Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Old Ranger loses an old friend

Once upon a time I worked with a group of extraordinary women.  We comprised the Education Division staff of the Public Museum of Grand Rapids in Grand Rapids Michigan.  Although I was the division chief,  they were the ones who actually ran the show.  

We were a very, very happy team, as this picture, from one of our "professional development" field trips shows.  Those professional development outings generally happened twice a year and were merely a ruse to get us all out of the Museum and onto the beach of any one of Lake Michigan's more scenic beach front towns.  Lunch, ice cream, beach combing and general shenanigans comprised a fun outing together.

We thoroughly enjoyed each other's company

Clockwise from lower left, Me, Joyce, Linda, Janet, and Gina.  Anything I achieved during my tenure at the helm of that division I owe to these lovely women.

Long before I found myself in upper management at the museum, I was a volunteer, a Docent, and one of my first points of contact was my friend Linda Sweigart.  

This blog entry comes as a result of the sad news that Linda passed away last week.

I just wanted to share, with those of you who follow this blog and have an interest in our National Parks, an opportunity to make the acquaintance of Linda and her boundless love and appreciation for the beautiful, historic, and wild areas that comprise this incredible country we live in.

In addition to being great coworkers, Linda and I were good friends.  And on a few occasions she and I would team up with her niece Stacey and we'd hit the trails, making for some of the most breathtaking places along the Michigan shoreliine.  

Avid campers, the three of us, we shared some really cool outdoor adventures including watching the Autumnal northern lights over Lake Michigan from a perch high atop Sleeping Bear Dune.  It was chilly but we were warmed by each other's company, as well as s'mores and a jug of red wine.

That same trip we boarded a ferry that took us to remote South Manitou Island in the upper reaches of Lake Michigan, easily seen offshore from the dunes at Sleeping Bear.  We spent two days exploring trails, lighthouses, ruins, chipmunk foraging habits, and generally entertaining each other.

It was on this trip that my camping name was invented "The Old Ranger"; how prophetic.

It was from the crescent-shaped safe anchorage bay of the island that the three of us, in full sunshine, watched an enormous thunderhead gather in the distance.  The panoramic view was spectacular, as we watched the storm take shape perhaps 25 miles in the distance and drive its fury in front of us as if it were all on a large stage.  Though the storm was far away, it provided us was some exciting Lake Michigan views.  "Somebody's getting clobbered" said one of us, "Better them than us" said another.

Linda's favorite haunts were the shorelines of Lakes Michigan and Superior.  One of her favorite places was Whitefish Point up in Michigan's upper peninsula.  A place, regrettably, that she and I and Stacey never visited together.  Though she and I saw less of each other after we left the museum, we were able to connect and say our goodbyes days before I left for the great Maryland adventure.
 I'm grateful for that.

(Linda and I ankle-deep in Lake Michigan)

Linda touched the lives of countless West Michigan schoolchildren and she was loved by everyone who knew her.  She had real love for old movies, old crooners, and old (and historic) places.  She is easily one of the kindest and most compassionate people I've ever known, and her enthusiasm for sharing the outdoors was boundless.  She was a good friend and a steady hand to hold on life's rockier trails.

The many friends she leaves behind, including those remarkable women pictured at the top of this page are absolutely bereft by her passing.  And this is one of those singular moments when all who knew her want the world to stop for just a moment, and to listen to a story or two of this great and lovely spirit.

I'd say "she's gone to a better place" but that is the sort of thing Linda would simply laugh at.  She believed in the here and now, and she believed in reaching out to people, being a true friend, and practicing an all-embracing stewardship of this planet and every living thing on it.

Though she has left us, she has left us better than she found us.  And her legacy, for The Old Ranger, and for many, many others will be to think kind and grateful thoughts of Linda...

anytime we are in the presence of the beauty that is nature.

What a fine way to be remembered.

Linda Sweigart
1951- 2011

Celebrate friendship,

p.s.  if you'd like to see a little video that I put together a few years ago when Linda left the museum, go here.   Though this was for her retirement, it's also a nice way to remember her wonderful laugh.


Patricia Kitto said...

What a beautiful tribute to what sounds like an amazing woman and friend. I hope posting it lightened the burden of your grief - if just a little.

Tad Druart said...

Thank you for sharing. The way you treated Andrew makes you living tribute to the spirit she shared with you. blessings.

Unknown said...

A beautiful story. Peace, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Mannie, thanks for sharing... in fact, thank you for sharing so much with us. It is greatly appreciated by many.
Ron Dickey

Cathie Diffin said...

I don't think I've ever read a more heartfelt tribute to a friend. May your heart forever carry that spark of friendship.

Unknown said...

Another beautiful tribute, thank you.

Laurie R. said...

Thank you for putting down in words so many of the sentiments I am feeling right now. You've captured so many of the qualities I cherish.

Suzanne Tomlinson said...

That was wonderful - thank you!

Pete D said...

Well done, Mannie. Linda really was one of the most pleasant people I've ever met.

Karen Murphy said...

Thanks Mannie