There are some people I’ve always thought were just quintessentially “Ripley.” See, when I was a kid, going to the city of Ripley held the same excitement for me as going to Charleston or Parkersburg. Having lived in the Hollow with only my grandma for a close neighbor (but a great one), there was a novelty to going to visit my Uncle Chuck (Jerry Charles, to most of you) at his home on Simmons Drive. The idea that they had all those people around, all those kids especially, flitting in out of each other home’s and lives and so close to each other, seemed like a scene I’d only seen on a family television show. Not to mention they had cable, which to a kid who’d only ever known three channels (four, if it was a clear day and Channel 13 was acting right), was like visiting a five-star mansion in the form of a two-story brick house.
To me at the time, it seemed like Uncle Chuck, was the King of Ripley. He lived in town, he seemed to know everyone, and he even helped manage the city pool at one point with my Aunt Betsy (something I realize now was almost a right of passage for all true City of Ripleans). He was a true Blue & Whiter since a kid, famously a member of the Ripley High School Viking Band Drumline. His kids and grandkids would go on to follow his Blue & White footsteps, leading their own drumlines, getting crowned Mr. Viking, becoming Valedictorian, doing amazing in 4-H, and getting involved in civic activities so they could give back to a town that had given them so much.
Uncle Chuck was an ardent supporter of our local law enforcement (and at one point, deputized himself, which came in real handy as our Hollows Security Guard), of local business (he didn’t always need tires, but he always liked seeing Walter Swann), and our local people. Its’ never easy to lose one of the people that champion our town, but more importantly, champion the people that live in it. I should know; he always championed me.
In the family, it’s always been a running story that we got way more years out of Uncle Chuck than we were supposed to. He had a massive heart attack at 30, and was not expected to make it. Nearly 40 years later, he was still here, still making it up in the stands for a Friday night football game, still secretly slipping money into jars for charities or purchasing fundraising raffle tickets, and still had a smile for strangers, and an enthusiastic hello for friends. In short, he was a Ripley-kind of person, one in a long line of Blue & Whiters who helped make this place special, in some way.
Last Saturday was his first Heavenly birthday, and that got me thinking about what my true-Blue & White uncle would want us all to take away from his years as a JCO citizen. He’d tell you to participate in Christmas Decorating contests (if only so Simmons Drive could win fair and square again!). He’d tell you to lay in a supply of Viking-appropriate gear and cheer loudly from the stands, from the auditorium seats, and always be proud of where you’re from. He’d tell you to shop local and utilize our greatest asset, our people, to the fullest. And he’d remind you that giving back to the town and people you love isn’t just a good thing: it’s the right thing, the best thing, and you’ll never regret it.
I’m going to miss my Uncle Chuck, not just because he was my uncle, but because he was one of the champions of this place we call home, and of the people who live here. Thanks for inspiring a whole new generation of Ripley champions, Jerry Charles, and may we always use our own Blue & White hearts to make this place you loved even better.