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Clyde Beal: Stickler provides empathy to those grieving

Mar. 24, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

If you ask the crystal ball located deep within your computer for some statistics related to the number of seniors who are still gainfully employed, you're going to discover that the stereotypical work force in America has been changing for some time.

In fact, the number of seniors still enduring rush-hour traffic in America has been on the rise for over 20 years. And you better think again if you believe they are still employed because of excessive concern over the rising numbers at the gas pump, because that just isn't totally true.

Sixty-eight year-old Norman Stickler will quickly agree with those statistics. While he does mention that the money from his employer is appreciated, he also says it is not the only motivating force that keeps him on the job.

"I guess I'm blessed," said Stickler. "I was fortunate enough to retire and be hired right back on a part-time basis. It's a win-win situation for me to be able to continue working in a place I enjoy and still work with the same wonderful people. My wife and I are not party people, and because we don't spend any money on tobacco products or alcohol, that allows us more spendable cash for groceries and gas. Bottom line is -- we can get by on less money."

Stickler has a job that many would find impossible to handle because of the emotional stress associated with it. He works at Ridgelawn Cemetery in Huntington's east end. He has a wide diversity of duties that include such things as assisting funeral homes with pallbearer duties when needed, filling in for fellow office workers who are on vacation or off sick, and directing funeral processions into the cemetery. Because he has been pastor of the Apostolic Church on Main Street in Milton for nearly 15 years, Stickler is often asked to perform graveside services for grieving families. It's a job that requires diplomacy, empathy, an understanding heart and a genuine smile during troubled times.

Even as a young boy growing up, Stickler managed to become involved with jobs that were not very popular. Helping his father shovel and haul garden fertilizer from the empty cattle trucks at Logan's Meat packing plant was something he hated to do. That is until he decided that if his dad thought putting cow manure on the family garden was a good thing to do, others might feel the same way. He was right, and people paid him $25 a truckload for it. The money took away just a touch of the odor from the back of the truck.

Stickler was born right here in Huntington, grew up in Guyandotte, attended local schools and has a few memories of swimming and fishing in the Ohio River. He remembers those beautiful looking Cushman motor scooters that many of his friends had. As often as he tried to convince his father that the Cushman was a safe reliable mode of transportation, the argument always fell on deaf ears. He even recalls when he thought that skipping school was once a cool thing to do, until his parents received a call from the principal's office wondering where their son was.

"Life was different for kids when I was growing up," said Sticker. "We were always active. During the summer it was sandlot sports, during the winter months it was sleigh riding. There were no computers or hand-held electronic games to play at home. I don't remember ever seeing anyone in school who was overweight. We used to go up to the old Dietz Holler trash dump and shoot rats with a borrowed .22 rifle. You would be utterly surprised at the stuff we saw up there that people threw away. There was everything from furniture to bicycles in that huge pile of trash."

Stickler admits his childhood years were pretty uneventful. Even his two years spent serving in the U.S. Navy as an electrician mate were pretty much routine.

"From 1963 to 1965, my time in the Navy went by without a hitch," said Stickler. "I'm not complaining either. I had a few stateside assignments, a few ocean-going cruises and an assignment to Cuba. The main thing is that I made it back alive. That's more than a lot of our boys did. I'm forever grateful for their sacrifice."

Sticker said that his job has always had a side that is difficult to deal with. While losing a family member is a fact of life, it's the passing of younger family members that's never easy to deal with.

"The services we provide here affect everyone," said Sticker. "It's something that we will all need one day, and the funeral costs just keep escalating. I've seen so many families totally unprepared to deal with the loss of a loved one because they failed to make arrangements during a less trying time. Addressing these needs in advance eliminates a lot of headache and confusion."

For now, Sticker is content with his abbreviated work week. He works enough to stay busy and finds enough free time for trips to the Amish country of Ohio with his wife. There's more time now for grandchildren, and something he has loved ever since he was a kid -- a laidback day of old-fashioned fishing at Beech Fork Lake.

Clyde Beal is an area freelance writer still looking to hear about unusual collections or hobbies. Write him at archie350@frontier.com.