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Report on the Valley Stream Fire Department Funeral Service for George Kunz

Report on the Valley Stream Fire Department Funeral Service for George Kunz

December 1, 2008

    The uniform had languished in my clothes closet for the past five years.  I had thought that in the interest of frugality and ecology I should return it to the agency which had provided it for me.  Then the call came last weekend from Walter Weltner, one of the worthies of the Valley Stream (NY) Fire Department.  Would I be able to participate in a funeral service for a former chief, Walter asked.  Sure, I said.  It's always nice to be wanted.  I located the dress uniform in a distant corner of my closet, dusted off the years' accumulation of dust, fetched the hat from its perch among the baseball caps, and even recovered the white gloves from my sock drawer. 

    Monday afternoon Barbara and I drove from West Hartford to Valley Stream, a one hundred twenty mile trip.  The sailing was smooth until we reached the Whitestone Parkway.  An accident froze the southbound traffic. As the appointed hour for the service neared, I began to get nervous.  We were among the last to be frozen in place.  With the help of a policeman we were able to retreat far enough to an off ramp and take an alternate route.  Of course, no sooner were we on that ramp than the stalled traffic unstalled.  We arrived at the funeral home at 7:45 PM.

    Participating in the leadership of the service were Chaplains Brenda S. Overfield, Daniel O'Brien, S. J., and the old guy from West Hartford CT.  The room was full of uniforms; I mean, really full, with big men, tall and substantial, well over one hundred strong.  After the Department had filed in, ringing the room, the service began.  Fr. O'Brien invoked God's presence and read from I Corinthians 15.  Pastor Howard read a eulogy prepared by Walter Weltner, added a couple of thoughts of his own, and offered a prayer of thanksgiving, each of which is included below.  Mother Brenda quoted Frederick Buechner on vocation, offered a prayer, and pronounced the benediction.

    Herewith are my "before" and "after" to the Weltner eulogy:

I shall read a eulogy prepared by Walter Weltner Jr. (to be distinguished from Walter Weltner III).  Walter was a frequent caller on George during these last months of his infirmity.  As they shared years and years of service in the Department, so also they shared, especially in these last days, many confidences.  One of those confidences explains my presence here, that George thought it would be nice if I could participate in this service.

So Pastor Howard is here, and I am greatly flattered by George’s request.  He was not a member of Grace United Methodist Church; but he and Florence often communed with our congregation, if not with bread and cup, over roast beef and mashed potatoes. 

Here is George’s eulogy prepared by Walter. [See above]

Let me add a couple of thoughts as one who has been here in this room before, for other Chiefs, Walter Hohn, Emil Wahl, Tom Ward, Duke Keller, George Cowan, and Tom Blasi.

And the first thought is how important in our life together in Village and World people like George are. They are the glue that holds us together, in ways not often enough celebrated.  The ones who do the institutional tasks without which any organization, church or fire department or you name it, would not long survive.  God bless George… and God blessed us with George.

My second thought is about vocation.  That’s a word we usually hear associated with priests, pastors, and rabbis.  Vocation from the Latin “vocare” means calling.  Calling from God.  We all have one.  Some of us embrace it 9 to 5.  Others do it 24/7/12.  That’s what is known as an avocation.  A calling above and beyond what you do for a living, what you do for a life.  A calling from God.  George had one.  He did it with passion and unfailing loyalty.  His avocation was the Valley Stream Fire Department.  A saint in a fire hat.  I think George would have liked that.  Florence too.

When George lately arrived at the judgment seat of God and his credentials were evaluated, I think he would hear the same words said to him said to the faithful steward in Jesus’ parable of the talents, “Well done, good and faithful servant… enter into the joy of your master.”

    And here's the prayer I offered:

God of us all, everyone, who puts it within our hearts and heads to serve one another, love one another, and make the world a better place, we thank you this night for one who went to that task with enthusiasm and completeness, George Kunz, our George, Chief George, friend, neighbor, and fellow volunteer in this Department.  You blessed him with ninety-two years of usefulness.  You blessed us with ninety-two years of his usefulness, fires fought, accounts kept, money raised, morale boosted, friendships made, always with courtesy and kindness and humility and patience.  On his behalf we thank you for surrounding him throughout his years with loyal and loving companions, none more so than his dear Florence; but including his buddies in useful service to the VSFD.  He would tell us he was a very lucky guy and we would tell him that he made most of his luck; and you would smile on our benedictions that life has been good and full and not much more is being asked.  Reunite George, we pray, with his beloved Florence.  Seat him at the great banquet feast of heaven near those with whom he feasted here.  Hold him in your everlasting arms, a child of your own, who used his time to serve your merciful purposes with us.  In the name of him whose birth soon we shall celebrate, the one who has shown us how to love and how to live that we may inherit eternal life, Jesus.  Amen.

    Following The Rev. Overfield's benediction, the members of the Department, according to protocol, processed to the casket to pay final respects to George. 

    Before driving home Barbara and I stopped at Ancona's for pizza which, as good as it is here in West Hartford, is simply the best.  The way home was quicker than the way down: not much traffic at 10 PM to midnight on the Merritt.  The uniform as put away for another day, along with the promise of Gary Shaw to provide it with an updated shoulder patch. 



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