Sunday, July 29, 2012

In Memory of John "Jay" Mayer

I am taking a break from posting about the road trip to remember a very important person who touched my life and the lives of many.  My father-in-law Jay Mayer was a strong, confident and caring person who loved his family, loved his community and loved his country.  I don't think I could do anymore justice to the story of his life than what was presented in his eulogy which I will include in this post, but I do want to share some lessons learned, moments shared and my thoughts.

When Jay was diagnosed with cancer on Christmas Eve it reminded me of when my own father received his cancer diagnosis and I hoped and prayed that he would go through treatment and have the wonderful outcome that my father did giving us many more years together.  But that was not the case.

When Jay chose quality of life over quantity we all knew that our time with him was getting shorter.  I knew that what was important was to support Jeff and allow him to spend as much time as he could with his parents.  I knew that this was the first time my children were going to experience the loss of a loved one and I prayed that God would guide and support me in helping them get through.  I worried about how Ben would react.  Jay, Jeff and Ben are more alike than they are different.  If you think of Jay as the tree, the other two apples didn't fall far from that tree.  The relationship between Jay and Ben went beyond Grandfather/Grandson, they shared a kinship that I can't quite put into words.  Jay was a grandfather but he was also a mentor, a guide, a friend, a boss and so much more to a young boy that he watched, listened to and guided into the young man he is today.  Danielle loved her grandfather.  She loved his laugh, his storytelling, his personality and I will always remember how he looked at Danielle when she was just hours old and said "She's beautiful". Danielle has continued to grow into a beautiful young lady both inside and out. As hard as the loss of their grandfather was going to be on them I knew I could talk things through, listen to them and comfort them.

I wondered how Sam was going to understand the loss of his grandfather.  I have always felt that Sam can understand so much more than what he can express.  I began to tell Sam that Grandpa was sick and he had cancer.  As time went on I explained to Sam that Grandpa was very sick and he may die and go to heaven.  We talked about Heaven and angels...we talked about dying...Grandpa's spirit...a better place with no more pain...but what struck me was the fact that each and every time we had these talks...Sam would smile.  A strange reaction for such a serious subject...but then I thought as I have always thought that Sam may know more than me, understand more than me.  Sam exudes an innocence...a pureness of spirit and understanding...a more simple approach to day to day life.  Sam was with Grandpa when he was given his last rites.  In true Sam style he was more interested in talking with Grandma or talking to all of us than listening to the priest in the room.  When everyone left to talk and say a prayer in the other room, Sam and I stayed with Grandpa.  I told Sam he could talk to Grandpa.  Sam laid next to him and said "Grandpa, Grandpa" (the second time a little louder and with more force).  When Grandpa did not respond he told me "Papa tired, Papa sleeping".  I said "Yes, Papa is tired".  Sam turned to Grandpa and said "Love you Grandpa, Goodbye".  He smiled and told me "Sam go now".  So I took him back over to his other Grandma's house but as I drove and replayed his response in my head I kept going back to him saying "Goodbye".  Sam normally says "See ya" or "See ya later" or just "Later" but he doesn't often say Goodbye. As I dropped off Sam and began to drive back the writer in me kicked in.  I remembered that "Goodbye" really means "God be with you" or "God be with ye" which conveys a blessing, prayer or hope that the person upon whom it is bestowed will travel safely.  Through my tears...I smiled knowing that this little boy knew and understood more than we could imagine.

I will miss Jay but I will be reminded of him through the apples that did not fall far from his tree.  Jeff's mannerisms that mimic his dad, Ben's storytelling ability, Danielle's sense of humor, and Sam's little grin that says "I have so much to tell you, if only I could." I know that Jay and Diana both know that their son is an amazing husband and father and I am forever grateful to both of them for making him that way.  After Jay passed and I had picked up Sam to take him home I replayed the events of the last 6 months in my head.  As I got to the present day I thought about how thin and tired Jay looked and I was amazed when that picture was replaced in my mind by a smiling, healthy looking Jay that had his glass raised in a toast.  God is good and that is how Jay would want to be remembered.  I thought about how Sam loves to raise his milk, water, green tea, whatever he has in a cup and smiles and says "Cheers!!"  Now each time he does it I will think of Jay.

Cheers will be missed and we will always love you!!!

John "Jay" Mayer Eulogy given by Faron Daugs

Thank you all for coming today, for all of the phone calls, notes, cards and words of support for the entire family the past few months and days.

My name is Faron Daugs and I am one of the 4 most fortunate people in the world, along with Rick Jackson, Randy Buser and Sue Mayer that were able to call Jay Mayer our father-in-law.
I’d like to thank Diana, Debbie, Jeff, Linda and Julie for the incredible honor and humbling privilege of speaking about Jay today.   But I must be honest, trying to compile all of the many things and lives that John Mayer has touched in one concise speech is a fairly daunting task, I hope that I can do him justice.  We’ve spent the past several days, looking at pictures, telling stories, sharing memories of what we remember most and I can tell you that we spent a lot of time with tears but we also spent a lot of time in laughter.  It wasn’t just as I listen to Diana, the kids, grandkids, sister talk about him now, it has always been the same overlaying tone:  Jay was an incredibly generous, honest, thoughtful, kind, understanding, a good family provider, proud, patriotic and yes, he was an exceptionally energetic and fun personality to be around.

As I share some things with you today, you’ll see just exactly what I mean.
Jay started his life just south of his beloved Port Washington in Milwaukee. Even back then Jay never believed he couldn’t do something, as his sister Barb shared:  Shortly after his mom and dad brought home the first family television, Jay became quite a fan of the show SUPERMAN….yes, being the strong willed personality this young boy was, he wasn’t about to just let SUPERMAN fly, he too was going to do that ….so out he crawled on the railing of the front porch and “flew”….Just like Superman….well as you might image that didn’t quite end the way Jay (or his parents had hoped) and gravity won. 
But his spirit for “not being afraid to try something new” was with him then and carried him throughout his entire life right up to his last days.
During his last years of high school Jay met his future bride Diana Zinke at a teenage bar named “This Old House”.  As you can tell from some of the pictures you may have seen, Jay had a bit of a James Dean thing going on, liked to wear his tee-shirts and roll (things) up in the sleeves…Diana was not overly impressed with all of this thinking he was a bit cocky, however, being persistent and charming, he eventually charmed his way into her life and her heart.   They dated and Diana remembers her Dad always telling Jay that when he left their house in the car to “leave the gravel on the driveway, not on my yard”!    Jay never did get rid of that “lead foot of his”, only because he never really tried to…

Soon after High School graduation Jay went on to serve his country in the Army.  He spent months over in Iwa Gima, Japan (after the Korean War) constructing airplane runways.  Yes, he spent most of his nights sleeping in a canvas tent, right next to these runways as planes landed and took off all night long.   This certainly explains a lot about his ability to sleep anywhere and through anything, which became quite an asset once he and Diana filled their home with kids!
To be sure that the young Miss Zinke would not get away while he was half way across the world, Jay sent a telegram to his father on Christmas Eve, asking his father to have Diana come over to the family home.  He then wanted her to read the balance of the message.  As she did, Jay’s dad handed her the ring that Jay’s message was asking her to wear….and much to his delight her answer was YES!  See even without advanced technology, he found a way to “get things done at home” even though he was thousands of miles away!

Jay’s service to his country didn’t end after fulfilling his 2 year requirement, Jay’s service to his country never ended.  His commitment and pride for our beloved United States of America was lifelong.  Working hard to be sure all vets received the respect and thanks they deserve, he spent countless hours at the local Legion, volunteering his time to coordinate various legion functions, fish boils, funerals, becoming a icon in the Memorial Day and 4th of July parades, and even organizing an annual fishing excursion for disabled vets housed at the Milwaukee Vets hospital.  He donated countless hours and resources to the up keep of the Legion hall and being sure these vets had a great place to come together.

He understood the importance of the serviceman bond, in fact, you may have seen the picture of 5 service men in their late teens, then their 20’s, 30’s, and all the way up to when these same 5 were in their 70’s.  LIFE LONG, that’s the kind of friendship you got with Jay, whether you saw him every day, once a year or just once a decade it was as if you picked up right where you left off….true friendship.

And it wasn’t just his Army buddies he kept close tabs with, he blazed quite a wide path of friendships.  Upon returning from his service to our country, Jay went to Sheet metal apprentice school. He quickly became friends with a fellow student, Frank Kraus.  Both being in their early 20’s they found lots of things to get into after the long days of learning their trade, they found themselves on the wrong end of a “drag racing ticket” – there’s that lead foot again – the ticket slowed down their fun for a while but even though his friend Frank would soon move to California, they remained close friends for the past 52 years.  You could hear the sadness in Frank’s voice when Diana called him this past Thursday morning to share the news about Jay.

It was during this apprecenticeship that he became quite a cribbage player.  His love of the game showed as he generally had a cribbage board somewhere within reach.  He became Mr. Cribbage and it would be quite a feat if you should be able to beat him.  Later in life he would teach his kids and some grandkids the game and thoroughly enjoyed this time with all that would partake.
Never wanting anyone to feel left out, Jay made friends easily and impacted their lives forever.  His own oncologist, Dr. Maul, after knowing Jay for just 6 months told his daughter’s Linda and Julie “I love your Dad, I’d drain the lake for him”, imagine that after just being around him for 6 short months!

In May of 1958, John Henry Mayer and Diana Mae Zinke became Mr. and Mrs. John (Jay) Mayer!  They began to fill the family home fairly quick with Debbie (1959), Jeff (1961), Linda (1962) and the caboose Julie (1964).  So this is where the “being able to sleep through anything” really came in handy!

By this time Jay was working at his father and Uncle’s family business, which he would eventually own and become CEO (J&H Heating),  his work many times took him away from home and all the kids would wait with great anticipation for him to come home with “gifts in tow for each of them”….  Yet they were equally excited to make the “welcome home signs”, put on plays in the basement, “Indiana wants me, Lord I can’t go back there….was apparently a very memorable skit” and even baking welcome home cakes (although Mitten’s the family dog got a hold of one of these cakes well before Jay even saw it).  This was all for the dad they loved so much, that would play Monopoly games every Sunday (games that lasted for days sometimes), a man that would work extra hours and odd jobs just so his 4 children and wife wouldn’t have to go without the “extras” in life and so they could buy the best they could afford.

He was a creative dad:  bringing Christmas trees home on Christmas eve to the delight of these 4 little Mayer kids.  Now these trees were usually “less than perfect” and would require “a little work”.  But really, if you drill a few new holes in the trunk, replace some of the branches in these holes, place some books on either side to “level it out” and finally “spray the white flocking” and wha la, now you have yourself a Christmas tree!

He was also a very fair dad:  The family trip to San Francisco included 3 consecutive trips over the Golden Gate Bridge, one end of the bride, turn around (the famous Whip de doolie) drive back over, just so the 2 kids with their license (Debbie and Jeff) could get a turn.  He then took Linda and Julie on a family trip to Flordia over “spring break” of all things (because it’s where they wanted to go).  He and Diana endured some less than desirable hotel accommodations so his daughters could have the “spring break experience” all the while sleeping with his wallet right under his pillow!

A practical dad:  As many of you know Jay had a passion for the automobile!  All kinds, classic collectors to just off the production line (the latest and greatest), in fact I think the only time some of them were driven was to take them out of the garage to go get washed and waxed.  Nonetheless, he loved his cars and inevitably it seems his kids all managed to find someway to put some dents in them.  Jay’s reply, “it’s only metal, as long as no one was hurt”.  It was obvious he could relate to their “need for speed” after all where do you think they got it?!

A teacher with expectations:  Well, sometimes obtaining “appreciation” for what you have is better taught with actions rather than words….while his 4 little darlings persisted on arguing about doing dishes, Jay felt the best way to end this was to go to the basement, shut off the power to the dishwasher (yes the dishwasher), proceed to take out every dish from every cabinet and letting the kids marvel at the now “larger task” they created for themselves!  Mission accomplished, teaching moment!  From that day on, there was never too much arguing over the dish washing duties.

Jay had a very hard strong work ethic and expectation that his kids would have the same.  In other words  “they had to get with the program” (one of Jay’s favorite sayings that will be with us always).  He understood that just giving them things would not make them self sufficient, appreciative and caring adults.  They had to learn by doing, and Diana, I believe you and Jay did it the right way.  You raised 4 incredible children (who of course married 4 incredible people, haha).  You and Jay instilled the same values that you both held so dear:  Honesty, generosity, respect, drive for excellence and a laughter and love for life. 

And of course, who could ever forget the extras that this father brought to his kids (and later grandkids)  “the walk around money” and of course report card day was a favorite with the grandkids (at least most).  The way he told his stories with “now….let me tell ya somethin’”….and then go on into great detail with emotion and gestures, making it as if you were right there when it happened.

All the while Jay and Diana were raising 4 great kids, they were building a home that was constructed of strong family values which is now prevalent within each of these kids homes as well.  I don’t think that could be better illustrated than by the fact that on the night Jay passed from this life, there they were all 4 of those kids, Diana, several grandchildren, his sister and brother in law, having a Dilly bar party around his bed.  THAT’s a father who did something very right!
At the same time all this child raising was happening, they were also seeing the family business that Jay worked for and now had purchased from his father growing as well.  J & H Heating was becoming a thriving business, an icon in Port Washington commerce and was now providing an opportunity for Jay and Diana to take advantage of all the hard work by taking several incentive trips with Lennox.  They both would talk about all of the fun they had on these trips, the people they would meet, the way they were all treated “first class all the way”.  They traveled all over:  Mexico, Switzerland, Vienna, Austria, Sweden.

Again, being the type of guy he was, Jay never took any of this for granted, always appreciating the fact that he had this opportunity for he and Diana and genuinely grateful for everything he had. 
As a couple they traveled all over the United States with some usual suspects, putting several thousand miles on “the van” and creating memories that are still talked about all the time.  These friendships grew and endured to this very day, as you can witness not just by the pictures you have seen but by the amount of people that came to bid their good friend “good bye”.
Diana has such great memories of the church dances, she said he was a pretty good dancer but had a little to be desired in coordinating clothes (sometimes a few too many checks and plaids)!  After the dances it wouldn’t be unusual for a whole bunch of friends to come on over for some late night/early morning breakfast….  She always had to be sure she was stocked up on eggs, bacon and coffee, because it was more likely than not, that Jay would be sending out “breakfast invitations” all night long.  Late night breakfast of course does not come without it’s hazards, a pan of bacon grease on the kitchen carpet!  (not sure which is worse bacon grease on the carpet, or carpet in the kitchen?)

Diana even got used to the fact that when Jay got home for dinner at night, he might not be alone.   You see Jay’s generosity knew few boundaries and if he came across someone that didn’t have anywhere to go for dinner, that someone would soon find a chair at the Mayer dinner table be it Christmas eve or not.  More than once there was an “extra” at the house Christmas eve.
Entertaining was always a big part of Jay and Diana’s life together, be it with the Wind Jammers, Legion members, Ladies Auxillary club, (Diana might have others???) they were always there to offer their place to host the event.  I can only imagine how many of you out there today remember a few trips you or your parents took to Nelson Lane and more recently to Random Lake for all the going’s on at “the Lakehouse”.

Diana said to me just the other day, “I wonder how many people Jay and I have had out to this lake house over the past 10 years?”.  Well I guarantee it was many and I can guarantee they all had plenty to eat and drink and left with some stories to tell….

Jay was really never too much of a sports fan, that was more up Diana’s alley.  She told me that they would go to the grandkids basketball games, she’d be intently watching the game only to look over and see Jay intently checking out all of the duct work with the HVAC….  A true tinner through and through. 

His devotion to his trade, his business, was never more prevalent then on April 16th, 1991 when Jay was called to his place of business by the fire department and as he arrived he saw his entire building up in flames.  Many would be crushed, devastated, distraught about what to do now,  NOT Jay, as he was being interviewed by the local media, flames in the background, Jay said, “we’ll rebuild, we’ve been here for 40 years and we’ll come back stronger than before”.  And guess what?  They did and in November of 1992, J&H moved into it’s new bigger home on Mineral Springs drive and has expanded 4 times since.

Now Jeff might like to jump up and let you all know that it did take some arm twisting to get Jay to build that big, and I don’t doubt that, because Jay was an eternal optimist, he was at times practical and conservative but his business sense served him well all his years and he wanted to be sure that money was always spent wisely (his cars were an exception, yes). 

Jeff, in the family business for many years now, mentioned that he and Jay would always battle over buying machines or equipment, so finally it was easier to buy things when the other one was out of town!  (I think it’s clear this apple did not fall far from the tree). In fact, Jay’s genetic and personality traits have continued into the next generation.  Jeff was at Grand Ave. talking with friends about Ben, his ideas and how he usually argues when he interacts with Jeff at J&H.  The following week Jay stopped in to see Randy and Jay heard the stories that Jeff was telling about Ben.  Jay smiled and said “I once knew a boy who was just like that”,  bringing to mind a quote by Charles Wadsworth: “By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s wrong.”

Jay thought the world of everyone that worked at J&H Heating and he showed it with his incredible Christmas parties!  He’d go out and buy hundreds of gifts, gifts of all shapes, sizes and have his granddaughters wrap them up in old blue prints from old jobs.  He and Diana would host dinner and drinks for all the employees and spouses.  At the beginning of the night he start by proclaiming alright everyone “now….heres the program…” and proceed to run through details of how things were going to work.  He loved being up there, not as the center of attention, but an employer who really really appreciated his employees. 

Jay kept his things cars, shop, garage in tip top shape and he ran the company the same way.  He had a favorite highlighter at work that he would use like a scapal on invoices and bills, highlighting certain things in certain colors.  When his daughter Linda joined the company and took over his “highlighter collection” at J&H it was ceremonial.

All in all the Mayer family was doing pretty well.  They had happy kids, a growing business, good friends and family to share many great times with, but Jay began to wonder, what does that get you?  One day about 12 -13 years ago he and I were sitting at my home and he asked me, “so you work so hard, save your money (he would credit Diana for being such a good scriper and saver) so you can give it to the kids when you’re gone, is that what happens here, what the hell”, “should I start giving it away now so I can at least see them enjoy it” and me being married to one of his daughter said YES…..HAHA. We talked about his friends the Schultz’s that had a great cottage on a lake and all the kids would meet there and how much fun they had.

Jay being Jay, turned his idea into reality and the “Mayer Lake House” was a reality!  He was in his element from the time they cleared the lot up until the first piece of furniture came through the door.  He was the ultimate General Contractor and believe me he was “on the job site” all the time.  The best thing was that it wasn’t a job to him, it was a vision of the future for he and Diana, their kids, grandkids and for many generations to come.

Once again, family first, he and Diana built a home where the entire family could meet for holidays or just to hang out.  Bringing everyone closer together was the intended by product of such a great place that we all love to go to!  He always had a project and on any given day you could hear Diana yell outside from the living room, “now Jay, your done, come in here and sit down, you’ve done enough for the day”….  Generally you’d say this 3 -4 times Diana and then finally give up….
He loved the puttering but came to realize that too much puttering could cost him some real money….he’d say, “ya know I look around and think, aw wouldn’t it be great to have a big sink to clean these big pots and it would be done or “I’d like to get this garage organized and it would be done.  We’ll Jay I cannot think of anything that isn’t done right at that house!

Jay didn’t build the Lake House to have it, he built it to share it!  Ask his next door neighbor who’s house was being remodeled and was hosting an “outdoor party for several guests, unfortunately mother nature didn’t cooperate and it began to rain….Jay without missing a beat, walked over and offered to have them move the party over to his house, they had more than enough room, and so that’s what they did.

Or how about Jay and Diana offering another lifelong friend the house for the weekend so they could host a family reunion and a location that would allow more people to come….
This is who John (Jay) Mayer was, and wouldn’t it be great if we had a world full of them!  You know, I believe that the Lake House added both years to his life and life to his years!  I’d venture to say that he and Diana got to know their grandkids much better than most grandparents do.  Katie, Sara, Ben, Brooke, Danielle, Sam and Eli will always have great memories of “the lake”. 

In fact, just over 4th of July when Jay wasn’t feeling too great, Ben found out that his dad was making grandpa’s lemon chicken.  Without skipping a beat Ben said to Grandpa Jay “Grandpa can you go help my Dad, he’s making your chicken, he makes it good, but not as good as you.”
There are stories like this for all the kids and grandkids and there will be stories told for many many years and I think you heard from Brooke’s beautiful poem how impactful he has been on all of them.

John (Jay) Mayer has been many things to many people over the years.  He taught us the meaning of family, he never judged (he might say “well that’s not the way I would have done it, but it works just the same), he was always willing to lend a helping hand (not just give a hand out), he always had your back and encouraged you to be the best person you could be.  He lived his life on his terms, but always with his family in mind.

Jay was an amazingly colorful personality, he lived by strong principles, things were black & white and he wrapped himself (and even his company logo) in the colors of our great country, so it still bewilders me that his favorite color was gray!

We will miss all of the many shades of Jay in our lives, Diana I know that he loved you very much and was always most concerned that you would be ok, Debbie, Jeff, Linda and Julie he was incredibly proud of the people you became and I know Rick, Randy and Sue would join me in thanking you for bringing us into this amazing family.

So Jay we will continue to celebrate your life and will spend our lifetime appreciating all you gave us!After all of these years and all of these amazing memories, it seems you really are SUPERMAN!

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