8/7/2015 written by George Vernon Durbin
My Father once told me how important it was for a person to protect their good name so that people would treat them with respect. He learned from his parents that treating people with respect was the surest way to receive it in return. As a young man, whether Dad was going to look for a job, or to make an important purchase, his father would always remind him: “Tell them whose boy you are.” That was so they would give him the same respect and trust that Riley Durbin had already earned.
Richard Anthony Durbin was born in 1918, just as the First World War was winding down. That was also the same year the Spanish Flu swept around the world, killing perhaps 50 million people.
He spent his teenage years growing up in the Great Depression of the 1930s. The oldest son of ten children to survive childhood, Dad’s parents called on him to take responsibility for the welfare and behavior of his younger siblings. If they got in trouble, he was in trouble. This instilled in Dad the sense of responsibility that compelled him to be active and helpful his entire life.
For poor country folks during the Depression, lives were a simple matter of do it yourself, or suffer the consequences. Government programs for the needy were few and in their infancy. Life for Dad’s family was a constant stream of chores and responsibilities. The children were taught to fear both God and Grandpa’s razor strap, but they always knew that they were dearly loved. Dad’s blacksmith father even taught him the trade, but he decided it was not for him after a horse stomped a big toenail off of him.
St. John the Evangelist Church was the constant during Dad’s entire life. He enjoyed being an altar boy and singing in the choir well into his teenage years. He served on all of the various parish committees and was a life-long participant in every way he could be of service. He received an eighth grade education from the nuns at St. John that would rival most high school educations. He proved it by attaining a GED at the age of seventy after merely reading through a study manual.
Dad was a young adult when WWII became the dominating focus of America. Like all patriotic young men, he enlisted, but he was rejected for service because he had a stomach ulcer. The examining doctor knew his stuff, because the ulcer would plague Dad for many years. Like millions of others, he was still able to do his part for the war effort as a civilian. In his case, it was producing munitions casings at a local factory.
Even as the war continued, life went on. Dad had a growing family and he opened Durbin’s Garage in the St. John community. His expertise eventually stretched from the Model T Ford to the modern cars run by computers. He also did beautiful body shop repairs. In fact, he could fix almost anything. Dad had a soft spot for widows and poor folks and always provided them economical repairs. His business made him countless friends who were thankful for his skills and integrity.
In 1966, his wife, Helen, died at the age of 44, leaving behind ten children, seven still living at home. The youngest was only six. As always, Dad put everyone else first and with the huge help of his daughter Ruth, managed to raise the younger children to adulthood. During this period, all of us watched him work very long hours. Even so, he always tried to make it to our ball games and even grew a garden each year. Dad’s devotion to his responsibilities gave all of his kids the same sense of self respect that he had. We never wanted to disappoint him with bad behavior and we all learned that hard work leads to a satisfying life.
We probably never fully appreciated the fact that he never remarried while he was relatively young. He simply chose to put his children first. Years later, in his seventies he married Marceline Batusic and they enjoyed a few happy years together until she passed away. Incredibly, he dated another wonderful woman, Joyce Sires, in his eighties and nineties until she also passed away.
Despite his eventual longevity, Dad had his share of serious illnesses. He survived several different occasions when he was at death’s door. In 1978, his old nemesis, the ulcer, nearly caused him to bleed to death. In 1986, he nearly died of blood clot complications from surgery to remove a brain tumor. The blood flow issues caused him to have frequent bouts of painful leg ulcers from then on. In addition, the surgery caused him to have permanent weakness on the left side of his body. He also survived a bout of colon cancer. In recent years, prostate cancer and urinary tract infections became relentless foes. Eventually, the prostate cancer spread to his bones, causing excruciating pain.
Through it all he persevered. He still had a keen mind and was determined to continue the active life that he loved. He seldom complained, perhaps fearful that his kids might insist that he slow down. He coped with all of his crosses by loving everyone all the more and worshiped God that much harder.
The adversity made him determined to make it to mass every day possible and to give out the rosary whenever he could. That was an explicit promise he had made to God during one of his illnesses. He also loved selling tickets at the Knights of Columbus fish fries. He took his commitments to volunteer service very seriously.
He continued to drive at the age of ninety six. A few years ago, his brain surgeon saw Dad during one of his frequent trips to the funeral home and seeing him alone, incredulously asked him: “Mr. Durbin, are you still driving?” Sensing a trap, Dad replied: “Yes, and don’t get any bright ideas!” He needed his wheels to get to another important part of his life, the Senior Citizens Center. He went every day possible for decades and loved his friends there dearly. He also wrote a monthly column for the Lone Oak News that chronicled the activities at the center. Just imagine, having deadlines to meet at the age of ninety-six.
Now that Dad has finally reached his well deserved destination of heaven, he is reunited with Mom and his beloved daughter Carolyn, as well as the multitudes of other loved ones that have departed. The rest of his seventy plus direct descendants will stay behind and try to live up to his legacy.
Dad was not a wealthy man if judged by monetary measures. Yet, he really was wealthy beyond measure because of the love he both gave and received in great abundance. Dad was a hero to all of his kids and as long as we live we will always proudly tell people whose boy, or girl we are. Our father was Richard Durbin.