Easter with new meaning: a tribute to Uncle John

Easter took on extra significance for me this year. It will be an Easter I’ll never forget.

Two mornings ago I entered a hospital room with my mother where my Uncle John’s mortal body laid, his spirit having left it only 20 minutes prior. It was a solemn experience and also a spiritual one.

My Aunt Colette, her four children, their spouses, a granddaughter, as well as another aunt and uncle, their son, my parents and I stood around his freshly lifeless remains all with tears close to the surface. Among these circumstances, Colette showed tremendous strength as she told us she had said her goodbyes to her beloved husband before he slipped into the sleep that would be his last. She said she would do her best to keep the farm going (which has been my uncle’s livelihood for over four decades) and started to make assignments on who would communicate the somber news to loved ones, then started brainstorming tentative funeral arrangements.

Amidst this important family discussion, my Uncle Durward, John’s brother, said that this Easter weekend would now take on a new meaning, celebrating and reflecting on John’s life. Aunt Gwen, Durward’s wife, then said that she knew we’d all see Uncle John again. Colette said that John missed his mother, my Grandma Leah, terribly and that she is glad he will now be reunited with her. Truer words – on all three accounts – could not have been uttered.

I usually play the radio every time I’m in the car, but on the way back from the hospital, I couldn’t do it. Instead, I reflected, in silence, on Uncle John’s life, as well as the life of our Savior, whose resurrection, which we celebrate today, signaled the first victory over death.

When I returned home from the hospital, after recounting the morning’s events to my family, I wanted to login to Facebook to see what was being said about my dear uncle’s passing. I’ve said negative things about the king of social media before, but yesterday it brought me solace. Reading the tributes of so many people, most of whom I do not know personally, to a giant of a man, was just what I needed. The messages shared many themes, numerous ones calling John a “pillar of the community” and “a local legend.” Others said that Hurricane, the town in which John has lived his entire life, lost an irreplaceable piece of its history with his death. Several youth thanked him for teaching them how to work, appreciating the experience of putting their shoulder to the wheel alongside him. Several newcomers to the community mentioned how he made them feel welcome. Others remembered his jokes. And still, so many others, said that he was one of the best men that they had ever known. All gave Colette their condolences, many saying they wept after hearing the news. I wholeheartedly agree with all of their sentiments.

As I think back to my own memories of Uncle John, they are all positive. I learned to ride a horse on one of his horses. I enjoyed helping thin peaches and pick fruit under his guidance even though most of the time, I probably wasn’t the most capable help. As a youngster, the thing I’ll remember best is him regularly taking the time and interest to talk to me and find out what I was doing in my life. Many of the Facebook tributes related the same thing. He had a way with people. He made everyone he came in contact with feel important.

Durward, my cousin Justin, Uncle John, me, my Dad, and my brother, Carl, in younger days, posing in front of my Grandma Leah's house in the summer of 1988.
Durward, my cousin Justin, Uncle John, me, my Dad, and my brother, Carl, in younger days, posing in front of my Grandma Leah’s house in the summer of 1989.

More recently, while on walks with my family, we would regularly see him riding in his ATV, sometimes with Colette or a grandchild in tow, tending to something on his farm – cattle, hay, goats, fruit trees, fences, etc. It seemed no matter what, he would always stop and chat with us for a little bit. I always enjoyed hearing his stories, partly because when he talked, I could hear my Grandma’s voice coming out as well. Of all her children, I think Uncle John took the most after grandma. At family events, he always took an interest in my daughters, too. One year, my Dad communicated to me that we had to go trick-or-treating at his house. He wanted to see us all in costume and give us a special treat.

It surprised me that Uncle John was a prolific Facebooker. I enjoyed reading his posts and seeing his pictures, which, it seemed, were centered on two major themes – being a steward of the land and enjoying working that land with his children and grandchildren. Those were also prominent themes in the over 250 tributes written about him on Facebook. He was an amazing dad and grandpa, one that will be fondly remembered.

The most recent memory of him that I will always cherish came last summer. After going fishing with my Dad and daughters on Kolob Reservoir, we were serendipitously stopped right behind him and Uncle Durward while having to wait out the construction on the Kolob Terrace Road. There was John, cutting a cantelope and doling out pieces to all of us. It was then that I thought to myself, looking at my Dad and uncles, “There are no better men then these.” And, according to my incredibly biased opinion, there aren’t.

Uncle John (left) doling out cantelope to my daughter Leah while Durward (middle) and my dad, Carl (right) chat while waiting our turn to get through construction on the Kolob Terrace Road.
Uncle John (left) doling out cantelope to my daughter, Leah, while Durward (middle) and my dad, Carl, (right) chat while waiting our turn to get through construction on the Kolob Terrace Road.

So it is to those tributes that I add this, my own, but also add that I know, like my Aunt Gwen, that I will see my Uncle John again, not in the thin, lifeless version I saw two days ago, but in his prime, without flaw, all because of Christ’s atonement and resurrection.

This Easter Sunday, I invite anyone reading this to also reflect on our Savior’s supernal gifts, contemplating their significance, but also looking forward to the day that we will all be reunited with our loved ones who have passed on, an event that will bring immense rejoicing.

Happy Easter to all of you and may this day bring a little extra peace and a gentle reminder of that ever-so-important eternal perspective on life.

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. –1 Corinthians 15:22

And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. -Job 19:26



7 thoughts on “Easter with new meaning: a tribute to Uncle John

  1. Loved your well written tribute. John and I were classmates and forever friends. When we were teenagers, Cecil and Ila Sillivan were the stake dance directors. For a regional dance festival the Sullivans taught us a Cha Cha routine to perform to represent the Zion Park Stake. We should have kept up on those fancy steps in later years. John was well known for his love of dancing with Colette and his grand daughters.

    1. Thanks so much for the compliment, Cheryl. It means a lot. Thanks for sharing your memories of Uncle John. I’ve enjoyed working with you and getting to know you since you’ve been on the city council. You are doing a great job!

  2. I have immensely enjoyed your article Ruben! I had to spend some time crying as you walked me down memory lane. John was somewhat younger than me, but I learned to know he and Colette better as I taught some of their children! Colette was my room mother, and you would never be able to find a better one!

    Several months ago, while eating at one of the local restaurants, John, who was there with some of his family came over to my table and visited with us! He told me he would like to give a history of the Wadsworth family in a Sons of Utah Pioneers meeting. I was excited to have him do that. So, in October or November last year he gave that report! Who would have known that would be the last time we would be able to hear from him? His report was masterfully given, to one of the largest audiences we have ever had! John was well loved! I will forever be grateful that he came to me and made that request.I believe I have it recorded. If so, I will make sure it is put on our web page.

    1. David, thank you so much for your compliment, sentiments and story. I’m so glad that Uncle John presented at the SUP meeting. I would LOVE to see the video of it. Please let me know when you get it posted. Thanks!

  3. Reuben, thank you so much for this amazing tribute to an amazing man. My husband and I are Malinda’s parents in law, so we have known John for about 25 or so years. That’s long enough to get to know him and agree with what you have written. We, too, shed a few tears as we read this beautiful tribute. He was a special Grandpa to the grandchildren we share, as well as to all of his other grandchildren. We looked up to him and will feel his loss along with all of his family. Thank you again for a masterfully written tribute.

  4. Julie ask me if he is the really nice guy that ask her to dance at Eric Dodge concert.he. Is a very special person. Always cared about others.

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