I have known Dr. Willard Lane for the better part of my life. As a matter of fact, knowing Dr. Lane is a better part of my life.
Have you ever been in the presence of someone who just makes you feel better when you are around them? Such a man is Dr. Lane, and it first happened to me at the Denver Place Fall Festival in 1960.
I was shooting free throws, 10 for a dime, when Dr. Lane’s son, Mark, came over and introduced himself. I had played baseball in the Wilmington Little League during the summer, but didn’t know many people since I lived in Port William. Dr. Lane soon saw us, introduced himself, shook my hand, and welcomed me to Wilmington.
Later that year, Mark and I started seventh grade together at the old junior high, and we played basketball on intramural teams. The following year, we played and started on the eighth grade team, along with Dave Carter, Mike Smith and Mike Cowman. Jim Knowles was our coach.
A local dentist, Dr. Lane was also a talented photographer. He had an inclusive darkroom in the basement of his home where he processed photos of professional quality. Coach Knowles had asked him if he would take some team photos and Dr. Lane graciously agreed.
My team photo still hangs proudly in our home.
My sister, Rita, was a cosmetologist at Pauline’s Beauty Salon on West Main Street at the time. She related recently how she had met Dr. Lane’s dear wife, Ruth, there. Mrs. Lane mentioned to Rita that the Lanes enjoyed hosting parties for their children, and it wasn’t long before Mark invited me to a New Year’s Eve party.
The snow began to fall in the early afternoon, steadily coming down harder and harder as dusk settled over the Lane residence at the corner of High and Vine streets. Looking out the window, I could see classmates Nancy Bishop and Nick Eveland’s homes that were just down the street.
As the snow got heavier, there were fewer and fewer cars traveling down High Street.
The five basketball teammates stayed all night at the Lane’s home. My dad called and asked how I was doing. I told him we were watching Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians play music from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York while we were waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square.
“Did you know Guy Lombardo once observed if he couldn’t take New Year’s Eve with him, he wasn’t going?” my dad asked. I thought his comment was funny, but a bit odd, coming from my straight-laced father. Then I realized he was probably on his second or third “hot toddie,” his custom on New Year’s Eve.
I told my teammates about my dad’s comments and we all had a good laugh. As midnight approached, Mark came into the living room and told us he had gifts for us. He handed each of us a small box tied in golden blue paper.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Mark is as considerate and generous as his father. Mark gave each of his teammates a pair of cuff links with their initials engraved on them.
Time has passed quickly, and Dr. Lane reached the 90 year mark a couple of years ago. He remains active, a man who has changed little over the years. He continued to mow his yard with his riding mower until last year. I heard him preach a sermon at the local Lutheran church not long ago, and he held everyone in the room spellbound.
Dr. Lane is an excellent golfer, a talent he passed on to Mark. Today, he also stays in shape by walking at the local Kroger store on Rombach most mornings. He walks past the produce and grains, briskly and quicker than a person half his age; and always has a kind word for the Kroger workers in the different departments.
A couple of months ago, as commissioner, I was invited to the White House. As we were getting ready for the event, Brenda said, “Here why don’t you wear these black cuff links?”
“I would rather wear these. These are special to me,” I said, as I reached into my jewelry box and pulled out the cuff links Mark and Willard Lane had given me more that 50 years ago.
As I stood in line waiting to gain entrance to the White House, a Secret Service Agent noticed my cuff links. “I like your cuff links,” she said. As we awaited clearance, I briefly told her the story how I got them.
“It must feel great to have friends like that,” the young woman said.
“More than you know. The cuff links make me smile every time I look down at them,” I replied. “You don’t meet people like my friends very often.”
“You met them a long time ago, that is for sure,” the agent said, as she waved me inside.
It almost seems like yesterday.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner.