The Torch Is Passed

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Like a bright beacon, Jack Leckie stood as a steady torch light, forever illuminating our lives, our community, our very essence. In his remarkably demur way, he reminded us of where we came from, why it was important to embrace that past, and how those previous travels help guide our future.

I was the new kid on the block when I first met Jack. Literally. I had just moved to Mendon (well, technically, it was a permanent return after an earlier short residence at my parents’ new home). I was also a “kid.” I was only 26 years old when I moved into my home.

You get the picture. Definitely the new kid on the block.

So you could understand why I might have been nervous when, shortly after moving in, Jack invited me to his home on Boughton Hill Road. Imagine my thoughts. There was me – a newbie – and Jack – the Town Supervisor.

I was in awe. I was unworthy. I was a mere peon of youth compared to this big man of Mendon.

Yet he and Nancy (the perfect hostess, by the way) welcomed me with open arms into their home. From the moment they greeted me at the door, their warmth told me I wasn’t a lowly stranger, but an old friend.

But maybe something more. For, before I even stepped over the threshold and into the house, Jack had me pause, turn around, and behold the natural beauty of Mendon that he saw every day when he left for work. It was stunning. The steep incline on the other side of the street dissuaded development. It left a wide-open vista of a vast variety of gorgeous green foliage. You could see this bountiful beauty rolling all the way to the horizon.

To this day I remain struck about the nature of the stories of old Mendon Jack told me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a bit of a sucker when it comes to history, but Jack didn’t know that at the time (or did he?). Still, it was the way he told the stories. He painted a picture of a quaint era that he recognized would soon pass into history. This was his youth. This was a time when his future was yet to be traveled, when hope, dreams, and imagination was at its highest.

I could only liken it to the black-and-white episodes of the Andy Griffith Show. It was a peaceful time, a bit fuzzy around the edges, but a happy time when young boys were free to roam, explore, and discover. Sure, they made a few honest mistakes, but how else would they have been able to learn, to grow into fine young men, upstanding models of civic pride? Somehow, when the show switched to color – when it modernized – it lost that homespun feeling.

Jack dove deep into not only his and Nancy’s history, but into the very heart of the Town’s past, too. I remember this vividly, not just because of the antique picture Jack shared with me, but with the level of exacting detail he recalled.

It was a tale concerning the four corners of Mendon (otherwise known as the Hamlet of Mendon). Maybe he was testing my sense when it came to what’s important to maintain that small town feel, but he was particularly passionate about the decades old idea when the Lehigh Valley Railroad was at its vibrant peak and wanted to build a highway bridge over the railroad where it crossed Route 64 and Route 251.

“That would have been horrible!” I abruptly interrupted, breaking from my respectful demeanor. I immediately apologized for my impudence.

Jack quickly moved beyond my act of contrition. It was my sudden statement that intrigued him. Nancy’s ears also perked up, and she leaned in as Jack calmly asked, “Why do you think that?”

This time with proper politeness, I answered, “Well, imagine what that would have done to the character of the Hamlet? In fact, we wouldn’t have had the Hamlet if they were allowed to build those bridges. It would have destroyed that small-town charm you can only get with a lonely railroad depot.”

Jack relaxed back into his seat and smiled approvingly. Nancy, too. It was as if they were of one mind. Caretakers of the community. Determined to instill the sense of that community in the souls of all they met.

I came away from that short social visit honored to have been invited into their lives. I can’t ever forget the message of their kindness and cordial hospitality. From that moment on, I knew I could trust Jack. Always. If ever I had a question about the Town, Jack would be the one I would turn to.

Eventually I did, but everyone now knows the prominent role Jack played in starting the Sentinel. The story of Jack introducing me to Shirley Arena has been told often enough that it bears no repeating here. What is worth repeating, however, is this simple, undeniable fact: Without Jack, there would be no Sentinel today – whether we’re talking about its birth in 1989 or, for that matter, its “rebirth” in 2016. With a keen understanding of what a local newspaper means to keeping the fabric of the community woven together, Jack twice rescued our printed page.

Of course, he did much more than that.

Jack is perhaps best known for his work in service of the community, both through the elected offices he held and the volunteer positions he filled.

I had the extreme pleasure to have worked with Jack on the Town Board. He was one of what I call “the Grand Triumvirate.” These were the three veteran community servants who represented the paragon of that “Andy Griffith” style of community servant.

The three included Jack, Chuck Meisenzahl, and Lucy Parsons. Each took a unique role in teaching me the tools of the trade.

Chuck – always and forever the “coach” – represented the paterfamilias. My mistakes would never upset him. They would, however, earn that disapproving “you’re smarter than that” look. You know the one I’m talking about. Of course, he was right. Always.

Lucy – the Margaret Thatcher of Mendon both for her intelligence and her proper manner – represented the materfamilias. She mentored with compassion, never telling me I was wrong, but knowingly nudging me towards the correct direction. Of course, she was right. Always.

Jack, on the other hand, took a totally different approach. Jack never put on airs. He didn’t “train” me as a father would train a son or “coddle” me as a mother does to reassure her child. Nor did he show me the ropes as an older brother would teach his younger sibling.

No, Jack always treated me – and everyone – as an equal, as a friend. In his shy way, he’d talk to you, ask questions as if it was he who had to learn something new, and then let you decide for yourself. Above all, he always understood. He respected the opinions of others, even when they disagreed with each other, and always sought, not necessarily common ground, which a difference of opinion often made difficult, but a common friendship, for which there was never a reason to not have.

I was privileged to experience this first-hand, as I watched and learned the way Jack and Chuck and Lucy worked together. Each had professional experience well beyond mine. Each in their own right were giants. They encouraged each other to question themselves because they knew, given their duty to their community, that it was the only way to do what was in the best interest of the Town.

It was a wonderful comradery – and I was so lucky to have been a young apprentice allowed a seat at their noble table.

That’s what made my decision to serve only one term in office so difficult. I had this feeling they might think I let them down. Lucy, in particular, couldn’t believe I would leave the world of politics. Chuck, ever the Rotarian he was, knew there were many ways I could place my “service” above my “self.”

But, Jack… Jack was wisest of them all. Jack remained confident that, whatever role the future had in store, I would always have the concept of that small-town railroad depot forever in my soul.

He saw that in me. He saw that in many of you. It was that torch-light he shone brightly upon us.

Now, the torch is passed.

And Jack will live forever.

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