I don’t turn directly to the obituaries in the paper each morning..but I do tend to linger over them longer than I used to; probably because I’m astounded at the growing number of people younger than me who have met their demise.
You can learn a lot about people in the obituaries..or very little..depending on how much money the surviving families are willing to shell out for the paper to print the long version of their lost loved one’s life history.
Occasionally, there are people with the same last name appearing in the obits which usually means some sort of tragic accident has occurred. But when I saw this in last Friday’s Argus it appeared as if John and Bernita Shurr..both 95 and having spent 73 years of their life together, died because they just couldn’t go on living without each other.
Throughout his long life, John Shurr was proud of his Irish ancestry and loved the fact that he was born on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 1918. He probably was also proud of being the heir apparent to Lone Tree, the farm homesteaded by his grandparents, near Ellsworth, Minnesota..although he may have been considering another career when after high school he enrolled in Mankato State College. It was there he met and fell in love with fellow student, Bernita Bell who was born on a farm near Walnut Grove, Minnesota about 60 miles Northeast of John also in 1918. They were married in 1940 and moved to a small house on the homestead where John continued working while he sorted out his future and Bernita continued a family tradition of teaching school that went back five generations. When World War II broke out, John wasn’t called up because as the only son, he was needed at the farm. Then in 1943, his father died suddenly..leaving no choice about what John’s lot in life would be. So, for the next 69 years he and Bernita ruled the roost that was..and is.. the Shurr family farm called “Lone Tree.”
They had two sons, George and Robert, became actively involved in their church and community, read profusely, and were loved and admired by family and friends.
When tough decisions had to be made about moving into assisted living..then to an Ellsworth nursing home, John and Bernita accepted it gracefully as long as they could be together.
Dying a week apart, then, wasn’t all that unusual.
Still, I thought, there might be something more to their story so I took a chance this past week and gave the Shurr’s son, George a call and discovered that yes, of course, there’s always more.
By all accounts, John Shurr did well in his 91 years at Lone Tree. He was a good farmer who worked hard and played hard too..especially baseball and softball in his younger days. George says his dad was a quiet, friendly and humble man who loved studying and talking about history, philosophy, religion and, of course sports..especially his beloved Minnesota Twins and Vikings.
“Mom, on the other hand, was one of the first ‘women’s libbers’. She was one of the first to take up the cause of fairness for Native Americans. Her intellectual curiosity was insatiable.” George said. “She was always reading up and taking a stand on various social issues including opposition to the Vietnam War when U.S. involvement began growing during the Johnson administration.”
John and Bernita had personal reasons for concern. Their son, Robert was high on the draft list so he chose to enlist in the U.S. Army. That was in 1969.
On April 13th 1970, Specialist 6 Robert J. Shurr was killed instantly by an enemy grenade in Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam. He was 24.
When the news reached Lone Tree farm, Bernita was inconsolable suffering from a mixture of devastation and rage. “Eventually, George says, Dad came around to dealing with Bob’s death but I don’t think Mom ever did and, all her life, has continued to bend politician’s ears about war and other government pursuits she didn’t agree with. She really had high hopes for President Obama.”
“They’ve tried to make the best out of being off the farm and having to live in a home,” George told me. “Mom was still plenty feisty,” but when dad’s hearing aids went bad, she became frustrated when he couldn’t be her sounding board about things she’d read or was thinking and she started to drift into dementia. But she seemed to perk up some once he got the repaired hearing aids back.”
Both John and Bernita were pretty good at Christmas but after the first of the year, it was clear that time was running out. And, so it did for John on the 14th.
I don’t know what..if anything..was said as she held his hand at the end. I would imagine they’d talked about this very moment before. I’d like to think it was something like, “Wait for me dear, I’ll be right behind you.”
Because it was going to take awhile for all the family members to get home, John’s funeral was delayed. As it turns out, that was meant to be because 8 days later, Bernita joined him on the other side.
They’ll be laid to rest together following a 2:30 p.m. service on Friday January 31st at the Jurrens Funeral Home in Rock Rapids, Iowa.
I was curious about whether or not it was possible that Bernita just decided she didn’t wish to live on without John and let go. Their son, George believes it to be true.
I thought I’d ask someone who might not be so emotionally invested in the issue so I talked with Mike Werner the longtime administrator of Parkview Manor. He basically said the science says no but the romantic in him says sure..why not?
He did say this though: “Doug, did you happen to count the days both John and Bernita actually lived on this earth? They’re EXACTLY the same 95 years 9 months and 28 days. Now what are the odds of that? That seems a little beyond coincidence doesn’t it?”