Friday, July 12, 2013

Farewell To Father

As many of you know, I spent the weekend in Spokane, Washington, burying my best friend’s father, Lyle, an incredible man who has been like a dad to me for the past fifteen years. Lyle’s daughter, Kari, and her mother, Joyce, organized an exceptional funeral service which featured acknowledgments from Lyle’s niece, Leanne, lifelong friends Dutch and Norm, Lyle’s sister, Darlene, and Joyce and Kari, who somehow managed to get up in front of the capacity crowd of over 250 and hold their emotions in check long enough to deliver heartfelt, emotional and deeply moving tributes to the man they loved with all their hearts.

Famed mountain climber and author, John Roskelley, a close family friend who climbed Mount Everest with Kari’s older brother, Kim, and who escorted Lyle to Everest’s base camp after Kim’s death in 1986, gave the following eulogy which I had the privilege and honor to write at the family’s request:

Lyle Frederick Momb, May 5, 1932 -- June 29, 2013
"How do you sum up the life of a man who was so many things to so many people? Lyle Momb will be remembered as a master carpenter who was meticulous in everything he built, a past president of the Spokane Home Builders Association, a perpetually youthful adventurer, a thrill-seeker, an expert skier, a skilled motorcyclist, a talented dancer, a keen wit, a gentle jokester, a kind and generous soul and a beloved brother, husband, father, uncle and friend. And he was so much more.

Born in Chewelah, Washington, Lyle was the son of Peter Momb, a carpenter, and Marie Kramer, a homemaker. As a small boy, Mr. Momb worked alongside his father building homes. When he was 16, Lyle left home on a motor scooter, riding solo from Spokane to Minnesota with nothing more than a few dollars in his pocket. Lyle spent a summer working for his uncle, Axel Momb, on the family farm in Minnesota. In November 1948 Lyle rode the motor scooter back across the country to Washington, again by himself, this time encountering a blinding snowstorm along the way. Though he didn’t even have gloves to wear, the boy was unfazed. His first journey away from home, and the challenges it presented, ignited a lifelong passion for exploration and adventure in Lyle that never waned.

In 1949, Lyle met his future wife, Joyce Bohnet, at Cook’s Rollercade in Dishman, Washington. She was a 12-year-old skating fiend in whom the 17-year-old Lyle took no interest, except to yank her long, braided pigtails when she tried to trip him in retaliation for ignoring her.

In 1952, Mr. Momb joined the army and entered the Pacific Regional Dental Command, where he finished fourth in a class of 1500 students. Stationed at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, Lyle served as a dental technician until his honorable discharge in 1954.

Shortly after his stint in the army, Lyle found himself without a date on New Year’s eve, so he and a buddy decided to spend the evening at Cook’s Rollercade once again. Joyce, likewise without a beau with whom to ring in the new year, ventured with a girlfriend to her old hangout. The debonair Momb was amazed to see that the twelve-year-old girl in pigtails and braces had blossomed into a stunning young woman. Joyce and Lyle were wedded a few months later, on August 12, 1955, a marriage that lasted almost 58 years.

Working with his brothers in the construction industry, Lyle helped build numerous custom homes, apartments and office complexes, as well as Schweitzer Mountain’s slope-side Red Cricket condominiums. Eventually he went into the homebuilding business for himself, a career spanning five decades, and served as president of the Spokane Homebuilders Association in 1980.

Known for his exacting standards in the trade, Lyle’s crowning achievement was the house he built in Spokane for his family. Lyle came up with a plan to turn their existing brick, one level, two bedroom house into a split-level design with a large, adjacent workshop for his many hobbies. Lyle designed the new structure around the existing home. He peeled off the original brick façade and used it to build custom walls inside. He poured the foundation, raised the walls, installed the plumbing and electrical systems, and finished out the interior with custom cabinetry he built himself. Lyle incorporated several imaginative and innovative features into the home, including hidden storage and a lighted dance floor. At his retirement party in 2010, Lyle’s nephew, Scott Momb, recalled how his Uncle Lyle had taught him to be meticulous and exacting in everything he did. No matter how anyone else said to do something, Scott said, the only right way to do anything was "Lyle's way".

Lyle and Joyce learned to ski at Mt. Spokane, enrolling together in the local newspaper’s “Spokesman Review” ski school in 1959. Both became expert skiers and certified ski instructors who taught at Mt. Spokane, Schweitzer Mountain and Holiday Hills. With their children, a son, Kim, born in 1956 and a daughter, Kari, born in 1958, the whole family enjoyed skiing as a pastime.

As the children got older, Lyle introduced the family to his love of motorcycles, both street bikes and off-road cycles. When his son, Kim, was a teen, Lyle served as Kim’s mechanic on the Trans–AMA Motocross circuit. The family of four spent holidays camping with relatives at “Camp Sunny Sunshine”, riding their dirt bikes into the hills around Washington state and Northern Idaho. As Lyle enjoyed his time on the motocross track with Kim, he was equally proud of his daughter, Kari, who entered numerous equestrian competitions and horse shows across the state with Lyle always by her side, offering support and assistance.

Lyle Frederick Momb was a thrill seeker who loved challenging himself physically. From bungee-jumping out of a hot-air balloon to sky-diving from 4,000 feet, Lyle craved adventure, once flying a P-51 mustang in a mock dogfight over Peachtree, Georgia, and piloting a T-6 Texan turboprop over Dallas, Texas. Lyle loved to fly and logged many hours in his flight book. After his son, Kim, was killed in a 1986 avalanche while leading a “helicopter-skiing” expedition to Canada, Lyle trekked to base camp on Mount Everest to honor the adventure-loving Kim, who had scaled the world’s highest peak several years before.

Lyle and Joyce enjoyed traveling the world and had cruised to Norway, the Bahamas, Alaska and the Mediterranean. Together they visited England, Scotland, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Mexico and, just last year, made a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Ireland with their daughter, Kari. Additionally, Lyle made it a Momb tradition to get together for a joyful ski holiday with family and friends every winter; their last ski trip to the slopes of Utah’s Deer Valley resort was just this past March. It didn’t matter that Lyle was about to turn 81 years old. He was out on the ski runs every day with his beloved family, skiing with the skill and vigor of a man decades younger. And he took special pleasure in being asked to show identification when buying his “senior” lift ticket.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Lyle’s survivors include his brothers, Gaylord “Gil” and Amund Momb, his sisters, Donna Cleveland and Darlene Hall, numerous nieces and nephews, and “adopted” sons and daughters all over the U.S. Lyle was preceded in death by his sons, Kim and baby Kelly Momb, and brothers, Sidney, Neil and David Momb.

Lyle was a pillar of stability; a steady rock to his bride of almost 58 years and a solid anchor and mentor to his daughter. Blessed with wonderful humor and a clever wit, this giant of a man was the embodiment of a swashbuckler’s spirit and a gentleman’s character. He will be deeply missed.”

Lyle's nephews carry the casket
When the speakers had finished, a slide show, put together by Kari and set to the music Never Alone by Victoria Shaw, played on a screen at the front of the chapel. The video showed images of Lyle and his brothers and sisters as children, then with his bride, Joyce, and the house they built, and then his children, followed by fabulous photos of Lyle enjoying his wonderful family and his very happy life.
A lone bagpiper
played soulfully

As the service concluded, family members were invited to the front of the chapel where, in a family-reunion tradition that dates back many years, they brought their raised hands together to form a “tunnel” through which, to the country music song “Kansas City”, first the casket, and then the rest of us, passed. With tear-stained faces we danced two by two through the tunnel of hands and out the door into the brilliant sunshine, where the hearse awaited.

At picturesque Riverside Memorial Park, Lyle was gently laid to rest beside his son, Kim. A bugler played taps, a military rifle team fired a three-volley salute, and a bagpiper in full dress played Auld Lang Syne in the distance. Members of a military honor guard, who had stood silently saluting the casket upon its arrival, presented Joyce with a folded American flag and three spent shell casings from the volley, and thanked Joyce for her husband’s service to his country.

Joyce, center, requested that women
 wear festive summer attire and men
wear jeans.  No somber black or
formal suits for this crowd.  Kari
wore a beautiful blue dress
her father had adored 
Following the interment, everyone gathered at an old family hangout, the GoodTymes Bar and Grill, where guests were treated to a buffet luncheon lovingly prepared by the establishment’s proprietor and longtime family friend, Debi Smith. As Kari’s slideshow played on giant screens, Lyle’s family and friends spent the balance of the afternoon reminiscing about his adventurous escapades and the wonderful times they shared.

It’s so hard to say goodbye, but Kari and Joyce gave Lyle a sendoff that epitomized the family’s penchant for well-organized and beautifully executed affairs filled with heartfelt sentimentality. We cried. We got through it. We said farewell to a wonderful man.  I will never forget him.

“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” ~ Clarence Budington Kelland

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