As he walked towards the door, he no doubt was heading to other important events in his day. But when my three-year-old daughter showed interest in his trumpet case, he set everything down immediately. Kneeling beside her, he opened the case and showed her how to play the trumpet.
She laughed as he made funny sounds on the horn. Then my daughter knelt, too, as he taught her more about music. They delighted in each other’s joy.
It didn’t matter that he was on his way home. It didn’t matter that she was only three. He took time to share his passion for music. He took time to share his life. And I know he gave of his time again and again.
That man was John Verkade. John died last week, and I miss him.
In 1960, John was among a small group of people who founded Trinity Christian Reformed Church in Ames, Iowa. Over the next five decades, John showed love and grace to the many people who passed through Trinity’s doors.
John was also a world-renowned chemist, passionate in his research and teaching. He published 5 books, over 400 papers, and secured 21 patents for his work. He traveled the globe presenting his research. Still, when talking with John, you had the feeling he had nothing more important to do at that moment than be with you. My daughter felt that way when he played the trumpet for her. And years later when she learned more about the piano.
John played the piano and organ in our church. Many times he would be the one to make sure the piano humidifier had the right level of water.
When my daughter was five, she started to notice John carrying around a plastic green water can you might more likely see in the garden. She asked what he was doing. “Watering the piano!” John said with a twinkle in his eye. Her five-year-old eyes got big as she looked up at him with uncertainty. John took her by the hand and taught her how and why to water the piano.
Other days my daughter liked to watch John play the organ. She found a cozy spot where she could see his hands and feet make music.
Soon my daughter started to play the piano at church, too. And John was one of the people cheering her on.
John also loved telling stories. He often shared a lesson at our church’s Vacation Bible School. He would have a great interpretation of the story and kids loved listening. When telling stories, he’d sometimes dress as a shepherd, which was fitting given how he lived his life tending to people.
Adults loved to hear his stories and jokes, too. John taught many classes at church helping us understand the intersections of religion and science. Or lessons simply about life.
My first in-depth conversation with John happened years before my daughter was born. When my husband and I were on a tough road after our first baby was stillborn, John was one of the people walking with us. He shared his own experiences with grief. He held our son in his memory for years, offering gentle encouragement along the way.
And now I will hold John in my memory. We will remember John in the music and in the church that he helped build. We will work to share his love to the people who keep going through those doors.
I can see John now, gathering a group of listeners as he tells his stories and plays the trumpet.