We have board fences here at the farm, an act of vanity and, in hindsight, a foolish commitment to eternal upkeep and painting. Jack Dyas is the reason we still have most of the original fence over 30 years after he sawed them from trees grown in his woodlot.
The boards are home-sawed oak. They came from northwest of Andrew and were sawed on Jack’s stationary mill in the last years he operated the almost antique community service. It no longer exists. He replaced it with a portable mill.
Those oak boards, painted white, were to show the world I had pretensions, here was a farm owner of substance. Instead that fence is where I go to do penance every couple of years with a paint scraper and a five-gallon pail of barn white exterior paint. I regret I thought people would think better of me because I had a board fence. But I am proud to have something Jack Dyas made. Jack was in his 70s when he sawed that lumber.
For most of us the route to becoming old and wise, like Jack, includes an exasperating journey through young and stupid. I doubt Jack lingered there as long as I did. He always was the gentleman in public; he seemed to be in control of himself and instill optimism in a person just by being near him.
Like passengers on a train headed west for the coast, in this life we’re all moving toward that distant destination. By virtue of birthdate we all have assigned seats. We can move about the train, visit people in other cars, but in the end we have to return to our seat. To have someone onboard who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Dust Bowl and 19 presidents, it would be great to have a seat next to Jack, or at least be in the same car.
For as long as I can remember, and I am 77 now, Jack was a presence in my community. Jack farmed, he drove a school bus, he served on the school board, he was a key member of the local fire department reorganization effort. His was the generation that went from the frying pan right into the fire, from the Great Depression into World War II.
If you’re judged by the people you associate with then you could do no better than to know Jack. My father always spoke highly of him from his involvement in that long ago fire district work.
Jack was and is a steady presence in the constellation of acquaintances, friends and people whose judgement I value, often without acknowledging its worth.
His children both have said he has become something of an honorary father to their friends and acquaintances.
Jack reaches the vaunted century milestone in September. It struck me some years back how rare this feat of aging really is when I did a story on a rural Bellevue woman who was born in the same century that Thomas Jefferson made it to 104 years.
Jack’s birth in 1921 was certainly not set in some golden age, when problems were fewer and simpler than what we assume they are today.
Looking back though, the start of the Roaring Twenties also was the dwindling end of the world’s worst pandemic. The 1918 Great Influenza epidemic killed more than 43 million people worldwide, including 675,000 Americans. The virus was first documented here in the United States, although it was sometimes known as the Spanish Influenza.
Jack and his brothers, Bob and Dick, grew up on the family farm where Jack spent his years after returning from World War II.
“Dad has always been open to ideas. He had a high school education and then went into the Army. He has said he didn’t see the worst of it, and after the war was over he worked for a year, for the military, in Germany before coming back home,” recounts photographer daughter and Cornell College lecturer, Sandra Louise Dyas. “He has sort of become a dad to my friends as well. There was a point, when dad was in his 80s, when he thought that was going to be as long as he lived and then he goes on for another 20 years!”
When Jack takes the applause of well-wishers at his birthday celebration, guests will be looking at a man who is living proof hard work and faith in yourself and those around you will triumph in the end. There will be remembrance of those unseen but never forgotten. Jack’s wife, Doris, passed in 2014.
Just think of the events that Jack’s life has accumulated. At this stage in his life, Jack has strategy; the rest of us, we still rely on tactics. We would do well to learn from people like Jack Dyas how to conduct a life built for the long haul.
A happy birthday? I think more appropriately we should offer congratulations. This community was the better for Jack’s being a part of it.