There is a certain sense of vacancy, which seems to slowly have begun for our quiet little town.
The ‘vacancy’ I speak of, is not that of empty houses or even closed businesses and boarded up buildings. The ‘vacancy’ I am addressing in this particular instance has to do with people, more specifically ‘characters’ that many in our community have come to know.
This past week the town of Oakdale lost an amazing ‘character’ that I was fortunate enough to meet early on in my career here at the Leader. The man I am speaking of is Mr. Hans Boggs.
I feel it necessary to place the ‘Mr.’ at the beginning of his name, as that is how many referred to him, here in our office. While he was always Hans to me, much of our staff referred to him as Mr. Boggs, a respect he was very much deserving of.
To say his passing is a tragedy and a loss felt by many … just does not seem to properly sum it up. Hans was one of those community members that knew so many and was spoken of with a smile on the face and a funny story to go with it.
We first became acquainted close to nine years ago, when I first came to work at the Leader. He was an active member of Oakdale’s Masonic Lodge and as the ‘Clubs’ and ‘Living’ reporter, he and I quickly came to know one another. Sharing a laugh with Hans, was always a given when we would meet at the front counter of the paper or out about town in the grocery.
What I fondly remember most about Hans was how accepting and welcoming he was of me, as the ‘new girl.’ Being a new reporter for a small town paper is no easy feat. Many are very quick to sort of pre-interview you as you are interviewing them. Questions such as: where you are from, what brought you here and the most popular … Oh, so you are not from Oakdale? The questioning is usually followed by a look of disdain and in the early days … distrust.
Years later, my skin has thickened but my memory of those people has far from faded. The only questions I remember Hans asking were if I was married (Masons interest) and discussion regarding my Irish heritage.
Nine years later … Oddly I still remember our initial conversation and how welcomed he made me feel.
“Oh … Oakdale is a great little town,” he stated with his brogue in full force. “It has its faults and problems like any town, but there are a lot of good people here.”
While I suspected it at the time, I did not know then that he was one of them.
As my ‘beat’ expanded so too did our acquaintance, meeting at the schools for bicycle giveaways or a phone call every now and again with a ‘Datebook’ submission he had to get in.
Those conversations often started with a “Hello darlin’” and ended with “You’re a dear.”
I’ll miss that.
Sitting at a desk in the center of this town, I always know when someone great and meaningful has passed. I know this not because of what is written in their obituary, but because of what happens right here in our office and out around town as I run my personal errands.
People rise from their desks and stories of memories start to flood our office. Conversations and experiences never shared, somehow seem to surface and slowly we all start to realize what a loss the person’s passing really is.
So when I speak of the ‘vacancy’ around town, this is what I am speaking of.
There is a generation of men and women around this town that slowly we are losing. Some have had buildings or streets named for them, but many have not. They are the great storytellers who take the time to breathe and share a story and a chuckle with so many of us. They are the people that know many, but tell few. They are the people truly living, while the rest of us are planning.
Mr. Hans Boggs was a man who made me smile and laugh every time I saw him. He was a man who could take my mind off the worst of dramas in my life, as he told stories of his family and how proud he was of each of them. He was a man, who knew much about many, but kept that information safely to himself.
While I am extremely saddened by his loss, I am equally grateful to have crossed paths with him so early in my career here. I share often how fortunate I feel to have landed at this desk. That great feeling of fortune is attributed to ‘characters’ like Mr. Boggs and so many like him.
These ‘characters’ I speak of are the men and women of this town who do not live their lives for the notoriety or accolades. They live for the passion and the reward their achievements bring to them personally.
To his family I would just like to say, thank you for sharing your husband, father and grandfather with a community which will forever benefit from his selflessness.
To Hans my words are quite simple … Thank you - You’re a dear.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.