Many years ago I got the job of covering Albion Town Council meetings for the Albion New Era. We were in the old Town Hall at the time, and the meeting room was a cramped place, lined with old wooden chairs that creaked loudly with the slightest movement. As I got out my notepad, a tall, lanky man who appeared to be a few years younger than me sat down and produced a similar notepad.
Then he produced a book, which he proceeded to bury his nose in.
Now, that was my kind of newspaper reporting; reading a book was infinitely more fun than covering a meeting. But my mind was too easily distracted as it was, and I tend to lose myself in books, so it’s nothing I would have tried. Surely this guy couldn’t possibly both follow the story and keep track of what was going on in the meeting?
But when I read the News-Sun article on the meeting, I found he’d kept track of everything just fine; and once I got to know him better, I realized he probably could have done a book report, too.
This was my introduction to Dave Knopp. Nobody can balance many things at once the way he can. From that meeting until he left for bigger and better things, we would swap details that one of us (usually me) missed, or fill each other in if we were late to a meeting.
I was not a close personal friend of Dave’s; I didn’t show up at his place for dinner, and he never dropped by to talk politics or help me work on my car. But he was friend to everyone, to individuals and the community alike, and everyone who met him came away thinking this was someone who really cared.
This, I suppose, is why I teared up a bit when I heard the news on July 3rd.
Dave Knopp was, in fact, six years older than me, although I’d judged him to be younger. He had that kind of face, softened by the kindness of his heart that made him seem eternally young.
But don’t the good die young?
I don’t need to spend a great deal of time on Dave’s well known accomplishments: three years in the Peace Corps, Director of the Noble County Community Foundation, on the board of the Cole Center Family YMCA, active with the Big Brothers, Hand-In-Hand adoptions, the Lions Club, and Merry Lea Environmental Center. He toured every township in Noble County – on foot – to promote the NCCF, and then did the same thing by bicycle to recognize the youth of 4H.
None of that tells his story. Anybody can work hard. Lots of nasty people work hard. They get rich, buy a lot of toys, then die and are remembered only by the relatives fighting over the will.
Lots of people work hard for money, or fame, or power. Dave Knopp worked hard for people. He was a volunteer in the fullest sense of the word, and even in his paid jobs he did everything for the community. He was bigger than that – he was something you just don’t hear of these days. He exemplified an idea so old fashioned that it’s generally ridiculed by today’s society:
Dave Knopp was a nice guy.
On the list of just plain nice, decent guys who I’ve known – and it’s a short list –
Dave is in the top five … maybe the top two. Close to number one.
Maybe that’s why he went so young; a guy burning up that much basic decency so quickly couldn’t hope to last long.
Dave Knopp cared about every human being he encountered.
When he talked to you, he looked you in the eye, really looked.
When you talked to him, he listened. That puts him in a rarified atmosphere, all by itself.
When something good happened to you, he didn’t get bored or jealous, or try to figure out a way to top you; he was genuinely happy for you.
Dave was 51, yet he worked tirelessly for the people around him, wherever he was. I have to say, I feel bad not only for him and his family, but also for everyone else. How do we replace Dave Knopp?
What one person could possibly accomplish all that he did? Who will fight for our community? Who will speak for those who can’t? Who will be our encouragement, and our inspiration? If there was ever a cliché for this situation, it’s “they don’t make ‘em like him anymore”.
I grieve for us all. I grieve because I worry that there’ll ever be an advocate like him anymore. I grieve that I didn’t spend more time around him, maybe soaking up some of that common decency that’s no longer so common. I grieve that I didn’t make it to the memorial service, even though I was at the hospital with my newborn grandbabies – a priority I know he would have understood entirely.
I grieve because he deserved a nice, long retirement, even though he’d never have retired – no matter how long he lived, he’d have kept up the same pace.
I grieve because our chances of this world becoming a better place took a step backward with his loss. It was a loss for all of us, and we’ll miss him terribly. We can take some small comfort in the knowledge that he did more in his 51 years than most people could begin to do if they lived to be a hundred. The best way to honor his memory would be to do our best to make our own world a better place, even if our efforts are a poor shadow of what he did.
The only small comfort I can take is that, even as we speak, Dave Knopp is hard at work organizing Heaven’s new Community Affairs program.