Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Tribute to a Rich Uncle

It is Memorial Day weekend, and time to remember those who have given their lives for the cause of freedom and for their love of the United States of America.  A friend taught me many years ago to say, “Thank you for serving.” to each veteran or member of the armed services when I meet them.  This weekend, I met a Vietnam War veteran who was receiving physical therapy in the Carroll Health Center, Carrollton, OH.   As I thanked him for serving, I realized anew the ultimate in stewardship is demonstrated by those who have offered their lives, or who have given “the last full measure of devotion” in service of their country.

Memorial Day weekend also gives me the opportunity to remember my uncle, Glen Silvius, whose birthday is May 19, 2011 (died, Dec. 15, 1997), who served his country in World War II.  “Uncle Shorty” was among the courageous American GI”s who pressed forward from Normandy through western Europe to bring freedom from the scourge of Nazism to the war-torn landscapes and villages of France, Belgium, and Germany.

Even though, as a post-war, “baby boomer”, I never saw Uncle Shorty in a uniform, his reputation as a soldier became evident to me in my pre-teen years through books on his shelves, published by Hercules Engines Co. where he worked before and after the war.  Hercules produced engines for military vehicles, and the company proudly published books filled with photos from the war front to highlight their products in action.  Some of the photos left little to my imagination with respect to the power unleashed in war. 

Although Uncle Shorty seldom spoke of his service during WW II, I learned indirectly that his life had been miraculously spared several times.  As a young man in the 1920’s and 1930’s, he had dreamed of traveling the world.  However, when he was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1945, Uncle Shorty returned home and never traveled more than 100 miles from his farm home near Dundee, OH.

During my preadolescent years, the closeness of my relationship with Uncle Shorty was second only to that with my father, Uncle Shorty’s older brother.   My family’s farm home was an extension that my father had added to his family home; and so, my Grandpa and Grandpa Silvius and my Uncle Shorty lived in another part of the same house until my graduation from high school. 

Although Uncle Shorty’s chief employment was with Hercules in nearby Canton, OH, he routinely assisted my dad and another, younger brother Ralph, with their shared responsibilities of farming over 200 acres.  As you can imagine, two and sometimes three farmers who needed to decide how and when to do something made for some interesting and heated exchanges.   It was not hard for me to imagine that Uncle Shorty had been a military man on occasions when he felt that his was the right way to complete a job.

I thank God for what He taught me through Uncle Shorty.  He and my dad both valued education greatly and both were instrumental in encouraging me to attend college.  When I came home from college, Dad looked forward to hearing what I was learning in biology, chemistry, and math.   Uncle Shorty’s interest in my progress was no less than Dad’s , and when the three of us were together, I was challenged to think carefully and to justify exactly why I was in college and where I should go with my ‘higher education.’   Gradually, I sensed that these two men had great respect and love for me, and a confidence that I could “make something of myself.”

In 1969, I completed my BA degree in science at Malone College, married Alvadell Moser, and began a two-year period as a biology teacher at Dover High School.  During this time, our son, Bradley was born, and we maintained close relationships with both the Silvius and Moser families.  Although my dad’s profession of faith in Christ was evident through his public ministry as superintendent at our local Methodist church and through the example he set for me, my uncle’s profession of faith was a bit more subtle.  Thankfully, the conversations between nephew and uncle gradually reached a point where we could share in rather deep conversations about the Person of God and His plan and purpose for each of us.  I believe Uncle Shorty did know and personally accept the reality of salvation by faith in the Person of Christ.

Following this brief background, I would like to share a letter which Uncle Shorty sent to me 20 years after I had entered graduate school at WVU.  At this time, I was a professor of biology at Cedarville University.  I share his letter below followed by my letter of thanks to him.  May it be a post-humus thanks to a veteran who served his country, and to a man that I consider a “rich uncle” in the truest sense of the words.

Letter from Uncle Shorty (1991):

My letter of thanks to him:

Dear Uncle Shorty,                                                                                          November 12, 1991

I got home this evening after dark at about 6:00pm.  I had just finished teaching a 3 hour lab in botany in which we were sectioning and staining Begonia stems and basswood (linden) twigs to study the stem tissues.  So it was a real encouragement to pull your letter out of the mail box.  It was quite a surprise to see the enclosed check.   This was a very generous gift to us and we want to thank you in the words of this letter, and perhaps more significantly, by our wise use of what you have given.

Brad worked two jobs this summer and is working nights now to pay on his college expenses in addition to that which we provide.  Some of this will be used to help him and to save for Mindy's college expense.  We have had a series of replacements of appliances that have worn out in recent months and are anticipating major repairs or replacement of our heat pump which is about 16 years old.  We have been praying that God would help us to know how to meet these expenses.  We have never really lacked for anything good, and I believe God has provided these essentials.  I hope you have experienced a sense of satisfaction and will be blessed by God for your kind assistance.

This is not the first time your gifts have been an encouragement to this particular nephew.  I remember my first wrist watch which was a gift from you. As I recall, you had to show me which wrist to wear it on.  Much later, I learned that it was partly by your encouragement that Dad purchased a used black Volkswagen, my first car.  Then, when I finished my graduate work at West Virginia University, you helped me to purchase some nice shirts, ties, and sweaters.  Interestingly, I still wear the two sweaters around the house that I bought at that time to teach in at University of Illinois. 

I am sure that others of your nieces and nephews could think of many ways you have helped them, too.  For my part, I just want to say that, while it was not for you to have sons or daughters of you own, you have had a large part in helping this nephew in a fatherly way.  I hope your gift will help me to do what is right in being a good husband, and good father as our two children are going through transition to adulthood.

We hope to visit you on Thanksgiving or, more likely during Christmas time.  It is a busy quarter for me with the changes in our existing science building (this summer we had to move out for installation of air conditioning), and the construction of a new addition on the north side of the building.  You would enjoy seeing this; wish you could come down and spend a few days.  It is a 3 story steel framework with brick and glass, enclosing 60,000 sq. feet for our nursing and engineering programs (mechanical and electrical). 

I think your writing is still very good ; much better than mine most of the time.   I have become spoiled by the computer, and I hope you do not think this letter any less personal because it is typed rather than handwritten.  I hope you too are well and that you are at peace with God and yourself.  Thanks for the part you have had in my life, and may God bless you.


Larissa Malik said...

I greatly enjoy reading the articles you post! You have been a Christ-like "Uncle Shorty" to me also, Dr. Silvius. :)

John Silvius said...

Larissa, thank you for following my blog, and for your kind words. It was good to talk with you recently and I trust that your radiance through Christ will combine with wise seasoning with salt to draw your loved ones closer to God. Meanwhile, keep your eyes on Jesus and on the horizon for what He is going to do in and through you. (;-)