Saturday, April 11, 2009

John Garmatz, RIP

John Garmatz died recently. I think it was in early February 2009. He died of Alzheimer's Disease at an unusually young age.

He was a very good friend of mine, and he spent so much time at our house that I consider him to be an honorary resident of Faculty Lane. After I heard about his death, I sent a memorial message to his sister Susan (Garmatz) Jordan. Since that message included a lot of childhood memories, I quote it here.

John Garmatz was a very close friend of mine, especially during third through eighth grades.

In Seward, I often visited your home, and he often visited mine. We played games, like Risk and Monopoly, and just hung around together.

We had paper routes in the same area of Seward, and we often met and talked in the mornings while delivering newspapers together.

John turned me on to Mad Magazine. I would visit your home and read his Mad Magazines, and eventually I too decided to invest some of my own paper-route money on buying Mad Magazines and all the related comic books.

We had similar senses of humor. We made each other laugh. That's why he was one of my very favorite class mates. He was rather popular among all his class mates because of his sense of humor.

We both played in the St. John's band. He played tuba rather well, and I played trombone rather badly.

We spent a lot of time together at the indoor and outdoor swimming pools in Seward. We both loved to swim and dive.

We played on the football and wrestling teams together. We both were mostly "bench warmers" and we would laugh together on the benches during the competitions.

One of my funniest memories from seventh grade is that we went together to buy our first jock straps together. We both were too embarrassed to buy them from a sales woman, so we went all over Seward trying to find a store where we could buy them from a sales man. Unfortunately, we couldn't find such a store, so we had to buy them from a woman. In this dire situation, John was the one of us who got up enough courage to approach the sales woman for the purchases.

Neither of us had any success getting girl friends in high school. Concordia celebrated a Sadie Hawkins Day, when the girls got to ask the boys on a date. A couple of the cutest, older coeds asked me and John out on a double-date, just for fun. They were two senior-class cheerleaders. I remember that one was Ruth Klammer, and she took John, and another cheerleader took me. Of course, the double-date was a big joke for the two cheerleaders, but John and I were good sports about it, and we agreed to go and have a good time. The two girls did think we were funny and lots of fun. This incident goes to show that John and I were recognized to be a couple of close friends who laughed together a lot.

I left Seward after my sophomore year of Concordia High School. I returned to Seward visit a couple years later. I was surprised to find that he, like me, had become very interested in politics. We both were opposed to the Vietnam War. I was impressed that he had collected and organized a lot of publications about political issues and was keeping them in his dormitory room. I think he was far more interested in politics than any of his class mates at Concordia.

A few years later, I visited him in Lincoln. A few years later, when he was living in (as I recall) North or South Carolina, I met him again, but I don't remember the circumstances. I think that maybe he visited me in Virginia.

He told me about his work helping American Indians and counseling abusive husbands, and I was impressed that he wanted to devote himself to socially useful work.

The last time I saw him was in Portland, a few months after he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. I was staying with my parents in Seward, and we passed through Portland, and I was able to stop and visit John for a couple hours. We had a very nice conversation. Although he had the disease, our conversation was entirely normal.

I meant to stay in touch with him, but unfortunately I did not do so. By that time, our lives were very far apart. What we had in common was our shared memories of Seward in the mid-1960s.

Those are very pleasant memories that I always will treasure. John was a very nice guy, who had many friends, and I am happy to say that he was one of my closest friends. I don't remember even one bad moment between us -- I remember only many, many laughs and much, much friendship with him.

John Garmatz pictured as a member of the eighth grade in the 1965-1966 yearbook of St John Elementary School in Seward, Nebraska
Rupert Giesselmann, Steve Rathje, John Garmatz and Mike Sylwester at a flag-football practice. The picture was taken from the 1965-1966 yearbook of St John Elementary School in Seward, Nebraska

Rupert Giesselmann, Steve Rathje,
John Garmatz and Mike Sylwester
at a flag football game
in eighth grade

Sue wrote back to me:

As a sister, you don't get to hear these stories. I remember John and you going on you paper routes. I still cry when I think of John.

He had been living with my husband and I for 21/2 before he had to go into the care center in December 07. Rich and I, and sister Ellen and her spouse were there the afternoon of the night he died. We had a memorial service at our Church (Rich is the Pastor) in Van Meter, Iowa. We will bury his c remains in the church cemetery when the weather gets warmer.

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