What a difference a month can make. Our columns here give us a chance to put down our ‘reporter’ or ‘editor’ labels and just be real people for a change. It provides us with an opportunity to offer an opinion, talk about something personal as opposed to writing a story about a football game or a council meeting.
My daughter, as forgetful as she can be about her math or English homework, always seems to have her finger on the pulse of the paper, at least in knowing when it’s time for my column to come up (traditionally, the first Wednesday of each month). She is always curious about my topic, as she seems to have no problem if I want to write about her and some of her high school (mis)adventures.
This time, when she asked, I told her it would be a column of a different sort; a column about loss.
We were discussing it because Escalon has been hit with some significant losses just in the last month. And even as I was preparing to write about that, tragedy struck a family in Oakdale, with the loss of a recent high school graduate there.
In Escalon, Mary Loumena passed away in the middle of October. She was among one of the first people I met when I came to Escalon, very involved in the historical society and one of the driving forces behind getting the society and the city’s museum into its current Main Street location. There, the history of the community is carefully chronicled, artfully displayed and viewed by out of town visitors and hundreds of local school children each year. Mary was always quick to offer tidbits of information, linking together the past and present and she amazed me with her knowledge of the city’s history.
A big part of that history is the Dugo family, and Escalon also lost Angelo Dugo, also at mid-month. He had been in failing health the past few years but he was another longtime resident, one of those ‘pillars of the community’ that have a special place in any town’s story. A World War II combat photographer, he documented the horrors and heroes of war. He came back home and his ‘Dugo’s Photo’ business was a mainstay, the sign out on the front lawn a familiar sight on First Street. He also went into law enforcement and served many years locally with the Escalon Police Department, retiring as a sergeant. When the city built its new police department facility on McHenry Avenue, it was appropriately dedicated to Angelo. He was able to attend the ceremony, a few Decembers ago, and I remember him being overcome with emotion as the honor of having the building dedicated to him sunk in. Before his health started to fail, Angelo was very active in local veterans’ groups and was always part of the flag ceremony at Veterans’ Day gatherings in town. He, too, was a major player in the historical society and many of the photos on display in the museum are his. When I think of Angelo, I remember a proud man, proud to have served his country, proud of his family, proud of his community.
Personally, I will miss them both and feel blessed to have known them.
Both were in their 90s and as difficult as it is to say good bye, their loss was not totally unexpected. Harder to accept are those ‘it shouldn’t have happened’ losses, those that blindside you.
It was incredibly difficult to learn of the sudden loss of Joan Justice-Brown in an auto accident on Oct. 23. Like I have with many families in Escalon, I had the pleasure of writing stories about and taking photos of all three of her daughters – now graduated and on to college – in sports and school activities. Joan was a champion for those who had challenges in learning and she relentlessly pursued her goal of making sure everyone she came in contact with achieved at the highest level possible for them. The thing I will remember most about Joan is always seeing her smile. No matter what the event, no matter what the circumstance, Joan had a positive spin for everything, a smile that just had a way of making things better and brighter. My heart hurts for her family.
It also hurts for the family and friends of young Dillion Miller, 19, who lost his life on Halloween night in a motorcycle accident outside Oakdale. A recent high school graduate, he left many friends behind on the campus at Oakdale – friends still trying to come to grips with the loss of someone so young. It was a quiet campus the latter part of this past week and the Friday night football game included an ‘in memory’ moment and formation in honor of Dillion. My daughter didn’t know him specifically, but knew of him and he was friends with some of her friends.
“If I didn’t really know him, why do I feel so sad?” she asked.
I told her it’s sad whenever there is an unexpected loss, especially when it’s someone so close to her own age. It’s sad because you expect to see them the next day at school or maybe at the store, somewhere in town … but instead you never get to see them again. It gave us both reason to stop and think and all those clichés came to mind, about making sure you say “I love you” and appreciating the people in your life.
Maybe they shouldn’t be clichés. Maybe it’s what we need to do, what we should be doing – letting those we care about know it. As we enter November and the season of Thanksgiving, reach out and give thanks to those people who mean the most to you. Don’t assume they know how you feel. And even if they do, it never hurts to hear you are loved.
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times and The Oakdale Leader and assistant editor for The Riverbank News. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.