Only the Good…


Ray Gardner


Today I am writing a tribute to honor my great, really special friend, Joe Lange, who passed away recently due to colon cancer. Before I begin let me say simply that my life has been enriched beyond measure by having just a few truly great friends … and now when they die, far earlier than I ever imagined might happen, I find myself seeing life in shades of gray instead of vibrant colors.

I now understand why those old people I knew when I was young, who seemed to want to live in the past, had surely experienced painful loss of loved ones and dear friends. We each have our brief time in history, and time does not stand still for any of us. Thus, some of us fortunate to live longer lives are not necessarily very fortunate, for we can become the "last kids at camp." That is a saying I use to describe the lonely feeling I felt as a child as my newly made friends left church camp with their parents at the end of our allotted summer week. Camp became ever more quiet and I waited anxiously for my parents to arrive to take me away … not because I wanted to leave camp, but because my friends were gone, and they would not return for at least a year, and perhaps never.

For now, I want to put aside any of my negative or sad feelings, and share with you my memories of Joe. I want to acknowledge some things I never knew until other people shared their memories of Joe and his life at his funeral service. To point, I was awed at the breadth of Joe’s community involvement and his kindness, in organizations like Sojourners, Lutheran Community Services and the Masons. I am comparatively ashamed of myself for not doing more of the wonderful things for other people that so characterized Joe and his values. Well, this is about Joe, not me, so let’s begin.

I first met Joe and his lovely wife, Linda, in 1978. That was the year Marie and I married, and Linda and Joe were great friends of Marie all the way back to junior high and high school. I met Linda at our wedding reception but I don’t remember meeting Joe there. Some time after our honeymoon we visited Joe and Linda and I immediately liked both of them a lot. They were really nice people. That evening after dinner Joe showed me some of his fine handiwork in and around their house and then we sat in the living room for conversation. Well, the girls did most of the talking, and before I knew it I drifted off to sleep. Marie was annoyed and she poked at me and told me to stay awake. Meanwhile, Joe had also drifted off to sleep. On awakening, hearing Marie talk to me he said, "I like this guy!" We laughed, for it turned out that Joe was likely to drift off to sleep most anytime he wasn’t busy working or eating.

That simple beginning marked the start of a fine and deep friendship for all four of us. I have many memories of meals, parties and laughter from the early days for we were all in our thirties. Joe was fully involved expanding his construction business and Marie and I had Joe’s company replace the roofing shingles on our house. Later, Joe came when we were away on vacation to estimate the damage from a break-in at our house, and he fixed a broken window on the spot without being asked. It was the right thing to do and that sure characterized Joe, for his values were unquestionably right all the time. He also solved a major ground water leakage problem in my basement by installing a sump and piping system that worked perfectly.

Joe’s talent in fine woodworking was so good I smiled every time I saw something new he made. I’ve never known anyone else who could match the perfection of his work, and the breadth of his knowledge was remarkable. It didn’t matter if the project was masonry, electrical, plumbing, carpentry or fine cabinetry. Joe and his work crews would tackle just about anything, commercial or residential, and the quality of their work was impeccable. I certainly recommended him to my other friends when they wanted to do home improvement projects.

It is funny how our memories work as little events from our distant past surface at times like this. I was building a deck at my house in the early 1980’s and I pounded so many nails in such a short amount of time that I caused a painful injury to my forearm muscles and elbow. Joe was the person who explained that I had a repetitive stress injury, with the good news that it would go away naturally within a few weeks, and the bad news that it would tend to recur with far less stress in later projects. He was right, as usual.

Joe almost always had an upbeat attitude. He was fun to be with no matter if the activity was work or play. In all the challenges in his life, of which I was aware, I never heard him complain. Oh, he could be direct when a situation required his attention, but he didn’t have any aspect in his personality of being a complainer or a victim. He quietly stood up to the task and took care of business, honestly and fairly. I liked to accompany Joe to his various project locations and see the work and how he dealt with his customers and his work crews. His professionalism was always evident and he was clearly well liked and respected.

I want to take a moment to share a personal conversation Joe and I had many years ago. We were talking about our careers and he said he thought my work with computer systems for a large corporation was rather more important than the products of his business. I chuckled, and then I said that he had it backwards. All of my work would be discarded within five years of it’s creation, project after project, as that is how most large companies upgrade and modernize their computer applications. But his work would live long after both of us were history. His mark on society from all the things he created was everywhere. My efforts and results were merely temporary. I think Joe underrated his importance to society, for while he was proud of his work his basic personality was more humble. What a heck of a fine guy! How many people do we know who combine great talent and productivity without getting a swelled head?

Joe and Linda decided to prepare for retirement in terms of investments by acquiring rental properties. They formed Silverside Properties, LLC. This was an ideal choice for them as Joe and his men could take care of any problems at any property and Linda would handle the financials and other business activities. Beyond that, Linda took care of the financials for Lange Construction. In short, they were a perfect team in business as well as in their personal life. The business issues interplay I experienced between Joe and Linda was the best I have ever seen between any two people. Call it what you will, but when two people recognize their strengths and weaknesses and put their best efforts into working together then success is essentially guaranteed. Joe was a team player, ditto Linda.

Joe did property management for Marie and me when we wanted to rent out our house. In my absence, Joe fixed a number of my bungled little projects that, alas, violated local building codes. He and Linda found renters and did all of the important work so that Marie and I didn’t have to worry while we were looking for a house in California. The upshot is that when we wanted to sell our home it was already in salable condition, thanks to Joe.

We meet lots of couples in the course of life and it is natural to make comparisons between couples and compare them to our own experiences. And here is where I want to make a very special point. Joe and Linda were with no exception the finest married couple I have ever known. They exemplified all the ways a marriage should be in honoring and respecting and loving each other. That lets you know just how rare Joe was as a man and a husband and a father. Of course, Linda was rare, talented, loyal and wonderful in her own right. Actually, the right thing to note is that we all want to have people to look up to who demonstrate by their actions our own views of how life should be lived. Joe and Linda were that couple in my life. They combined open and joyful loving friendship with strong character and a strong work ethic and with deep caring and hearts of gold for those less fortunate.

Marie and I had memorable vacations with Joe and Linda, especially in Mexico and in California. We also had a fine wedding anniversary cruise that also included friends Morrie and Sue, to various islands in the Caribbean. I often look at the pictures we took on our vacations and boy do I smile! The quality of our lives was truly enriched by those fun times together. We had a lot of good times in our later years in New Hampshire, dining and going to places like Shaker Village. Joe helped me with some of my projects, especially the new back porch. That leads to yet another fond memory. While vacationing together at Yosemite we stayed in a nice condominium in a complex that was still under construction. Joe and I walked around to check things out and I noticed some overhead beams that I had never seen before. Joe explained that they are called microlams, made similar to plywood but with much greater strength. I wound up a few years later designing a new back porch with a cathedral ceiling and as you might guess I used microlams in my design, thanks to Joe.

When Marie became ill with a brain tumor in 2006 you can guess who was there to help and to give moral support. Joe and Linda were there for us in loving friendship, celebrating our wedding anniversaries in 2006 and 2007. And it was Linda who brought "the girls" up to visit Marie in the fall of 2007, while Joe and Bob DuHadaway took me for a weekend to Bob’s beach house in Bethany, DE. As Marie approached death it was Joe and Linda who flew to New Hampshire to be with Marie and me. The support I received from Joe and Linda before and after Marie’s death was oh, so important to me.

There is an old saying that only the good die young. Accurate or not, I am very sad that the saying certainly is true regarding Joe Lange. Thus, you can see why I chose the title of this article as part of my attempt to do well in honoring Joe. He was, as another saying goes, one of a kind. I am proud to have known him and to have been his friend. I will miss him a lot. I already do. He was one of the very few great people I have ever known.