Homily for My Dad, Robert Bushey, Sr.


It is hard to believe that a month has passed since I said goodbye to the greatest inspiration in my life, my dad and friend, Robert Bushey, Sr. For twenty years Dad faced Heart Disease & COPD and we prepared for these days together. I have been privileged to spend the last five years making it possible for Dad to live with dignity in his own home. We had no “unfinished business” and we trusted one another completely. I am grateful for the honesty we shared. The authentic relationship we had strengthened me to make important decisions concerning his care when called upon to do so and to celebrate his life with family and friends a few weeks ago. Here is the homily I shared in honor and tribute of my dad.

Born to Pietro di Bernardone, a rich cloth merchant, and his wife Pica Bourlemont, he was one of seven children. His father was in France on business when he was born, and his mother had him baptized as Giovanni di Bernardone in honor of Saint John the Baptist, in the hope he would grow to be a great religious leader. When his father returned to Assisi, he was furious about this, as he did not want his son to be a man of the Church and decided to call him Francesco an adjective meaning French in Italian, in honor of his commercial success and enthusiasm for all things French.

As a youth, Franceso became disillusioned toward the world that surrounded him, demonstrated in the “story of the beggar”. In this account, he was selling cloth and velvet in the marketplace on behalf of his father when a beggar came to him and asked for alms. At the conclusion of his business deal, the youth abandoned his wares and ran after the beggar. When he found him, he gave the man everything he had in his pockets. His friends quickly chided and mocked him for his act of charity. When he got home, his father scolded him in rage.

As a young man, a serious illness started him on a deep spiritual journey. Francis heard a sermon that changed his life. The sermon was based on Matthew 10:9, in which Christ tells his followers that they should go forth and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, that they should take no money with them, nor even a walking stick or shoes for the road. He was inspired to devote himself to a life of simplicity.

Many of the stories that surround the life of St Francis deal with his love for animals. Perhaps the most famous incident that illustrates the Saint’s humility towards nature is recounted in the ‘Fioretti’ (The “Little Flowers”), a collection of legends and folk-lore that sprang up after the Saint’s death. It is said that one day while Francis was traveling with some companions they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds”. The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:

My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you…you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore… always seek to praise God.

Another legend from the Fioretti tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals”. Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf lay down at the feet of St. Francis.

Then Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens made a pact of peace between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had acted out of hunger, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly, and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks. Francis, ever the lover of animals, even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again.

Francis’s attitude towards the natural world, while poetically expressed, was a truly Christian attitude. He believed that the world was created good and beautiful by God but suffers a need for redemption because of the sinfulness of humanity. He preached to humanity and beast the universal ability and duty of all creatures to praise God and the duty of persons to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God’s creation and as creatures ourselves.

Legend has it that St. Francis on his deathbed thanked his donkey for carrying and helping him throughout his life, and his donkey wept.

While I certainly would not claim that my dad is a candidate for Sainthood in the sense of the venerated saints of the Catholic church such as St. Francis of Assisi, I want to suggest this morning that the man many of you knew as Bob possessed many of the same qualities as St. Francis in his life.

Dad never knew a stranger. He was ready to have conversation with anyone. And, when he perceived a need he was ready to give the shirt off his own back to help. He was generous and he exemplified confident humility in his approach to others including non-human beings.

Dad loved nature and nature loved him. Wild and domesticated animals were drawn to him like a magnet. Like the legend of St Francis, Dad carried a calm welcoming spirit with animals. Many members of his family remember nature walks with Dad – he could name every tree, plant, flower. He was comfortable in the woods or on the prairie, picking berries, tending the lawn or planting his bountiful gardens. From his childhood forward, Dad was connected, grounded and at peace with creation around him.

The generations of our family preceding Dad understood the value of the earth – not the blue and green globe sitting on your bookshelf earth – but earth – you know gritty, sandy, rich, black, dirt – the substance of life according to the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Yes, the first human being created in the second account of creation, Adam – a name meaning from the dust or dirt – is literally made from the earth.

Celebration of Life for Robert Bushey, Sr. (July 8, 1933 – March 9, 2015)

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When Dad’s ancestors immigrated from France to St. Anne, IL they were farmers, growing produce and such – living and making a living from the earth. Being born July 8th 1933, the first son of Lawrence & Sara Katherine Gilbert Bushey, Robert Paul joined his twin sisters Evelyn who is here today & Evangeline “Vangie” who preceded Dad in death as did Dad’s younger brothers Arthur “Lee,” Rodney & Dennis “Mike” Bushey. It goes without saying there is quite a reunion going on in that dwelling with many rooms – simple to find just look for a nickle and dime poker game on an old picnic table.

Born the grandson of a farmer, Dad loved to tell the story of one of his first memories as a child, probably five or six yrs. old, when he was out with his Grandpa Antony and a team of work horses. My Great Grandpa was a giant of a man by all accounts, standing a head taller than most with hands large enough to wear a size 13 ring (average is about 6 or 7). The day remembered, Grandpa Tony let Dad have the reigns while he walked along beside. Suddenly the horses began to work into a trot with Grandpa Tony running beside.

Dad would say “I probably snapped the reigns a few times and aggravated the horses, but your Great Grandpa was furious with them for taking off – he said Whoa twice before catching up to the bit of one of the horses not slowing down.” Dad would recount the moment when his grandpa stopped the horse from running off with his grandson, saying “I said Whoa!” just before he swung his fist, knocking the horse out cold.

Dad loved to tell stories. And so do his family members.

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Dad was a clever child. For instance when he was about 10 or 12 growing up in Hobby Heights, having a great interest in electronics, especially radio communication, he designed and built his own radio telephone network in his neighborhood, carefully climbing and stringing wire from telephone pole to telephone pole down the alley and to each of his friend’s homes. The system was working great until Com Ed was in the area working and discovered his wires tracing them back to his house. The guys were so impressed by Dad’s efforts they took his whole network down, rolling each spool of wire for him.

This is where the story changed Dad’s life. You see Dad was determined – a value that would stick with him his whole life – and so he began restringing the whole network through the trees in each yard. Climbing the trees with his loop belt he made in Cub Scouts and as he would say, “I was on the last tree, up ten or fifteen feet, when the loop belt broke and down I went.”

Now this story has been somewhat disputed over the years. Some of his siblings and friends claimed he was playing Superman in the trees and that’s how he fell and splintered his arm. The end result was still the same. A trip to St. Mary’s gave the prognosis of amputation of his arm.

Grandpa Bushey would have nothing to do with that and loaded Dad in the dump truck and hauled him to Chicago where after extensive surgery and treatment they saved Dad’s arm.

A couple things came out of that story. First, Dad missed nearly a second year of school, having already missed a major amount of one of his years at Baker School due to Rheumatic Fever. Dad loved school and had aspirations of being a physician, but his time away made him much older than his classmates and as he approached adulthood the pressure to get a job – easy to do without a diploma or degree back then, led him to withdraw from school to work with his dad operating Catepillar dozers and dump trucks. Second, his new nickname was born – Superman!

Yes, just like unassuming Clark Kent, Dad seemed simple enough, laid back, passive, intelligent and even a little goofy at times. But like the comic book character, when danger called, Dad just took off his glasses, put his big S on his chest, dawned his cape and leapt tall challenges with a single bound all through his life.

When our nation was calling the youngest and strongest into the armed forces for service in a mostly unknown Korean peninsula across the international dateline, Dad enlisted. Having already battled through sickness and injury, Dad trained for the Army at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh, Indiana and served for two years and two days in the 31st Infantry in the Demilitarized Zone where you had to wait for an attack to defend yourself, via UN rules of engagement.

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Dad like so many Veterans witnessed the horrors of armed conflict and for many years would not share his experience in Korea. Forty years later after a reunion with his Army buddies, Dad began to share and share and share and share. Dad was a true hero who served even though his heart was weakened significantly by his sickness as a youth. He earned the rank of Superman again and again through life.

Having survived his time in Korea, Dad returned home with an Honorable Discharge and began trying to follow the American Dream of the 1950’s. With his Clark Kent glasses on, he began pursuing his “Lois Lane,” a roller skating car hop on Broadway in Bradley from whom he would slyly steal spoons until she was forced to pay attention to him to get her spoons back.

They were soon in love and Dad married Janet Pfeffinger on September 28, 1955 in Kankakee. Together they shared the best of times and the worst of times for 59yrs. They were blessed by births and sorrowed by loss. Dad left the trucking and excavating business to provide steady employment for the new family at Roper Appliance Division in Kankakee.

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Working nights to support Mom and my brother Larry followed five years later by brother James, Dad operated steel presses and other heavy machinery throughout the production floor for over 25yrs. He had the strongest forearms I have ever seen, even after he retired, Dad remained strong and limber. Dad was an engineer without a degree who could design anything he wanted and he automated several operations at Ropers before they closed in 1982. I remember Dad sitting sideways at the table every morning at 6:30AM drinking coffee Mom had perked on the stove while she packed his lunch box, hustling out the door, waving to me as he drove off to be at the plant by 7. And then, when he returned home at 3:30 I got to eat his leftovers – a half sandwich or a crumb cake he left for me.

Dad and mom moved several times during their first 25yrs of marriage. There was the tiny bungalow on Broadway in Bradley, the house on Industrial Ave in Kankakee, the house on Cottage Ave and the new home they built and have lived in for nearly 47yrs in Limestone; the home I was brought home to another baby boy. Truth be told, a boy’s name wasn’t picked out for me until Uncle George suggested from Vietnam that I be named after Dad. Thank you, George!

They owned Chryslers and Buicks and Oldsmobiles, Chevys and even a Hyundai, from South Korea, courtesy of Korean War Veterans like Dad. One became a snow plow in the blizzard of 67 on the way home from work, one was used as a dog house for Frisky, one was pushed out of the garage and taken for joy rides frequently until the brakes were packed with sand (Larry) or the mysterious dent appeared on the back of the red & white camper (Jim), one was totaled behind Walgreens in Meadowview, one was crashed into while sitting in the driveway early one morning, one was demolished by a deer, another given to a grandchild, and one is parked in the garage today.

Houses and cars don’t make a family, but we can tell you stories about each one. Addresses that carry memories of a baby brother John and baby sister Susan who were carried into heaven before we got to know them.

Cars the three of us boys learned to drive in and work on with Dad and neighborhoods where we grew and played in until the street lights came on, well mostly.

Our family grew as we married, which always added joy to Dad’s life. Daughter-in-laws and grandchildren and great-grandchildren were all welcomed with open arms, warmth and love. Dad loved watching our lives blossom. He enjoyed attending our activities when work and health allowed. He traveled with Mom all over IL and even IN to cheer grandchildren on in several sports and music events. Soccer, basketball, band, baseball, graduations, grandparent’s days – whatever the occasion Grandpa was proud of all of his grandchildren and nothing meant more to him than to spend time with you.

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Nieces and nephews were high on Dad’s list of pride and joy as well. Whether you were pitching shoes with him or walking trails – you were an important part of Dad’s lif Dad loved to travel, mostly for the big breakfasts he’d claim were necessary. He and Mom enjoyed trips to Florida, Wisconsin Dells, Colorado, Michigan, Branson, Las Vegas and a Cruise of the Caribbean for their 50th.

Larry recalls the Colorado trip when in the mountains, Dad read a sign about a famous Native American Indian buried up on the mountain above them that warned, do not climb after a certain time of day. It was about 10 minutes before the time stated so Dad said lets go! They ran and ran and ran up into the thin air to arrive and find a disappointing tiny plaque marking the grave. Down they came in nearly pitch black dark conditions – that’s Superman for you.

And, there were the Nascar and Dirt Track Racing nights several of us enjoyed with Dad.

Since I lived away from here for nearly 20 years, my family always looked forward to taking Dad and Mom on trips with us including a special trip 6 years ago to Washington DC where Dad visited the Korean War Memorial. It was one of the few times I witnessed Superman weep.

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Dad loved to learn new ideas about how the world works. He was a visionary thinker and inventive throughout his life. His favorite reading came from Discover, Popular Mechanics & Popular Science. He was always interested in medicine and even witnessed his own surgeries – which he found fascinating.

His favorite TV shows were the News and Game Shows. And, he loved a good game of cards or dominos, even though Mom always won.

He enjoyed cooking especially on the grill. And he made the yummiest but most dangerous pancakes in town. Dangerous because for awhile everytime Dad made pancakes something major like a lumber yard burned in town. He loved Soupy Spaghetti, a good hot hamburger over mashed potatoes and pretty much anything Mom cooked for him.

Dad bowled for many years with his straight backup ball and golfed for years as well. He was a past member of the Moose Lodge of Kankakee and a 36yr member for Kankakee American Legion Post #85 where he enjoyed calling and playing Bingo with Mom.

Dad was a dependable and hard working employee. He retired in 1995 after having worked for Ropers, Kenneth R Hartman Construction Co, Michelich Septic Service, F&S Construction and as a truck driver for Luehr’s Ideal Rides & Amusements. So many stories to tell – not enough time in this day to share them all.

Dad was real, authentic and grounded in goodness. What you saw was what you got. He was honest. He wouldn’t cheat anyone out of anything – too much change, return it. He was determined facing life head-on without allowing fear to control him. Dad was kind, gentle and caring while being strong at the same time. He was our St. Francis, our Superman a true role model, mentor and inspiration for life.

The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Rome, that nothing can separate any of us from the love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. In the eighth chapter, Paul describes the sufferings of this life are not worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed to us. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”

Dad loved and was loved by his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He placed his faith in the unfailing promises of God and put that same message with confidence into action in his life. He was an active member and Diaconate Emeritus of this congregation where he served in many capacities relating to the building and in leadership as well. Dad was and is a child of God, forgiven, loved and free.

He believed in the Good news: that God incarnate in Jesus Christ, rose from the dead and in so doing granted through God’s grace and love the victory of eternal life in the spirit to each and all.

And, after his 20yr long and courageous battle with heart disease and COPD, Dad rested peacefully in the arms of God the morning of March 8th. Blessed with 81years of living fully and surrounded by family Dad died unto the grace and abundant love of God who raised Jesus from the dead to life everlasting. A precious gift to us, he has been transformed by God’s undying love and has been given a life in the spirit beyond our imagining.

Our faith proclaims that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and that He is preparing a place for us with God. We have the promise of the scriptures of eternal life in this place. This is our hope as we live on after this day and as we too realize that we will not walk on this old earth forever ourselves. May it be that as we continue on with our lives, that our faith is strengthened and our hope increased as we remember God’s promise to each one of us.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my Peace I give to you.”

Author: revbushey

Forward thinking person of faith and public discourse, ordained minister, father of two sons, partner in life with my spouse Teri, who is the most beautiful and intelligent woman I know. Left the career ladder to serve a congregation I love and have hope for while helping my parents through the aging process. Love to organize and work for justice, take on racism, and generally face the giants of economic disparity.

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