I am struggling with confusing emotions today, and so at 9 Kid Fitness I want to write about someone who inspired me by his life. I am sad because I mourn the death of my father-in-law, Charles Hetzel, who passed away this afternoon. Yet a life such as his can really only be celebrated. When people die it is easy to put them up on a pedestal, and I think that is a fine thing to do. But today there is no need for a pedestal. Charlie lived his life truly and unbelievably for other people. I don’t think he knew any other way. When so many of us are selfish and focused on our own lives, men like my father-in-law seem to be from another time and place when people lived to be of service. That is how I remember him.
When he would come to visit us, he would almost immediately scope out the nearest hardware store where he would go multiple times to find this or that part which he needed to fix something: our vacuum, our microwave or oven, our disposal, or whatever he could find that needed fixing (it never was hard to find something at our house). Even when we would make the drive to Chicago to visit, Charlie would be outside almost as soon as we pulled up, working on our car…changing the oil, putting in windshield wiper fluid, even checking spark plugs.
That second nature probably came from many experiences in his past. He was the son of an immigrant. His father, Charles Hetzel Sr., came to America from Hungary when he was a young boy. His father owned a pool hall in Chicago and was an incredibly strong man who himself lived until the age of 101. Charlie enlisted in the Army Air Corps (which would eventually become the United States Air Force) in 1945 and got to Japan right as WWII ended, so his job was primarily with MacArthur’s rebuilding efforts. Afterwards he went to college on the G.I. Bill (University of Illinois). While the war effort certainly solidified his orientation towards helping others, he continued to live his life as a serviceman long after.
I am sad because we desperately need men like him in the world, and he is leaving it. Yet I feel joyous that a soul that so unabashdly gave himself to the service of others can lay down his tired head and rest. That we can take from his legacy something of his selfless nature is my hope. That is what I would like to place on a pedestal…for my children, and for all of us to lean toward so that we can learn something from his gallant and generous heart. I won’t think of Charlie so much as an old man in his later years…instead I see him under the hood of car, under a sink fixing the plumbing, squatting in front of the TV… just hoping that he can get up to be of service.