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Monday, February 05, 2018

Christopher W. Kimmel, Requiescat In Pace

"How can I help?" asked the voice at the other end of the phone that particular evening. 

It was my longtime friend and Brother, Chris Kimmel, phoning from down in Vincennes. I had just posted a Facebook message expressing terror over the onrushing deadline for the new book. I had saved the creation of a vital, yet annoying, massive appendix of reference tables as my very last task after two years. But time was running out, and I had no idea how to do it myself. As usual, I had shot off my mouth and pretended I could do it all myself before I realized just how daunting a task it would be. Worse, the manuscript was going to be sent off to the printer in such a hurry that there was no time for a final edit by a disinterested, independent reader. The deadline was carved in stone, it couldn't be missed, and I was screwed.

Chris listened as I ranted in my usual, amped-up, 'catastrophe' voice reserved for these last-minute, self-inflicted...well...catastrophes. 

"Just send me all your files. It's handled," he said calmly. 

And sure enough, it was. Chris created the lists for me in a matter of days. Then he speed-read the rest of the manuscript, and sent along corrections or notations throughout the day and night as he finished each chapter. Because that's what Chris Kimmel did. He always asked, "How can I help," and then he just handled things calmly, quietly. Chris contributed, participated, volunteered, followed, led, organized, or just plain showed up for the entire time I've known him. 

Chris died on Saturday. He was just 52. His incredible wife Toni posted a simple announcement on Facebook a few hours after he passed away. 

And I don't know what the hell all of us will do without him now, because men like Chris don't come along very often.

His obituary appeared Sunday evening, and I reprint it here, just so you can get an inkling of what he accomplished in his lifetime:
Christopher W. Kimmel, 52, of Vincennes, passed away February 3, 2018, at Good Samaritan Hospital.
Chris was a member of Vincennes Masonic Lodge #1, and the First United Methodist Church. A former president of the Vincennes Jaycees Club, he had received a national Jaycees award for his work as vice-president. He was a Red Cross volunteer. Chris was a Phi Betta Kappa graduate of Ball State University, and was close to receiving his master’s degree there. A 1984 graduate of Lincoln High School, he also graduated from Vincennes University. He was currently working as a video research specialist, and had worked in several areas related to computer science.
Chris was Past Grand Director General of the Yeomen of York, a Past Master of Vincennes Lodge No. 1; of Oaktown Lodge before it merged into Vincennes Lodge; and of the Dwight L. Smith Lodge of Research UD. He received the Order of Service to Masonry, primarily for his masterful work chairing the planning of the 2009 bicentennial celebration of the chartering of Vincennes Lodge No. 1, was active in the Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana, and was a frequent contributor to the Indiana Freemason. He also chaired the Grand Lodge Masonic Education Committee.
A member of Vincennes York Rite bodies, Kimmel was a Knight of the York Cross of Honor, was a past governor of Banks of the Wabash York Rite College in Terre Haute and held the Order of the Purple Cross, and was a member of St. Cyril Conclave, Red Cross of Constantine, in Evansville, and a Past Director General of Terre Haute Preceptory No. 6, Yeomen of York. He was also an Eagle Scout, was a Brotherhood member of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s national honor society, and had completed the Wood Badge, Boy Scouting’s paramount adult leadership course.
Kimmel was also a past Sovereign Master of Edward C. Echison Council No. 326 Allied Masonic Degrees and had acted for years as its Director of Work. It was he who changed the council’s annual degree day from the straight portrayal of one of AMD’s antique degrees to an ongoing analysis of the degree and of the Masonic world and the world in general in which the degree was written.
Born January 21, 1966, in Olney, IL, he was the son of Wayne and Pam (Stover) Kimmel. Surviving is his wife, Toni (Eagleson) Kimmel; his mother, Pam Corrona and her husband, John, of Vincennes; his father, Wayne Kimmel and his wife, Bridget of Vincennes; his step-sister, Dina Madden and her husband, Mark, of Seymour, IN; his step-brother, Phil Corrona and his wife, Suzanne, of Vincennes; his father and mother-in-law, Joe and Judy Eagleson of Vincennes; and his nieces and nephews. A brother, Gregory Eric Kimmel, preceded Chris.
Friends may visit with Chris’s family from 3:00 – 8:00 on Tuesday, and from 9:30 – 10:30 on Wednesday, at Goodwin Funeral Home, 524 Broadway Street, Vincennes, Indiana. A Masonic Memorial Service will be held at 7:00 PM on Tuesday. The funeral service will be conducted at 10:30 Wednesday at the funeral home. Interment will follow in Memorial Park Cemetery.
Donations may be made to Vincennes Masonic Lodge #1 or to the Vincennes area Boy Scouts.
The Masonic service is Tuesday night, and his funeral will be Wednesday.

The part left out of that obituary is the part Chris never talked about. If you knew him and Toni in person, you didn't have to ask. But if you only were acquainted with him online, there's no reason you would have known.

Chris had been confined to a wheelchair ever since a tragic accident paralyzed him as a teenager. His range of mobility was extraordinarily limited; he could type using a mouth stick, and he could use the toggle control for his power wheelchair. A handshake was more of a knuckle bump than a clasp. He was a terrific ritualist because he understood the meaning behind words, even if he was only speaking softly, which was usual for him (unless he was shouting from across the Cathedral at Grand Lodge, "Grand Master! Point of order!" or tearing apart some legislation's inexactitude). He was brilliant, funny, intuitive, insightful. And prolific with just that damned mouth stick. He could even turn out a set of detailed organizational by-laws for you in no time flat.

Yet, even though I knew he suffered tremendous chronic pain, I never heard him complain in public. Even privately, he despised talking about his health—to the point that he never wanted anyone to know when he was hospitalized, unless it was to explain his absence from an event. But with Toni by his side—or several close, trusted Brethren who helped when Toni couldn't be there—he accomplished so much that the rest of us should be humbled. Probably even ashamed of ourselves. Because that list up there, and everything else he did that doesn't appear on it, reads more like the work of several people.

When Chris petitioned to join Vincennes Lodge No. 1 back in 2000, they requested the help of our unique Bartimaeus Lodge U.D. here in Indiana. That special purpose lodge, which was started way back in 1961, was created specifically to assist candidates who are handicapped to experience the degrees of Masonry as closely and as properly as their abilities will permit. The lodge is named after the blind beggar whose sight was restored by Jesus on the road to Jericho, as told in the Book of the Apostle Mark. Chris' passing this weekend reminds me to tell the story of that lodge more fully, sooner rather than later. I'll do that this week. 

But the problem for Chris was that Bartimaeus Lodge was taking too long between his degrees, in Chris' estimation. He was driven to experience, and advance, and excel, even before he was a full member of the fraternity. Consequently (just as I did myself), he pressed to be sent to a one-day class for his Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees, "even though I hate the idea of them." That was Chris, and he was always frustrated when others couldn't keep up with him. He was always a fighter for higher, better standards in everything, because he met those standards for himself first. And he was always, always a stickler for attention to detail. Because of that, he was the world's best fact-checker, and he was a dogged researcher who wanted to know more.

My heart goes out to Toni, who has spent so much of her life devoted to caring for Chris and making so much of what he was able to do possible in the first place. She saw him through so much adversity and triumph, and everything in between that no one else could even know. More than a few brethren only half-joked that Toni should have been named as an honorary Mason so she could have been Chris' Senior Warden for those years he served as Master of Vincennes, Oaktown, and then Dwight L. Smith lodges. Or maybe Secretary, since we all know that Secretaries really run any lodge. 

And Chris' parents still survive him. That obituary doesn't tell that story in full either, but no parents should ever have to bury their own children. Yet, Pam and Wayne have lost both of their sons now. I can't even imagine that.

Leonardo da Vinci once wrote, "I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death." I don't know if Chris ever encountered that quote in his lifetime, but he certainly lived by that credo.

There are photos of Chris posing with brethren over the years that others have taken, and he was an avid Facebook poster, too. But he didn't post pictures of himself. In fact, the usual image he used as his onscreen persona was his old high school graduation photograph. So, despite the photos I have of him with the Indiana Order of Service to Masonry around his neck, or his Master's jewel, or in other fraternal settings we've all known him from, I'm using the one he seemed to prefer. The hair was longer back then, a bit curlier, too. Maybe darker.

But that's Chris.

His column has long been broken, but it has fallen to the ground at last. And his brethren mourn.

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