This world just lost one of the good guys


There are people who walk the path of life so graciously, so quietly, that we sometimes don’t stop to celebrate the enormity of their presence.
My son, Cort, too ill to attend school for far too many years now, was blessed with the compassion and friendship of one man from the junior high school.
New friend. Lowell Heldenbrand reached out to Cort, offering to come to our home as needed, back when Cort first fell ill in the late 1990s.
Lowell arrived at our door several times a week, always mindful of Cort’s fragile health. At that point, we still had not yet received a diagnosis, though it was obvious he was getting sicker and weaker.
After the diagnosis of Lyme Disease, when a treatment line was placed and daily IVs were administered, Lowell would time his visits to coincide with the hour-long I.V. drip.
He knew that Cort would perk up a bit while receiving the medication, tiring quickly after the infusion finished flowing.
Gave his time. Lowell never seemed hurried, but always considerate of Cort’s health on a given day. If Lowell sensed that Cort was having a fairly good day, he would begin talking sports after the school work was completed.
The two of them could discuss every major sport, serving as amazing armchair quarterbacks.
When Cort moved on to high school, Lowell volunteered to continue tutoring him, as it was obvious Cort was still too ill to attend school with any regularity. Lowell continued to arrive at our door, unhurried, whenever Cort was up to it.
Nothing in return. What many did not know was that Lowell was working in this capacity of tutor without a contract, without a penny of pay during that entire year.
When Lowell decided to retire from teaching that year, he was considerate in coming to tell us of his decision before we heard it from anyone else.
Cort was saddened to hear it, but glad to know that this good man was going to get the chance to leave some of the stress of teaching behind him.
Lowell took the time to write a letter to the school regarding our son, urging them to replace him in this capacity, for Cort’s sake. He was never replaced. We know now that he never can be.
Sudden passing. This past week, we learned with shock and sorrow of the untimely death of this good man. Lowell Heldenbrand was 50 years old. Everything that Lowell did, he did with a quiet presence. He taught our son in this same way.
Never asking for anything in return, Lowell once told me that he felt Cort was a special young man, brighter than most people twice his age.
“I wish I could do more to help,” he said as he left our home one day, a particularly difficult day for Cort.
There were tears brimming in Lowell’s eyes. He called the next day, and the next, to see if there was any improvement. “I’ll drop by, but only if he’s up to seeing me,” he said.
When he came that next day, he brought Cort a book of cartoons, and they discussed humor rather than science or English. Lowell seemed to sense the need for lightness, and he provided it.
Reached others. Lowell provided guidance and compassion for hundreds of students over his teaching career, in the classroom and in the sports arena. He maintained such a humble self-perception.
I couldn’t help but think, fighting tears through our sorrow and heartbreak, that Lowell would have been amazed by the enormous crowd at the calling hours. It did not surprise us to see such a large gathering, all wishing to pay respect to this exemplary life.
We realize, more than ever, that we were blessed to have known him.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.