Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 2, 2007

Thanks for coming our way

I only met Rod a few times. Art worked with him for over a decade and counted him as a friend. Along the way, Art had been instrumental in helping Rod secure two of the jobs that would propel him on his career.

A former boss described Rod as a guy's guy and she was probably right. Although he was quiet, had an impish grin and good sense of humor and was well liked, he had only one semi-serious relationship. He just didn't seem to have time for a woman in his life. He worked 15-hour days and at the end, seemed as fresh as when he started. The next day, he'd do it again because he loved what he did.

And he did a lot of different things. His main areas of interest were electronics and anything mechanical. So it was natural that when K-State dabbled in electric vehicles in the mid-1990s that Rod was involved. Later, when the TDM plant was built to produce electric vehicles, he moved there. And when that operation succumbed to projects that never materialized, he moved on to Detroit to continue in electric and hybrid vehicle work.

I think one of the reasons Art liked him so much is they shared a lot of traits. Both solved problems by focusing on understanding what was going on, followed by trying out solutions. That trait applied to everything Rod tried. In the late 1980s, when one of the local radio stations was having a treasure hunt involving a new clue each day, Rod worked on it steadily - and won.

He and Art also shared an unbridled curiosity. One of Rod's co-workers recounted how Rod was always bringing gadgets to work - usually ones that were broken. He cruised local pawn shops or surplus stores looking for these things. He disassembled them to see how they worked, found out what was wrong them and then, if possible, repaired them. With his curiosity satisfied, he would then try to find someone to buy them.

He was very frugal too, often driving vehicles that were on their last legs or keeping an eye out for a place where he could buy tools cheap. He also knew what places sold food at reduced prices near the end of the day.

He also cared about others. In Detroit, when the company hired an engineer from Russia, Rod transported Alex to and from work to save the man the $20 taxi fares. He also took him to museums and searched with him for an apartment. And, when Alex tried to pay him back, Rod refused, just asking him to do the same for someone else someday who needed help.

Yet more than anything else, it was probably Rod's sunny even-tempered disposition that made him so easy to like.

Sadly, despite being very talented, he had what turned out to be a fatal flaw - a predilection for alcohol. None of his friends and co-workers here knew because be was a binge drinker and he never drank on the job.

But it killed him a little more than a month before his 45th birthday.

Art spoke at his service a couple of weeks ago and everyone seemed to enjoy the funny stories and the luncheon that followed. Art said it almost seemed like Rod had thrown a party, but at the last minute couldn't attend.

It's hard to lose someone you liked and cared for. Yet as the minister said, we're all just passing through and the length of our stay is unknown. A day of loss always comes and we can choose to fixate on what we have no more or on what we gained by having had that person in our lives. Rod was a kind and gentle person - a "cool guy," as his previous boss said. I'm glad I got to meet him and I know Art's feelings are much stronger as he knew Rod so much better.

So now he is gone and only our memories remain. But that's to remind us how valuable and memorable a kind person with an easy smile can be in lifting the spirits of those around him. Thanks for coming our way, Rod, even if your time here was short.

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