It has been two weeks now since one of Hillsboro’s longest-serving public servants passed away. But after I returned home from Richard “Dick” Zink’s funeral and related activities last weekend, it only seemed appropriate that this space be dedicated to him this week. Because, you see, Dick Zink was a special man.
He served his hometown as a public official for 30-some years, including two terms as mayor, and offered his time to his community in countless other capacities. That alone is remarkable feat, but what always struck me more was his devotion to his family. If one of his kids or grandkids had a ball game or some other function, and they had lots of them — here, there and everywhere — Dick was there. And if Dick was doing just about anything else, one or more of his family always seemed to be following along.
It was always obvious that they loved him as much as he loved them.
When it came to politics, I agreed with Dick’s decisions the majority of the time. But not always, and we both knew that. That was OK though, because there was one thing I never doubted, even for a second. That was that every political decision Dick ever made, he made with the best intentions for his community at heart.
I am not sure where I first met Dick Zink, but I know that he was the first friend my father made when he moved to Hillsboro from the Lynchburg area in 1948. Not so long ago, Dick’s wife, Joan, showed me a picture of Dick, my father, and the late Hugh Trefz on their bicycles sometime around those years when my father and Dick lived across the street from each other. And I cannot count the times my father has told me stories about how Dick’s father, Leonard Wesley “Jack” Zink, could “throw” his voice while playfully teasing someone or another.
Maybe that’s partly where Dick got his sense of humor. Because the one other thing that stands out to me about Dick Zink is that he was just plain fun to be around.
At the funeral, one of the ministers, Tom Stoops, told a story about the first time Dick brought his future wife to Hillsboro. It was a certain weekend in May, and as Dick and Jo approached Hillsboro, he told her something like, “You know, they like me so much in this town that sometimes when I come home they throw a parade for me.” And right on cue, Hillsboro’s annual Memorial Day procession came marching down the street.
I am not sure when I first came into contact with the Zink family, but it was likely when I was in elementary school and Dick’s daughter, Andrea, and I were in many of the same classrooms. We ran in the same social circles during our high school years and beyond, and are friends to this day.
Dick also had a son. Steve Zink is three or four years older than me, and I do not know him well. But when we were kids, we both spent summer evenings “camping out” in backyards along Pleasant Street. A time or two, my buddies and I slipped into the night (after we assumed our parents were asleep), crept the block over to where Steve and his buddies were camping, and threw sticks and small rocks at their tent while they were inside. It seemed like a daring act because they were older than we were, and that added to sense of adventure. I have always wondered if they knew it was us pestering them.
A few years later I remember Dick and Jo driving me to a Hillsboro football game somewhere, maybe at Miami Trace, where Steve later coached. A few years after that, I remember Dick and Jo being a way from home, a little party at their house, and a cracked front picture window, that I think Andrea somehow managed to get fixed before her parents arrived home a couple days later.
I remember when Dick was likely in his late 50s, maybe close to 60, coming out to play softball in adult leagues I ran at Liberty Park in Hillsboro. I think he had been joking around with some younger guys he worked with about how he could still hang with them on a softball field, so they invited him to come out and give it a try. His first night out they stuck him at catcher, and I was the umpire standing directly behind him. He more than held his own that night, but with all that squatting and standing up and down, catcher is not a good place to be when you’re a lot older than everyone else on the field. When Dick came back the next week, I spent the whole game laughing as he kept joking about how sore he was from the previous week.
I could go on and on, tell you many more stories like how Andrea and her husband John had campers near one my famliy had at Long’s Retreat for a few years, and how some of our kids grew up together.
But there is one other thing that stands out to me.
When one of Dick’s grandsons, Alex Butler, stood to speak at his grandfather’s funeral, he carried a pair of Dick’s shoes to the podium with him. Alex’s message was — who is going to fill these shoes?
The answer, Alex, is no one. Some might try, maybe even come close, but there will never be another Dick Zink.
We were all fortunate to have him with us for nearly 81 years. He served his family, the Lord and his community well. And we are all better for it.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.