I’m Leslie, Harvey’s granddaughter.
But I would imagine everyone here knows that, because my entire life I’ve known what it’s like to be famous.
The dentist, the checkout woman at the pharmacy, everyone in church, all our neighbors – if you knew my Grandfather, you knew about me.
I always thought this was so sweet and a little embarrassing at times, but I also always thought it was totally normal until a few years ago, when I introduced a friend to my Grandfather at a party. Grandpa was so excited to meet them and launched into his usual speech - “I’m so happy to meet a friend of Leslie’s. You must be pretty great to be a friend of my granddaughter! She’s the love of my life; she’s so special!”
He gave a hug and walked away, and my friend turned to me in amazement and said “Wow, imagine what you can accomplish in life with someone telling you that you are that amazing all the time!” I was so surprised – doesn’t everyone have a Grandfather that hypes them up to total strangers?
Doesn’t every Grandpa tell the dentist his granddaughter Leslie probably is going to have the most perfect teeth you’ve ever seen in all your years of practice, so get ready to be really impressed? (My dentist, upon meeting me, said that yes I had very nice teeth . . . and a Grandfather that really loved me. But he didn’t know if they were the best EVER.)
I went through my entire life like this, in a protective bubble of love and support from Grandpa. My husband laments that Grandpa completely distorted my view of reality. Every time I ask Greg to do something he feels is particularly absurd he says “Do I look like your Grandpa? Absolutely not.”
I have a wonderful memory from when I was about 10 years old. I was in an opera on opening night, and it was the final curtain call. I stood on stage with the cast as people clapped and cheered in the Kennedy Center. I was so excited to be on stage while all the divas took their great bows.
The crowd was just a blur of dark shapes, but then as I looked out, I saw him. My Grandfather, on the first balcony, standing up and waiving his hands high in the air so I would see him (the people behind him were appalled). In a room of hundreds and hundreds of people, all clapping and cheering for the group, the most enthusiastic person in the room was the one clapping for me.
Everyone felt that special when they were with my Grandfather; he radiated kindness, love, and generosity. If he knew you, he loved you. And it was impossible not to love him back.
In the past few months, as his health became more tenuous, I’ve thought a lot about legacy. What kind of mark do you leave on the world that extends beyond your life?
Born in his Grandmother’s house in Wisconsin in 1929 at the start of the Great Depression, his own parents didn’t finish middle school. During his summers in Wisconsin as a child, he worked as a field hand for his uncles on their dairy farms, earning 25 cents a day. He was the first in his family to attend high school and college.
He was particularly proud that both of his children and all four of his grandchildren went on to graduate from college.
In his prime he fixed houses, remodeled kitchens, built bookshelves and cabinets, tables, benches. Old age was hard for him to accept. For most of his life he was such a strong man, when I would look at him as a child he seemed like a giant, with great big hands and a booming voice, fixing anything that needed it and occasionally “fixing” something so well that it never really worked again.
As he aged and was less able to physically provide for the people he loved, he made sure to provide in other ways.
What a legacy indeed, to work so hard for the sole purpose of giving the people you love more than you had. To constantly find new ways to look out for them. To accomplish with the sole purpose of providing for the people you love.
Everyone here knows I’m a bookworm. The poem Ulysses by Lord Tennyson is a particular favorite of mine, and in the past few months I’ve reread it several times, as it reminds me so much of my grandfather.
Tennyson wrote it during a period of grief in his own life, having lost dear friend. In the poem Ulysses is an old man and having returned home in his old age, finds himself restless. Towards the end of the poem he longs for the time when he was in his prime; having worked so hard to strike out on his own and see the world, he longs for one final adventure.
you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
The people gathered here today may have very different views of what happens after we die. I will leave theology to the experts, but one thing I know for certain on which we can all agree - the love and security provided by Harvey Kloehn to us, the people he loved, is in every one of us. His positive impact lives on in each of us, has made us all into better people, made us all feel loved and safe. It extends beyond his own life. Through his love and generosity, he lives on forever.