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 Grand Dad Otto

Bro Kirk Luehrs

 Otto was a hard man, harder than the rocks and dirt of the high desert country, that he chose to call home. He lived in a black and white world, no room for shades of grey.
Otto was a living palindrome, no matter which way you looked at him, he was the same..

He lost his first born child, while he and his dad were off on an alcoholic hunting trip. The news of this on his return triggered a remorse and a resolve that followed him the rest of his life. He never drank again.

Otto fathered six more kids and then he lost his wife to cancer, right after child birth. He remarried and produce two more sons, bringing to eight the total child count in his nursery. He made them all go to church until they were twelve years old and then they could go or not it was up to them. Otto didn’t go to church because he said that he and God had made an arrangement, but he never said what that was. All of his children would distinguish themselves in this life, both in war and peace, leaving this world a better place than they found it.

Otto was an industrious man. He owned a thousand acre ranch, a five hundred acre apple orchard, the largest privately held bird refuge in the United States and the only drug store in town. He always said that crops could fail, but people always got sick.

He put all of his kids through college, during the great depression, even though he had lost all of his money when the banks failed. He had a strong back and egger hands, and did what had to be done so his kids could benefit from an education. He determined that pharmacy was an excellent trade and it was a requirement of each male child to obtain that degree, the girls would be teachers, after that they could do what ever they wanted.  

 Luehrs Bird Refuse, Ontario, OR

Two became doctors, one a nurse, another a hospital administrator, and one an engineer, all but two served in the military and experience combat. Otto never said if he was proud of them, it broke his heart when his children went off to war. He was a mans man, firm but fair, if you crossed him he would knock you down, if he liked you he would help you up.
When I first entered this world, Otto was getting ready to leave it. We would spend four short years together before he died. Otto was my grandfather and he left me a legacy that very few could bestow on one of their descendants. He left me,… my future.

Grandad and Me

In the very late sixties, I was a fresh and struggling artist and writer, in Portland Oregon. I scored an appointment the art director of the Oregonian newspaper, a gentleman by the name of John Waddingham. I desperately needed a job and hoped and prayed that Mr. Waddingham would hire me. At the end of the interview, he advised me that there were no openings for artists at that time. Then he asked me a very unusual question. He wanted to know the name of my father. I told him it was Herbert. Mr. Waddingham nodded and said, “Herb was Otto’s middle son, his favorite, he was ahead of me in school, your aunt Ione was our teacher, but you knew that already, I shared a desk with your uncle Richard, and joined the Army Air Corp with your uncle Jack.” Well, I didn’t know all that all ready in fact this was the first that I had heard of it.  

 My last name is an un common German name, and my family had lived in the wind covered dusty old town of Ontario, Oregon, so it was easy for Mr. Waddingham to make the connection, in this ever shrinking world. That was all that was spoken about on that day. Mr. Waddingham, called the art director of his competition, at the Oregon Journal newspaper, and got me an interview there, and a subsequent job, as a feature artist. Two years later, I head that Mr. Waddingham was looking for an artist, so I hot footed it over there. He was impressed with my portfolio, and said as much, and he would love to have me work for him… but..

Oh mercy.. The ominous “but”.. I needed to get experience outside of the newspaper trade.. And he was going to do me a “favor” and not hire me.. Even though I was as good or better than any one he had on staff.. We parted friends.. And indeed he did do me a favor, as I got to really challenge my self artistically in the commercial field. Three years later John Waddingham hired me… and more, he became my good friend, teacher and mentor. I would owe him my career. One night, when I was working late, John stopped by and before he left, a circle would be closed. We had been chatting for a while, when I mentioned how grateful that I was for all that he had done for me, and everything. John stopped me, shaking his head, “ don’t thank me Kirk, if it was not for your grandfather, my family would not have survived, and I most certainly, would not be here….” He then proceeded to tell me this story…

John Waddingham was born in England, and spent his early years in India. His father was a British Army bandmaster with His Majesties Sixth Seik Bengal Lancers, who left the service to seek his fortune in the New World and the American west. He and his family made it as far as Ontario Oregon, when John became very sick and needed medicine. Johns father was flat stone broke, not a penny in his pocket for food, much less medicine, but he went to the drug store any way, and met Otto, for the very first time.

He explained his background, and circumstance concluding that he would work for his needs if he had the opportunity. Otto explained that he had six children at home who needed music lessons, and if Mr. Waddingham Sr. would be so inclined to instruct them he would be most grateful. He paid him for all six students a month in advance on the spot, more than enough for food and medicine, but it didn’t stop there. He arranged lodging for them until they were on their feet.  

 Otto's Drugstore
Otto's Drugstore

The next day Otto informed Mr. Waddingham Sr. that the Ontario School board was extending an offer of employment as their one and only music director, if he would be interested. It was a position that he would hold until he retired many years later. It seems Otto was the head of the school board. There was also a paid position as organist at the children’s church, but even with the jobs and outside work, times were hard and money was scare. John said that when their food got low, there would be a knock at the door, and when they opened it, a very large and over flowing box of food would be generously sitting in the silence, with no one standing behind it. The box would contain ducks or geese or pheasant, and in season wild game of all sorts, deer, fish, sausage, roasts, steaks, and out of season there would be beef and chicken, and always apples and potatoes. That is how they knew it came from Otto, he was the only one who had apples in winter, that and they saw my uncle Jack drop off a box one night. Every Christmas the box would always be bigger and would hold the fattest goose that you could ever imagine.. And onions.. John said that without every thing that Otto did, the Waddingham’s would not of survived, but more important than that he never made them feel like beggars, he always protected their pride, yes he provided for them but he did more.. He provided a means for them to pay their own way, and never asked for a thank you or a “pat my back”.. for Otto, this is just the way it was should be.. He never acted like he was doing anything special. The school needed a band master, his kids need a music teacher.. He had all this left over food.. Please help him eat it, don’t let it go to waste.. You always had the feeling that you were helping him rather than the reverse.
Now I had never heard this story before, and I was speechless. John said he was not surprised, Otto never spoke of it to any one and was not a person who accepted thank you’s. John said that if I wanted to know more, that I should probably talk to my dad, as the Waddinghams were not the only ones that Otto gave a hand up too.

At my first opportunity, I got a hold of my dad and asked him to verify Johns story. He more than verified it. Johns father taught my dad to play the French horn. Dad said he made many trips to the Waddingham’s door, with boxes and boxes of food and game. Dad said the Waddinghams were not the first or the only folks that ate from their table. It seems that my grandfather would not let anyone in his house sit down to eat, if he knew of any hungry needs in town or the surrounding country side. He would load up the truck with boxes and give the boys the delivery list and the warning, not to be seen. Don’t get caught, we don’t want to embarrass anyone now.

Dad and Bob bird hunting 1923

If there was not enough food or game in the cellar, he would have the boys load up their guns and go hunting. My dad said he started “shooting for the box” , before he was ten, and he had the photos of him and his brother Bob, with a days shooting for food for the family of the boxes.  

They did this until the world went crazy and all the boys went off to war. Otto tried to do it all by him self then, and did. One day while he was carrying a deer out of the Steen Mountains on his shoulders .. He had a heart attack.. It didn’t kill him but it ended his deer hunting days. He still gave out medicine to those in need who could not pay. Otto was not a rich man, he never seemed to be able to save a dime. Somebody always had a greater need. According to dad, when John Waddingham Sr. got the job as music director for the Ontario schools there was no money in the budget for it and granddad paid his salary out of his own pocket for the first two years.. Until the school could manage it on there own.. That was just the way he was.
When he died, he left his land to his widow, she had no one to work it so it had to be sold. There was enough to care for her for the rest of her days but not much else. No big gobs of money for all his kids and grandkids.. Yet for me he left a legacy beyond all measure, and one that he could never have imagined. His good deeds reached out across generations, time and space to help his struggling grandson, just starting out in his career. He gave me a teacher, a mentor and a friend.. What greater gift can you give someone?

The lessons of his life is really quite clear. The deeds you do or leave undone today go forward in directions that affect the lives of future generations, in ways that you will never know. Had my grandfather demanded cash that day from one who could not pay, my life would not have gone the way that brought me to today. He did his deeds in secret not wanting accolades, he didn’t talk the talk, he just walked the walk…
Otto was a hard man, things for him were carved in stone, a good man does what’s right. Otto’s world was black and white, you lifted up the weaker, because you were your brothers keeper.

His Brothers Keeper, Otto and me

God Bless You Otto Gerhard Luehrs
God Bless You Granddad
And thanks for every thing
So.. What are you doing for the generations to come?
Hmm? Is your legacy growing?
Are we are brothers keeper?
God Bless You

© Copyright 2008 Kirk Luehrs