Project Profile: Ron
I met Ron’s daughter, Lisa, in January 2018 at a family history conference I was presenting at. She had been faithfully recording her dad’s life story on her iPhone over a period of several months, but was overwhelmed at what to do with everything she had gathered. After the presentation, we exchanged contact information and decided to meet together with her dad.
I’m naturally a shy person and I do get nervous meeting new people, especially when I’m trying to prove to a stranger that I can create something beautiful out of their most precious memories. I remember my heart racing a bit as I drove to Ron’s home, only about 15 minutes from mine. I had the thought that the work I do is important and worthwhile, and that God supported me in it. I prayed that I might glorify Him in the work I was about to do, and I felt the pressure lifted off of me. I decided to focus on fulfilling His will through my life story work instead of trying to prove or validate myself. With that in mind, I felt excited but calm as I arrived at Ron’s home, a large one-story house with white brick and a stained glass door.
Ron and Lisa invited me inside. It was warm and cozy, with family photos and memorabilia surrounding the room. I showed them some books I had done and talked about the process, while several clocks around the room chimed at different times. (Later Lisa told me they have stopped replacing the batteries in the clocks as they die.) I learned that Ron has flown small airplanes since high school. When his wife passed away he built his own airplane and was still flying it once a week. He was also working in the Mesa temple as a sealer every week.
“I just wish he would do more to stay active,” Lisa confided in me when Ron left the room.
“For an 88-year-old,” I said, “I think he’s doing pretty well!”
Over the course of the year, I worked on transcribing Lisa’s interviews with Ron and then organized all the material into a book. As I listened to his stories, heard him laugh and get choked up, I felt like I came to know him as well as my own grandpa or a good friend. I was touched, as I always am when I hear about peoples’ lives, at the simple beauty of his memories—having homemade bread and jam at his grandmother’s home, putting out fires for the Forest Service as a teenager, never giving up on his education even when money was tight, playing Yahtzee with his wife every night before bed despite his busy schedule, caring for his daughter with Down’s Syndrome on his own after his wife passed away…
People are amazing. Life is amazing.
We got the book done in time for Christmas. When I delivered the first copy to Ron, there were tears in his eyes as he thumbed through it. I can only imagine what it feels like to see your life recorded and preserved in such a way. I am honored to be able to do that for people. It was bittersweet to leave his home that night, not sure if or when I would be back. It’s kind of a strange phenomenon to be so intensely concentrated on learning the details of someone’s life, and then suddenly not be a part of it anymore. (Although I did ask to be named an honorary granddaughter.)
On Christmas Eve, Ron drove around the Phoenix valley delivering copies of his book to his children and grandchildren. Lisa told me it was the best gift any of them received for Christmas this year.