I went to the funeral of Marion Kutz over in Frontenac last Thursday morning.
It was a small town classic with snapshots of Marion throughout his life in the entryway and hymns, prayers, poems, stories, testimony, laughter, tears and hugs — all laced with a whole lotta' love — in the funeral service.
Because Marion was a musician, and owned and operated, with his wife Bernice, a music store, I couldn't help but overlay the whole experience with thoughts of a musical composition.
Reverend Annie Ricker provided the downbeat in the form of Marion’s obituary — his boyhood in McCune (where he played accordion at box suppers), marriage to Bernice in Parsons, service in Korea, raising five children and owning and operating the store for nearly 60 years.
Reverend Ricker also called him an easy man to like. Amen to that.
The youngest of his children, John, took the altar with his daughter, Loren, to share (through tears and multiple starts and stops) the intimate melody of his relationship with his father, starting with how, in his later years in the store, Marion would lose his filter and improvise — go off on a tangent — about Walmart or Amazon.
(Later when the assemblage was asked to pass along memories, I shared that I liked Marion’s improvisations as they reminded me of the music of growing up in Frontenac where you never knew what kind of improvisational jazz rant you’d hear at the grocery store, filling station, pool hall or barber shop.)
Getting back to John’s reflections, my favorite was of him coming home after church on Sunday and – while Bernice prepared a pot roast in the kitchen — watching Tarzan and The Lone Ranger on TV in the living room with his dad, both still wearing their black socks and t-shirts. And how his mom would come in and serve them salted slices of raw potato.
John’s wife, Terri, related that Marion, known for his insatiable sweet tooth, had a great love for her banana bread but had been restricted from sweets because of his health. When the restriction was lifted toward the end of his life, Terri walked in with a loaf of banana bread and Marion exclaimed, “Is that what I think it is!” After two slices, he asked for still more, at which point Bernice declared, “No.”
Marion’s oldest daughter, Karen, shared that her dad loved just about any kind of music as long as it was done well … so, to have a little fun with him, they’d get together and serenade him from time to time singing completely off key or out of harmony, which would, of course, bother him to no end.
Another thing that came through loud and clear was that he was a musician’s friend.
Joplin TV meteorologist, Gary Bandy, a friend of Marion’s son, Jim, shared that he wanted to be a rock star in high school but didn’t have the money for a guitar. Jim arranged for him to get the “loan” of a 12-string Epiphone from the store in Parsons to learn on. He said he never made rock star status … but never forgot the loan of the guitar.
I also came through that Marion didn’t judge musicians (who can have some pretty funky looks with long hair, tattoos, piercings, etc.) by their appearances. That he was adept at connecting with the person. He saw them as not just his customers, but also his friends
Local musician, Jamie Ortolani, told me after the service, “I'll always remember Marion as an adult that treated me very well when I was a long-haired hippie kid. Some music store owners would run us off, but not Marion. He made friends with us and trusted me with credit when I bought my first guitar. I remember thinking ‘Wow this guy trusts me to pay him for this guitar that I'm going home with?’ Then I thought, ‘I guess I better not let him down and miss a payment!’ (And I didn't.) Our relationship continued for 40 years after that day. I'll miss him.”
I didn’t get over to the graveside service at McCune City Cemetery but John described it as poignant, saying that even though Marion had a love / hate relationship with his time in military service, he had a warm connection those who served and he served with.
And so, fittingly, Marion was honored at gravesite with the American Legion flag folding and presentation ceremony.
The ritual included taps, played live on trumpet by Brian Kruz, the Kutz’s former UPS driver when their store was in Parsons.
It’s fitting that that Marion departed with a song floating out over the Kansas prairie, the words to which say what was in the hearts of most all of us who attended his funeral:
“Day is done. Sets the sun, and the stars all appear one by one. Rest in peace, comrade dear. God is near.”
— J.T. Knoll is prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Mindfulness Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or firstname.lastname@example.org