This story is both the hardest and easiest story that I have ever written.
Last week, my father, Lou Hunsinger Sr., died after a long illness. Thankfully he did not suffer. It is difficult to adequately express what he meant to my family, me, and his community.
My dad was an unabashed American patriot who was fiercely proud of his country, its flag, and all that both stand for. Whenever the flag passed at the parades or events that he helped at, he always stood a little straighter to show his respect.
He was very proud of his service in the U.S. Air Force. He would regale us with stories of his time stationed at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia — at a time when that part of the world was considered a backwater (1954-1955). It didn’t seem to have the strategic importance that it has today.
His greatest thrill in the Air Force was riding in a helicopter with General James H. Doolittle, who led the famous “Doolittle Raid” against Tokyo in April 1942. He was interviewing Doolittle for the base newspaper at Ellington Air Force Base, near Houston. (Maybe that is how I got my journalistic bent.) Anyway, my dad was awed by Doolittle’s presence. He told my dad not to be so nervous. Doolittle said he was glad to give the interview and hoped it would be interesting to the readers.
If it were not for my dad’s Air Force service, I might not be here. He met my mother while serving at Gary Air Force Base in San Marcos, Texas. She attended Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Texas State University) there in San Marcos.
In his professional life, he spent 30 years selling life insurance for the Baltimore Life Insurance Company (Life of Maryland). For him, those years produced many great friendships. The people he sold policies to were more than just policyholders; they were his friends. Whenever he had to deal with a death claim, he always went to their homes in-person to help them and console them in their time of loss. Their loss of a family member was also a loss of a friend to him. Sometimes my mom, my sisters, and I wondered why he wasn’t home every evening and sometimes on weekends, but it was because he was tending to clients’ needs (his friends). I only am now appreciating why that was so special.
My dad was uncommonly passionate about the concept of community service and doing things for others. He told me and many others that, “Helping out others is the rent you pay for living in your community.” Interestingly, Muhammad Ali said something similar many years after my dad tried to teach that concept to me and my sisters, and anybody who would listen. Ali said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room on earth.” I told that quote to my dad, and he said, “That’s exactly what I’ve been telling you kids all these years. Help make your community a better place than it was when you got there.” I would say that my dad amply paid his rent.
My dad was also zealous in ensuring that the volunteers he led as Williamsport Emergency Management Agency director were taken care of while helping out at a fire or disaster scene or a race or some other activity. He made sure they had plenty of food and coffee, and refreshments while they were out doing their jobs. He would often, cheerfully, take money from his own pocket to make sure their needs were adequately met. He said they were the heart and soul of what he did and what he believed in. Each year he paid for a nice Christmas party to show his appreciation for their efforts during the year.
I can’t talk about my dad without mentioning his service with the Old Lycoming Township Volunteer Fire Department during the last 20-plus years of his life. He valued the time he spent volunteering with the fine men and women of that department. He loved acting as a greeter at their fundraising fish dinners. I think the respect between them was mutual, and it brought him much joy to be associated with them.
His insurance activities weren’t the only thing that took him away. Sometimes on weekends and during the evening, his involvement with the Civil Air Patrol would take him out to search for a lost hunter or airplane. He would assist with training missions and at plane crashes, securing the site for FAA investigators.
I remember well the one time he had to come off of a training mission to take me to the hospital because I had appendicitis. He was still clad in his fatigues. Other vivid memories of his CAP service came in 1965 and 1967, and both involved airline crashes. I was attending Camp Big Bear, a day camp run by the local YMCA. Both times the day session had ended, and he had to hurriedly scoop me up and then drop me off while he rushed off to the crash sites. It was kind of exciting, but it must have been a little stressful for him. And perhaps strikingly, he was out at another plane crash — this one near Huntersville — when my sister, Kathleen, was born in 1958. My dad had to call one of his good friends to take my mom to the hospital to give birth.
I have a lot to live up to bearing my father’s name. I hope I can continue to live up to the high ideals that he lived his life by. Instead of looking at that as a burden, I welcome the challenge.
My dad was not a dad like Ward Cleaver from “Leave It to Beaver,” but my sisters and I didn’t need that. We were perfectly happy to have him the way he was.
I’d like to close by quoting from a poignant country song by Vince Gill called, “Go Rest High Up on That Mountain.”
Go rest high on that mountain
Son, your work on earth is done.
Go to heaven a-shoutin’
Love for the Father and the Son.
Oh, how we cried the day you left us
We gathered round your grave to grieve.
I wish I could see the angels faces
When they hear your sweet voice sing.