Photo by Laura J. Gardner/The Journal Gazette
by Ann Votaw
My Uncle John passed away Thursday in Fort Wayne, Ind. This is my tribute to him and my aunt, who hosted Christmas every year for my entire life:
My Aunt Judy gives great advice.
“Annie, you should marry a Lutheran,” she has said more than once. “They make nice husbands. You look out the window and see your man mowing the lawn (like a Lutheran), or you look out in the garage and see him fixing things (like a Lutheran).”
When she married Uncle John in 1959, she was a Methodist who learned to identify people’s denominations by the way they walked – Catholic, Baptist, etc. Judy guessed accurately, as she did when choosing John.
It is true John dedicated himself to faith and family, as evidenced by impromptu prayers led on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sparked with current events, his blessings hinted at an active interior that defied his quiet exterior. The effect comforted my family for decades.
But his demeanor carried the specter of something unsettling – nothing dark or terrible – but something we Hoosiers describe as “different.”
“Oh, that’s a good one!” he’d say, after every explosion at the Fourth of July fireworks. Meanwhile, we Boedekers, Hermanns, Hitzemanns, Holloways, Kalbs, Kovals, and Votaws — created a wall of conversation that he enjoyed but from a slightly different seat, on a slightly tilted angle.
On a family camping trip, he once identified a log as “my bassoon.” As the radio played, he performed an imaginary solo while we kids sat beside him on the picnic table. We were transfixed. Uncle John was sane. And completely serious.
While John indeed mowed the lawn and fixed things in the garage, he used the basement for his passions: stamp club meetings and the writing of his first book, a detailed history about Indiana’s postal system.
“Wow, John,” I said while leafing through the text. “You sure know a lot about Indiana postal history.”
“Not as much I’d like.”
In his basement, he discovered the Internet, the great prairie to his cowboy heart.
A blogger named Angry White Boy eulogized John by writing, “Many readers of this blog know who he was, and how he stood up for the little guys.”
And indeed he did.
Google his name and you see “John B. Kalb,” a man who blazed through the blogosphere with posts like “When does a professed ‘conservative’ act like a ‘liberal’?” or “How did this guy ever become Sec. of Treasury?”
With his engineer’s sense of order, John tinkered with cogs and wheels of local government, becoming former Mayor Graham Richard’s nightmare. In person and in writing, John was that rare citizen who followed every move of City Council and the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission. He wrote letters demanding to see budgets, and he watched everything that anyone did or said about Harrison Square.
At Council meetings, he challenged elected officials and became a verb, as in: “Maybe we should John Kalb them,” a term John himself described as “take them to task.”
His feeling was that Parkview Field, owned by Hardball Capital and not Allen County, was being built with illegally obtained funds, a “boondoggle.” Other citizens shared his view, but later encouraged him to end the fight, which he did with flair.
In an online argument with Councilman Sam Talarico, Jr., one of the field’s biggest proponents, John wrote, “Hey, Sam. We are all human. But that’s what makes life interesting. I WILL BUY THE BEER ON OPENING DAY …”
At the TinCaps‘ first game on April 16, 2009, John showed up, ready to buy that beer.
The Journal Gazette ran a photo. It’s my favorite picture of him. It shows him sitting in silhouette with his back to the camera. In front of him is the baseball diamond, the very landmark he opposed.
Instead of a tin cap, he is wearing a pot — a costume attributed to another “John” (John Chapman/”Johnny Appleseed”).
“Oh, John,” Judy said. ”That was one of my best pans.”