Ernest Boniface Vande Hey
Grandpa was the holiest man I ever met. I am proud to be his grandson. He would have been 87 today (June 5, 2001). I was thinking of him because today is not only his birthday, but also his feast day. He died on July 1, 2000. It's not that Grandpa started orphanages or anything, but Grandpa went through life leading by example and doing little things to serve Christ. That in itself may not seem extraordinary, but little things united to Christ's love change the world. It is amazing to think of the ripple effect each of us will have on the world. It is crystal clear that Grandpa Ernie spread the joy of Christ.
Ernie was one of 16 kids. He grew up on a farm and had an incredible work ethic. He was a "Jack-of-all-trades" and a master of none. Ernie married Anna Jane on Aug 8, 1940, and they were married nearly 60 years. He and Jane had 8 children. They lost two sons in accidents and a son-in-law to a car accident.
He drove a fuel oil truck for many years until he retired. I think he knew everyone in the Fox Valley. He took time to know them not just as customers, but as people. A woman once called him to get more fuel on Christmas Eve and Grandpa knew that her fuel tank was nearly full. He went anyway and when he explained to her that the tank was almost full she admitted she knew that, but was feeling lonely and just needed to talk with someone. Grandpa could have brushed this aside and went about his business, but instead he showed compassion and told her she had twenty minutes to talk---a more than fair assessment considering the holiday.
Grandpa was always there to lend a hand. He used to quip, "I've got to get my indulgences." Grandpa also used to say, "You'll never know what you'll have to do for me someday." I can remember him coming over to help my dad numerous times. It then became rather special when he came over to fix my things after I was married. We shared some very special moments trying to fix my lawnmower. I am embarrassed to say that I was a young, fairly fit individual (triathlete) and I could not get the blade off the lawnmower so it could be sharpened. Grandpa was 83 at the time and had to be careful with his health (namely a hernia). I struggled for the longest time, prying, grunting, using levers, grunting some more, and finally my 83 year old grandfather said, "Let me try." He pulled up his pants a bit, stuck out his tongue and popped the blade off. He kind of winked at me. I reminded him that Grandma shouldn't really find out about this and he winked again and said, "No, she won't."
He greeted everyone with a firm handshake and a smile. I had two people come up to tell me at the wake that they didn't know him that well, but they were compelled to come and say goodbye because he always greeted them in church for years. That is pretty remarkable. He served as trustee for Holy Cross for many years and was a caretaker of the cemetery. He was active in the Knights of Columbus. He was dedicated to his church community and the Body of Christ.
He always made his grandchildren feel special by giving them a quarter each time he saw them. When he died, the grandchildren brought quarters for Grandpa. My cousin Tom even threw a quarter in the grave as they were lowering him into it. Grandpa's gift was more than the quarter, it was his way to say, "You are worth everything and I remember each of you in a special way."
More than anything else, though, Grandpa Ernie took his prayer life seriously. He never went a day without saying his rosary. Even when his mind was slipping at the end, while I visited about a month before he died, he could still say his rosary. When he was raising a family they said the rosary together every night. If the neighbor kids were around they said one too! Even until the end, there was a rosary being said. The words from the Hail Mary, "Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death," never meant anything to me until Grandpa died.
There was a family member present at his bedside holding his hand for the entire week, 24 hours a day, while he lay dying. He had his whole family present praying and singing to him at the hour of his death. They said a rosary and sang to him. They sang many of the family favorites. Everyone knew the hour had come. My mother said to Grandpa that he brought the whole family together. His two boys in heaven were waiting on the other side and all of his children were gathered around his bed. They sang "Heart of Jesus" (a day after the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary) and his favorite song "Have I Told You Lately that I Love You" and he opened his eyes and went to Jesus.
He gave freely and the love he shared multiplied by infinity. I used to serve a lot of funeral Masses when I was in grade school. Sadly, many 86 year old people had few people present because most of the friends and family had died already. Grandpa had a visitation line winding out of the funeral home for the wake and there was barely enough room in the church for everyone at the funeral. I concluded that if you spread a little love and joy it will come back to you a thousand fold.
Grandpa dedicated his life to Christ's mission: serve others, pray, and love. I wish I had an ounce of his discipline and dedication.
Saint Ernest pray for us.
Here is a download of the song I sang at the funeral. Rich Mullins wrote it for his parents and I just reworded some things to make it fit for Grandpa and Grandma.
First Family (2.8 MB) Real media format. You need real player to listen to it. The basic player is free.