight to behold at the age of 16 months."

Our sister Julie, who has been the rock of our family for many years and a Godsend to Sara and all of us the past few months, says that Sara has always underestimated her own beauty. Says Julie: "I remember as a little girl laying on Sara's bed as she got ready to go out to a formal dance. She was wearing a white, strapless formal and clear plastic shoes and her toenails were painted red. I remember thinking that I would never be as beautiful as she was."

Lest you think this just the vision filtered through the love of family, our Mom recently received a letter from a man who was our neighbor as a boy. Among other things, he said that he always thought Sara was the prettiest girl in high school.

And though Jill and Michael . . . and many of Sara's students . . . may have a hard time believing this about their mother or their teacher, she also was one of the "coolest." Her family was respected, but not well off financially. She didn't smoke, didn't drink, didn't do drugs, didn't wear flashy or revealing clothes, didn't look down on people or attempt to elevate herself at others' expense. But she oozed confidence and cool.

Our brother John remembers her as being the total package: "She was smart and she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. She was a cheerleader, a lifeguard at the swimming pool and she had been on American Bandstand. One of her boyfriend's had a '57 Chevy. How much cooler can you get?"

Well, you can also be a curious and committed student. In 8th grade, she was runner-up for the County Spelling Bee, losing to Barbara Hull, who would go on to become state champion and compete in the National Spelling Bee. In high school, she was an "A" student in difficult classes, a member of the National Honor Society, and still found time to be a Candy Striper and participate in numerous clubs.

She was a tough act to follow. While I was no slouch in school, I don't know how many teachers told me that I would never measure up to Sara. Years later, Julie and Johnny would hear much the same.

When she left for the University of Arizona, 721 Gold Street had a void as big as a Florida sinkhole. John, only 8 years old at the time, was particularly devastated: "Sara was my pal. She had babysat me. I didn't know what I would do without her." On her visits home or our trips to see her in Tucson, little Johnny would cling to her.

Forty-five years later, granddaughter Rylee became Nana Sara’s shadow. And many more of us now are wondering: What are we going to do without her?

Sara would continue to distinguish herself in college, where she majored in German. She was elected vice president of Associated Women Students and named to Who's Who on American College Campuses.

Her presence and legacy at the University of Arizona, where she was a senior and then a graduate teacher during my first two years there, was a blessing and a curse for me.

I had hoped to escape the comparisons when I went to the U of A as there were more students in the freshmen class than there were people in Mohave County in the mid 1960s. But as the teacher took attendance at my very first class, he stopped after calling my name. "You aren't related to Sara Waters, are you?" he asked. When I nodded yes, he said something about having big shoes to fill.

So much for my precious anonymity.

A year later, as I was doing my best to flunk out of school, she would have a roll in a situation that would change my direction and my life.

The dean of Liberal Arts had written Dad that I was in grave danger academically. When he and Mom called Sara to see if she knew what was causing the nosedive, she casually mentioned that the band Bob Boze Bell and I had was playing nightly at a topless bar and that maybe I didn't have enough time for my school work. I like to call that my "American Pie" moment . . . or the day the music died.

I gave up my calling as a mediocre rock 'n roll guitarist, found journalism the next semester and buckled down. Years later, Dad confided that although he was willing to let me sink or swim on the grades issue . . . I could either get it together or be drafted in the military, where he said he had grown up. But the topless bar was over the top. "When your Mom heard that," he said, "I had to act."

At other times, Sara or her presence was a saving grace. She once told a student ROTC officer who wanted to date her that he didn't have a chance unless he quit hassling her younger brother at drill. All of a sudden, he was very nice to me.
And I was certain to be voted out of the fraternity I had pledged had two active members who were her friends not threatened the two prospective black-ballers, telling them that they were "not going to do that to Sara Waters' little brother."

I tell these stories not just because they give me comfort, but also because I think they shed light on something else special about our sister: It was not only what she said and did that had an impact: It was her goodness and her very presence that brought out the best in others. It is a rare and wonderful trait.

While there was no shortage of boyfriends or dates for Sara, I don't recall any serious romances the first year and a-half we were together at the university. That would all change on New Year's Eve of 1966. Theron Hargrove, her high school classmate, set up a blind date between Sara and his older brother, Dan.

I remember it well as it also happened to be the very last performance of our band, "The Exits," at private party at Lake Mohave Resort. Mom and Dad were spending the night at the lake as guests of Ham and Althea Pratt, and for some reason Sara and I would be the only kids home. When I rolled in about 3 a.m., I was flabbergasted that Sara wasn’t there yet. I was the one who kept bad hours. She was never out late . . . ever.

When she asked the next day if Dan could come over and when we saw the look on her face when he was there, it didn't take a PhD to see the chemistry. A couple of times the next semester, I drove with her to El Paso, where he worked at the nearby White Sands Missile Range, to see him. They married June 24, 1967, and settled in El Paso. Dan would later say that he knew he would ask her to marry him an hour into that very first date.

Sara taught for a year in Texas before they moved to Scottsdale so Dan could attend Arizona State. Times were tough. Frau Hargrove taught German and Dan worked in an underwear factory and odd jobs to try to make ends meet. Upon his graduation four years later, they moved to Bullhead City and bought the home at Chaparral Country Club they would later remodel and expand.

Dan worked for Holiday Shores and Sara worked for me at the Mohave Valley News, then the smallest circulation weekly newspaper in the state. Money was tight for both families and we often ate dinner together.

Pork and bean sandwiches were a favorite . . . you have never lived until you have tried one, but I suggest that you be really hungry. Or we dined on Kraft macaroni and cheese . . . eight boxes for a dollar, on sale at Best Buy Foods, thank you . . . or trout or striped bass we had caught or been given.

She and Dan badly wanted children and, finally, along came Jill. Then Michael. Sara kept her column, Rollin' on the River, in the newspaper and found some part-time things, but mainly was a stay-at-home mother. She would return to the classroom, this time as an English teacher, when Michael started school.

Others will have to tell you about Sara's prowess as a teacher. I only know what I have been told in the past years and days by fellow teachers and one-time students. She was tough, but fair. She challenged her students to be more than they thought they could be. She loved the language and literature and wanted them to appreciate both, too. She cared about them; she was there for them . . . inside and outside of school: cheerleading sponsor for 10 years; Interact Club adviser for 22. The Bullhead City Rotary Club took the unique step of making her a Paul Harris International Fellow because of her work with the latter.

She took great pride that when she first became so ill, she had 180 days of unused sick leave. In sports, they call such a person a "gamer" . . . someone who plays hurt. Through radiation and chemotherapy, she struggled but most days got to school.

Sara loved the fact that she was now teaching the children of some of her former students. And when my wife Linda and I visited her in Bullhead City the Saturday before she died, I asked if she read the comic strip "Zits."
"I love it," she said. "And I need to read it. Those are my kids."

Her "real" kids, however, were Jill and Michael. No parent has ever been more committed . . . you didn't get between that momma and her cubs. She reveled in their successes and wept with them in their failures. She introduced young Rylee to live theater. And she was looking forward to getting to know infant grandson Ryan Michael Hargrove, born just two weeks before her death.

Even knowing the precariousness of her health, Sara eagerly was working with Dan on another remodeling of their home . . . a new kitchen, wood flooring and all of the trimmings.

And her biggest concern as she faced an uncertain, frightening future? It was so typically Sara . . . What would happen to Dan?

In 39-plus years of marriage, they spent very few days apart. They were a team---working, loving, caring . . . raising a family, volunteering for community events, providing leadership to different boards or groups.

Please know, my sister . . . Dan is family too and will be wrapped in our loving arms.

I want to be honest with you all here today. Sara would expect it and deserves nothing less.

Over the years, the four Waters kids and their families have grown somewhat apart. It has not been an estrangement and I guess in some ways it is pretty normal in this day and age. Some can be attributed to geography, some to time focusing on our own families and busy lives, maybe some to a slight . . . real or imagined . . . or a disagreement that we perhaps can't even remember. Families can be like that. When the chips were down, we could all be counted on to rally round the flag, but with only some exceptions the four of us as a whole were not particularly close. (I know, Mrs. Hargrove, I have just mixed my metaphors. Sorry.)

That all changed this year when Sara became so sick. Since then, and to all of the Waters' kids benefit, we have grown much closer again. All of us, however, are just so sorry and so sad that it took us so long to wake up.

And it is with that in mind that I close this eulogy with what I consider the most meaningful lesson we can take from the life and death of a great teacher . . . Sara.

She was not perfect. At times Sara could be judgmental, even say things that were hurtful. She had strong opinions . . . Imagine that, a Waters with a strong opinion.

But none of us are perfect or even close to it. We are, however, and always will be . . . family.

And as we grow older, as we face the sorrows or savor the joys that are life, family is what binds us. Those binds may seem at times too tight or restrictive. They may make demands that are inconvenient or intrusive. They may require us to bite our tongue . . . swallow our pride . . . even put serious issues behind us.

No one said it should or would be easy to be a family.

So the question today is whether we will sit in the back of the class, disengaged, or whether we will be attentive students and act. For we cannot deny that in death, a great teacher has offered us a lesson in life . . . the lesson of family.

And I promise that Mrs. Hargrove is watching.

"The name of the strip club was The Body Shop."

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