Sunday, August 23, 2009

Local Icon Passes

It's a sign we're all getting older - the people we looked up to and who influenced our lives are passing on. Such as this case - Sidney Taylor Warner, 75, of Cimarron, KS , died Aug. 21, 2009, at The Shepherd's Center. Arrangements are pending with Swaim Funeral Chapel, Cimarron.

That's it in a nutshell, but Sid deserves so much more. He had been fighting cancer, and it wasn't pretty, so as in most cases like this, it was probably better for him to return to the Creator rather than suffer. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a citizen of Cimarron who didn't owe some sort of gratitude to Sid, because his actions over the course of his life influenced us all.

Sid was one of the "big" farmers. His family also owned several insurance companies based in Cimarron, so he was responsible for employing a large portion of the population of our little town, plus the neighboring communities that commuted. Unfortunately, the tightening farming economy has even managed to pull down some of the best, and Sid was one of them. A lot of people claimed that it was because Sid insisted on "the best" when "just good enough" would do. An example often floated was the construction of new cattle pens and loadouts scattered across his pastures. They were always welded pipe set in concrete. The best. Instead of wood and wire or boards, or whatever - just good enough.

Nope, Sid wasn't all about the "best.'' His thinking was more for the future. Those pens he had built all over the place will still be there functioning with little maintenance fifty or more years from now. Sid built to last, and "just good enough" wasn't good enough. He also set aside a lot of ground for little wildlife conservation areas. He was the person responsible for the little area another farmer destroyed to gain more tillable ground mentioned in this post.

I say this because of how he lived, too. Sid could have afforded a whole series of expensive, showy cars to drive, but that wasn't what he bought. Nope, he had "field cars." Sid didn't drive a pickup because he needed a car more. Visiting landlords and family, various executives and dignitaries, and more apropos to me, Scouts - needed chauffeuring around. Pickups didn't have that kind of passenger room. So, for years, Chevy Biscaynes with six cylinder power and three-on-the-tree-dog-dish-hubcap-black-sidewall-am radio models were his choice. That was enough, they met his minimalist requirements, why waste money on flash? When Biscaynes were discontinued, Impalas were his choice (rather than Caprices, the higher cost trim level). He was quite upset when Chevy dropped the manual option so that automatics were the only game in town. If Sid needed a pickup to get somewhere inaccessible to his cars, he had a veritable fleet of four wheel drive Chevy pickups equipped with flatbeds, all forest green, with perhaps the Warner Ranch brand logo welded on the headache rack (shop made, by his welders in his "shop"). Nothing ostentatious, but functional. He finally succumbed to the SUV revolution - but only because what was basically a four door car with four wheel drive met his needs.

Sid always paid the help a bit more than the going rate. This included a legion of high school boys who helped drive his fleet of tractors during the summer. I was quite envious of the hours and pay they got - a lot of my classmates were able to buy pretty decent cars for themselves and have spending money all year long (if they managed the money properly, of course) working for Sid. In contrast, my dad didn't have that many hours or pay for me. There were a lot of college educations that probably wouldn't have happened if not for Sid.

Sid also gave back to the community in countless ways, but for me, the two most visible were his affiliation with the Democrat Party and his devotion to the Boy Scouts of America. Sid was the party in Southwest Kansas. He stood apart in a sea of Republicans. He had a lot of influence in Topeka, no matter the party in power. There were countless little things he did and expected no publicity or exposure in return. If there was some sort of community effort to raise money for, say improvement to the local library, well, the organizers could always count on a significant check from Sid. He didn't want the fanfare, he was all about results.

He was also the community Scoutmaster for years. He hauled me (and so many others) to the Spanish Peaks Scout Ranch several times in his "field car." Riding with him was a pleasure, because it was always informative, and he listened to us no matter the subject or how inane the conversations became, as is the wont of young teenage boys. He was adamant about keeping the campsite clean, even cleaner after we left than before we got there. It used to drive us to distraction when he'd announce it was "time to police the area." Sid would find the most insignificant shred of paper, kick it with his toe, and have one of us pick it up. Naturally, we thought this was indicative how he was better than us, but we were wrong. He was driving home the idea of responsibility - unflinchingly delegating the task at hand. He didn't care what we thought in that case - he was all about results. Results being young men with high moral standards and skills to meet the challenges of the world. Leaving the world a better place.

Sid was at home in a suit or Boy Scout duds, but his everyday uniform was pretty basic. Cotton blend button shirts, blue jeans, comfortable leather lace shoes made up the bulk of his wardrobe. That outfit served him during harvest, climbing on a combine or a truck to check his wheat, or meeting a dignitary at the airport. The custom harvester who employed me for so many years cut most of Sid's wheat and all of his fall crops, so I had occasion to interact with Sid quite a bit over the years. He and my father's younger brother were roommates at Kansas State, too. I'd see Sid at the local cafe - when I actually go - and he always - always - spoke to me and asked about my family, and what I was up to. That was his way.

This was something he passed on to his children - Sara and Charlie - as well. Were you a casual observer watching the social interactions of the younger set, you'd have never guessed that those two were the "richest kids on the block." Some time after we'd all graduated, I ran into Sara at her dad's feedlot. I was there unloading grain, and we hadn't seen each other in years. The incongruity of our stations in life and how most people deal with that sort of thing struck me, so I mentioned it to her. The money she represented could have bought and sold me or many of my classmates with higher opinions of themselves with ease. The "stuck up" types. Farm kids, even in farming communities, often are seen as lower on the social scale than the "city" kids.

But not with those two. I complimented Sara on that fact, and she was pretty tickled about it. She informed me that her parents had raised her not to think she was any better than any of the rest of us, and she had tried to live her live accordingly. Both she and Charlie are very active in the community and the Democrat party as well - carrying on the tradition. Leaving the world a better place.

I wish I could list all his achievements and honors over the years - I know he picked up a bunch of plaques and framed citations for this'n'that over the years. But that isn't the sort of legacy he was interested in. Just driving around the town, seeing the houses of his former employees, the families raised, the countless educations of the town's children, the enduring landmarks cast in trees, grass and durable, functional structures - well, that's more his speed. Results.

Sid, you left the world a better place, and I and many others owe you a debt of gratitude that can only be repaid by continuing to do the right thing, live a moral life, and leave this old world a better place for our descendants. I hope I have the strength to achieve a tiny fraction of what you managed to do. Au revoir, and rest in the bosom of the Lord.

And Thelma, Sara and Charlie - should you read this - you all have my deepest sympathies and condolences.


Earl said...

Sounds like he left a lot of Heaven here on Earth, nice that you knew him so well to speak so highly of him, and I am glad I was here to read about him. Gone to God, Sid.

ptg said...

What a fine eulogy, Jeffro. I was reminded of men I knew that were like Sid, and felt like I knew Sid by the time I finished reading.

ahilker37 said...

Very touching. We should all be so lucky as to leave a foot print like his. He reminds me of my Grandma..Bless them. Psalms 91: 10-12.

drjim said...

I fell sorry for not only his family, but also for the loss all the people he helped must feel.
Your community has truly lost a good friend.
My deepest sympathy....

The Local Malcontent said...

Honoring your dear friend like this, makes him still live, now in lives and in minds of whom he never directly touched.

A beautiful tribute; through you,
I feel like I knew Sid, I miss his spirit too.

Tough Mama said...

I did not know of Sid's passing unitl today. I am so sorry, for I knew his children from HS.

I can empathize with your grief, I too, just lost my father Aug 9, 2009.

The hardest part for me, is the missing them. Hopefully you will be blessed enough to see and talk to him in your dreams. It can be a real comfort.

My prayers are with his family.