Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

All small towns have "local characters." Kirksville is a little blander now that Sterling has passed.

Every small town has a few of these. They are characters who hang around town, and, as my late grandmother used to say, "ain't quite right." They usually are suffering from some form of mental illness but are not "bad off enough" to be institutionalized. They have the odd mix of "troublesome but sort of interesting" in their character, and become local fixtures.

Sterling was one of those guys. Basically, he was a schizophrenic. He stood around town, often either at the courthouse, the post office, or at Truman, handing out his "missives"--single spaced all capital letters ramblings, complete with hand rendered drawings and Bible references. He ran for local office all the time and never won, but always got a few votes, which tells you what some people in town thought of the rest of the candidates.

He attended every kind of council or board meeting in town that allowed public comments--and did so--frequently. Despite his illness, there was something inside of him that wanted fairness for all. Sometimes he could speak lucidly, sometimes he was too far in the depths of his own demons for anything to make sense. He had his delusions about the people who had "done him wrong" and if he got over onto them in his speechmaking, he would slip from the normal world into his world of delusions. He hung around the Truman campus a lot, and despite the fact that many people made fun of him and made sport of him, he always had a small following of college students who liked him, in an odd sort of way.

For whatever reason, the guy liked me, and never gave me much hassle. He would see me, greet me, and would often hug me. It was a stark contrast to the time he threatened to blow up the Lutheran church. The pastor at the time became persona non grata in Sterling's world (mostly b/c he called the cops on him for his bomb threat and he got 96 hours at a local mental health facility, and was frequently an object in his "single spaced all capital letters missives.")

The hell of it was, in the middle of this troubled man was the flicker of light from a good soul. It was just trapped in a schizophrenic body.

He was a ward of the county upon his passing. There were no plans for a service or any sort of memorial. He had been estranged from his family for many years. The more I thought about it, the more I realized he deserved a sendoff as good as anyone would have. So I talked to Carrol, our priest associate, about doing a service, and I wrote an obituary for the local paper, using bits and pieces of personal historical info I gleaned from about five different sources.

Then, something interesting happened. Once the obit was published, "Sterling stories" were being told all over town. The editor of the local paper dedicated his editorial to him on Election Day. The local radio station's "party line" program dedicated the show in his honor. (That was an ironic twist, as they never would let Sterling be on "party line" for fear he'd jepoardize their FCC license!)

Only about ten people attended his memorial service (he had donated his body to the local osteopathic medical school), but it was ten people who cared. Four of them were college students. (Over three decades, it was always a little cadre of students that ran errands for him and gave him rides.) One sobbed uncontrollably throughout the service. When Carrol talked to her a little afterwards, she cried even harder and said, "Sterling was cool." Oh, that any of us could be mourned like that.

I am still asking myself, "Why did I go to all this trouble for someone I just knew peripherally?" I'm still not sure. But I'm glad I did.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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