Category Archives: Obituary

Barbara Ann Polk 1941-2018

Barbara Ann Polk left this earth on February 9th, 2018 to be with the angels, while in the company of her family. Born June 8, 1941 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, she was her mother’s youngest child and her father’s second child. Barbara moved many times in her life, Sacramento, CA; Leoti, KS; Sweetwater, TX; San Angelo, TX; Albuquerque, NM; and Buda/Austin, TX. She graduated from Angelo State University in 1992 with an RN and worked as a nurse and hospice care supervisor for many years. She was preceded in death by her mother – Lucille R. Lavo Zonge, her father Randolph Daniel Zonge Sr., her stepmother, Marie Mendler Zonge, and her brother Kenneth L. Zonge. She is survived by her brother, Randolph Daniel Zonge, Jr.; her children: Ray Anthony Steele, Jonnette Ann Kraft, Dawn Marie Wostal, John Russell Steele and her seven grandchildren and her three great-grandchildren. The family will have a private memorial service for her in the fall. She requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to World Vision. (www.worldvision.org)

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Remembering Tom Petty

I am very nearly without words today. It takes great effort to even think in words. Melodies and harmonies are all that are running through my head. I cried when we lost George Harrison. Despaired when Prince died too young. But those are just the wounds that spring to mind because they are contextual. Revived because of proximity.

Prince, Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne and others,While My Guitar Gently Weeps 

Tom Petty was more than a musician to me. Tom Petty described my soul to me, and he didn’t just do it once. He did it over and over again through the course of my life, the course of his career. I identified with his music in ways I simply cannot describe.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers –  Even the Losers

He died doing what he wanted to do, ending a tour in support of his latest album. He went quickly and without suffering. Most of us want to be that lucky when it comes our time to go.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers  – Breakdown

I could post tracks all day long, and I did post tracks all day long on the day I learned of his death. I read about it not too long after getting up that day, but his death wasn’t officially confirmed until later.

Petty’s final show was last week, performing three sold-out shows at the Hollywood Bowl to conclude their 40th anniversary tour, CBS News reports.  

He told Rolling Stone that he thought this would be the group’s last tour together.

“It’s very likely we’ll keep playing, but will we take on 50 shows in one tour? I don’t think so. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one. We’re all on the backside of our sixties. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road. This tour will take me away for four months. With a little kid, that’s a lot of time.” – Tom Petty obituary in The Independent

It was the day after the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. One more mass shooting in a near-infinite string of tragedies that, quite frankly, I refuse to pay attention to anymore. If anyone cared we’d actually talk about gun control in a way that might be productive. But we can’t and we don’t and so, like September 11th being my dad’s birthday, I didn’t and won’t post about another mass shooting that won’t change anything. Jim has it right. We are Bang, Bang Crazy.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – You Don’t Know How It Feels

So instead I will mourn the death of a man whose work I cherished above most others of his caliber. He lived a full life and died early. Not as early as many who had the kind of talent he had, but he also didn’t live as long as the rare few do. I’ll miss him. We all will miss him and the music he might have gone on to make.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Time to Move On

A Facebook friend and fellow fan challenged other fans to quick, give me your favorite Tom Petty lyrics. Rather than give her my favorite (which is Breakdown above) I posted the Lyrics that I went to the point of actually signing up to edit that day, Learning To Fly. I signed up so as to get the correct stanza structure for the song set down properly on Lyrically. Someone had just pasted content from another website (probably) and/or didn’t understand how poetry is written and why. But that is how much I thought this was the song to remember him by on that day.

Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County, October 3rd, 2017

Well I started out
Down a dirty road
Started out
All alone

And the sun went down
As I crossed the hill
And the town lit up
The world got still

I’m learning to fly,
But I ain’t got wings
Coming down
Is the hardest thing

Well the good ol’ days
May not return
And the rocks might melt
And the sea may burn

I’m learning to fly
But I ain’t got wings
Coming down
Is the hardest thing

Well some say life
Will beat you down
and break your heart
Steal your crown

So I’ve started out
For God knows where
I guess I’ll know
When I get there

I’m learning to fly
Around the clouds
But what goes up
Must come down 


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Learning to Fly

It has now been about two weeks since the day he died, but I’m back dating to the day because I really don’t care if anyone reads this or not. I finished watching the documentary Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers: Runnin’ Down A Dream a few days ago. Watching it brought back some memories that I really wanted to put down in this post.


Stevie Nicks – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers)

His album, Hard Promises came out the year I graduated. I remember going to the Hastings record store next to the Safeway I was courtesy clerking at in 1980 and buying that cassette (vinyl was and is the purview of music collectors with money. Something I’ve never had any of) and subsequently Damn the Torpedoes. I remember not being willing to buy the first album because of the cheesy cover art, which says a lot about the importance of graphic design. The title of You’re Gonna Get it I deemed too juvenile, like Fair Warning, Van Halen’s fourth album.

If you’re poor fighting is the norm. You fight to get everything, all the time. When your stepfather is abusive, conflict is a foregone conclusion. Using the phrases of the abuser you’re gonna get it is descend to their level. I always tried to be more than that, more than the abuser was in their petty little mind. So violence was to be avoided, not encouraged. If violence is inevitable you make sure you emerge the victor, you don’t worry about methods beyond their capacity to produce desired outcomes. Hit them from behind, above, with a blunt object and keep swinging until the target stops moving. Easier to do than thinking.

Tom Petty knew how to fight and proved it repeatedly. Proved it by filing for bankruptcy to get control of his music back, winning the first case against a record company, leading the way for others who had signed usurious record contracts to also get control of their music back. His lawsuit altered the face of the music business, leading the way towards the music industry of today which exists to serve artists and not the other way around.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mary Jane’s Last Dance The hit that almost wasn’t. 

After completing his Southern Accents tour, he was one of the best-selling artists in music history. So what does he do next? He and the Heartbreakers agree to go on the road, touring with Bob Dylan as his backing band. Who else has progressed from headlining his own shows to being the backing band for another artist? Has anyone else ever done that? After a few more albums and more success, they joined Johnny Cash’s studio back up band.

“What they call country today is like bad rock groups with a fiddle” – Tom Petty


The Traveling Wilburys – The End of the Line

Roy Orbison. George Harrison. Now Tom Petty. We’re running out of Wilburys. 

In Defense of the Supporting Actor, An Ode to Bill Paxton

We lost Bill Paxton last Saturday and it was quite a blow to me as a film buff. I remember pretty much every movie he’s been in, and his characters in each film. What I found surprising going through my traditional (morbid?) ritual of watching something that featured the recently deceased, I couldn’t find anything that I wanted to watch that he starred in as a leading man.

Everyone remembers Twister, obviously. I probably remember it a little differently than most people. I grew up in tornado country. As good as the rest of the film is, I can never get past the final sequence of the two lead actors running uphill to lash themselves to a pipe in a wooden shed, with horses calmly ignoring the digital storm they couldn’t see around them. This poorly thought out and executed sequence pulls me right out of the film and worst of all, ruins the whole thing for me. The rest of Twister deserves the kind of tribute that the storm chasers gave him upon learning of his death. I hadn’t known it was such an inspiration to young kids of the time, motivating them to go into the field of meteorology and storm chasing in particular. Any film that inspires young people to do something good with their lives has to get a passing grade no matter what its other failings might be.

Similarly I wanted to like the film A Simple Plan but was put off by the fact that it was sold to us as a comedy in the trailers and promotional material, but was so definately not a comedy in viewing. It is a tragedy and a drama and worth watching. No matter how good it is it’s not going to be remembered in a kind light when The Wife wants a comedy and she’s mad and crying. That doesn’t bode well for the film ever being rewatched in this household.

We settled on Apollo 13 and Tombstone for our tribute to him, two excellent films in which he plays positive if lightly comedic supporting characters, which was actually what Bill Paxton was the best at.

This shouldn’t be seen as a slam or a put-down. The leading actor or actress in a film or play is only as good as their supporting actors allow them to be, and he was a consummate artist at playing the comedic foil or the well-intentioned loudmouth. My favorite film features him in a role he was essentially made for as an actor, the role of PFC. William L. Hudson in Aliens. It was just one more in a series of great supporting roles that enabled the top billed names to shine through his artistry off-screen as well as on it, but the stars were right in that film.

My favorite director combined with my favorite actor and actress of the time, with hands down one of the best supporting casts ever assembled. Case in point. I stumbled across this interview in my teary-eyed path down memory lane, and marveled at how these two work the interview together.

My favorite actress and one of my favorite supporting men, just naturally continuing the leading lady, supporting actor relationship established in the film; him laying up subjects for her to embroider as a leading lady should. Just a gentleman and the support that he should be, happy to be part of the interview.

I’ll have to sit down and watch his directorial efforts Frailty and The Greatest Game Ever Played just to confirm for myself that they are as good as my friends have said they are, but he will always be Hudson to me. I hope he doesn’t mind if I remember him that way.

It’s shocking and sad that American film and television creators won’t be able to rely on Paxton’s rough-hewn decency, his game sense of humor, and his canny ability to steal a scene. Paxton was dependably watchable in projects that weren’t as good as he was, and great in roles that gave his characters the scope and depth to display their irreverent and essential humanity.  

Variety –Remembering Bill Paxton, Hollywood’s Scene-Stealing Everyman

The Passing of an Age

Leonard Nimoy’s death represents a figurative passing of an age in a way that so many other’s deaths cannot.  When I heard of Robin Williams death at his own hands a few months back, I burst immediately into tears.  It was such a shocking event, it was so hard to imagine a man who was so alive being able to take his own life like that. I was prepared for the news of Leonard’s passing because of his announcement of suffering from COPD.

To be honest about this subject (which is what I try to be on the blog) his star was tarnished for me when he agreed to appear in the Abramanation. Had he died before 2009 I would have mourned his loss as heavily as the Wife did. She adored the man and his works in ways that made me look like a  passing fancier. I couldn’t possibly compete with her devotion to him and Star Trek fandom in general. I’ve never felt that strongly about much of anything aside from architecture and archeology. I was and am so conflicted about this subject that I started this entry to commemorate Leonard’s death a week after he died, and then didn’t finish it until two and a half years later (the date I’m typing this at now) I thought at the time let’s see what the effect of his death is before making a big deal about it, but in my heart I just couldn’t speak ill of the dead so soon after their passing. So I left the paragraph above sitting all that time, and refused to delete it when I scrolled past it for two years running.

So I’m finishing it now.

I said in 2009,

I can’t help but wonder what Leonard Nimoy (whom I will hold blameless) saw in this film to recommend his tacit approval and his venerable image to it. Spock prime stands in sharp contrast to the new cast, carrying with him into history a mantle of respect this revisioined Star Trek will never achieve. Because unlike Star Trek and it’s 42 years of history, the Abramanation is just entertainment.

 But I’m pretty sure what he saw was money. And why not? He’d never gotten the wealth or admiration he deserved from Hollywood or his peers. Never received the acknowledgement for creating a character so adored by people everywhere that even today, fifty years later, few actors can even come close to achieving. Every attempt at a portrayal of the emotionless Vulcans Gene Roddenberry originally envisioned looks silly compared to Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Writers don’t even know how to write those kinds of characters, as exampled by every single series since Gene’s death. Stories in which Vulcan society is morphed into some kind of vindictive hellhole that looks a lot like humans trying to paint an alien world devoid of emotion, and failing at it spectacularly. I’ve read a lot of Star Trek novels over the years, few of them come close to imagining the kinds of Vulcan that I saw hinted at in Gene’s canon.

The problem is that the world went somewhere else between 1967 and today than where it went in the future that Gene painted back then. Emotionlessness has become synonymous with sociopathy, with dark plottings of revenge, as if T’Pring was actually representational of all of Vulcan. Never mind that revenge is an emotion, too. We are so bathed in emotion as human beings we don’t even know what it is to not have them; which is the genius of Nimoy’s portrayal.

On the positive side of future history departing from Gene’s vision, we didn’t destroy ourselves with eugenics wars in the 1990’s; on the negative side, we can’t seem to recognize the ghost of eugenics when it raises it’s ugly head and calls all Mexicans rapists. On the even more negative side, we still don’t have a moon colony much less warp technology and transporters, which were always trappings of story-telling and not actual predictions of future technology. But not having a Moon colony yet? That’s just blind human stupidity. There is absolutely no reason for that not happening aside from our inability to see our own impending doom.

Like a man happily puffing away on a cigarette for most of his life never realizing that he’s destroying his own life-support mechanism and bringing a too early end to his own life in the process, humanity doesn’t realize that all life on this little ball of mud can be snuffed out in an instant. Nature doesn’t care about our petty little problems. The pale blue dot can be wiped away in an instant by some minor space collision or other, and the universe would never notice. Not even an artifact of humanity left over aside from a couple of probes we’ve managed to send beyond the influence of our sun. Is that our future?

I really hope it isn’t. 

Robin Williams

“Keep a little bit of madness in you.  Just a little touch of it.  Just enough, so you don’t become stupid. A little madness will keep you alive, because no one in the world knows how to tax that.” – Robin WilliamsReality… What a Concept

I owned that work on cassette. It was one of my first purchases, if not the first comedy album I ever owned. I listened to it so often I memorized it, before the tape fell apart and I had to stop playing it.

I loved Mork & Mindy. Watched his appearances on Carson. Went to see every film he was in, just because he was in it, and for no other reason.

I was outraged at Dead Poets Society, though. (spoilers!)  I’ve watched it since, and I know now that I was wrong, that I shouldn’t have been so angry at the suicide portrayed in that film.  But at the time I felt it was a betrayal, that it was an acknowledgement of the darkness in the world, that the film let the darkness win, by killing what I saw as the main character, the character I identified with at the time. Worse, I associated Robin with the film, because I had gone to see it specifically because he was in it.

All of us fight our own inner demons. I’ve fought with depression for many years, longer than I can count. Menieres has only made it harder to cope with, but the darkness has been there for as long as I can remember.  So long, in fact, that I don’t even remember when I made the pact with myself (unlike others) that I wouldn’t contemplate suicide.

It’s a sad observation of human existence that suicides increase when someone else commits suicide; this is especially true of prominent figures.  Watching MSNBC’s coverage, I was struck by this when they flashed the numbers for suicide prevention on the screen.  I feel it is a shame that Robin let depression win; and as someone who fights depression, and who knows there are others out there engaged in a daily battle with it, I have to see it as letting depression win.  This is not a judgement on Robin, or an observation of failure on his part.

Depression is not cancer; or maybe it is. Cancer of the mental processes, perhaps. In any case, when the physical body fails (and it will, for all of us) then it really is over.  But when the mind gets trapped in that inward spiral, no one can break you out of it unless you want them to, unless you want to keep living. That is a choice you make.

I will not leave a body for relatives to find, to ask themselves “what did I do wrong” when it isn’t about them. It’s about me.  There will be no notes.  No questions.  Because (fate willing) I will not have to make that choice. I just hope I have time to write down all the things I think need to be related before that Mind That Bus moment happens.

Like Dead Poets Society. It’s not actually about the suicidal character; or rather, it not just about him. It’s about the mousy little guy who follows along for the whole film (my first conscious introduction to Ethan Hawke, another actor who’s films I try not to miss) never hazarding more than is required of him because he is too afraid to take that chance.  It’s about all the other characters, sucking all the marrow because they had a teacher who encouraged them to live life to its fullest. Because we’re only here for a brief moment, and then we’re gone.



I’ve meant to write a postscript to this one for awhile now.  On the revelation that Robin suffered from early stages of Parkinson’s, and that he had that road ahead of him clearly mapped out by others (including his friend Micheal J. Fox whose charity he donated to) I can easily imagine that he chose his time to leave rather than wait for the disease to rob him of his independence. Preferred to be remembered this way, rather than risk being the subject of pity; no longer able to ask people to laugh at him, with him.

That he had to kill himself the way he did is more an indictment of  current societal norms than it is of Robin Williams himself.  When you are stricken with a disease for which there is no cure, one that will slowly destroy what you were if not actually kill you outright, you are faced with some pretty hard choices.  One of them is the ability to say “Ok, I’ve had enough now. I’d like to just check out.” A choice which is denied to the sufferer in nearly every case; requiring those determined enough to seek solutions to the problem, to resort to cruder tactics than they would have preferred had they actually had a choice.

I am convinced that Robin Williams is one of those people.  Being denied the right to end his life legally at some point later, he chose that time and that place to act, right or wrong.  

For me, it was the wrong choice.  But then I’m not Robin Williams.  Never wanted to be him.  I just enjoyed his pointed wit, his ability to flit apparently effortlessly through characters; his willingness to laugh, and to encourage us to laugh, at his all too human foibles.  In the end, it was those foibles, those failings, that killed him.

We sat down and rewatched Dead Poets Society as a family last week.  Just wanted to see if his chosen ending for his life alters the way the film feels. In reflection, I think this film actually captures the real Robin; both the flashy in-your-face moments of characterization, and the quiet man who contemplates the meaning of life, tries to communicate the drive to find meaning to younger minds. In any case it holds up well, and I think I’ll have to dig up some of his other early works, dust off the Laser Disk player if I have to.  Re-experience his work again, while the pain is fresh.  Just to see if I can still laugh with him.  I think I need a good laugh.

“O Me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; 
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish; 
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?) 
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d; 
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me; 
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined; 
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life? 
Answer.
That you are here—that life exists, and identity; 
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


I ran across this article submitted by Susan Schneider Williams (Robin Williams’s widow) to the journal Neurology. He apparently suffered from Lewy Body disease, undiagnosed until after his death. She discusses her experience with him in the final days of his life in the article and in this audio clip from the journal.

Although not alone, his case was extreme. Not until the coroner’s report, 3 months after his death, would I learn that it was diffuse LBD that took him. All 4 of the doctors I met with afterwards and who had reviewed his records indicated his was one of the worst pathologies they had seen. He had about 40% loss of dopamine neurons and almost no neurons were free of Lewy bodies throughout the entire brain and brainstem.

Robin is and will always be a larger-than-life spirit who was inside the body of a normal man with a human brain. He just happened to be that 1 in 6 who is affected by brain disease.

Not only did I lose my husband to LBD, I lost my best friend. Robin and I had in each other a safe harbor of unconditional love that we had both always longed for. For 7 years together, we got to tell each other our greatest hopes and fears without any judgment, just safety. As we said often to one another, we were each other’s anchor and mojo: that magical elixir of feeling grounded and inspired at the same time by each other’s presence.

One of my favorite bedrock things we would do together was review how our days went. Often, this was more than just at the end of the day. It did not matter if we were both working at home, traveling together, or if he was on the road. We would discuss our joys and triumphs, our fears and insecurities, and our concerns. Any obstacles life threw at us individually or as a couple were somehow surmountable because we had each other.

The causes of his suicide are far more complex than anyone could understand until long after he was gone. I’m just now (Oct. 2017) able to look back on him and his work with a calm dispassion. Finally over the emotional hurdle of his leaving us in this way.

Jack Steele

This is the text of the Obituary that ran in the local paper, both here in Canon City where he lived, and in Leoti where he spent a large portion of his life.

John Hyland ‘Jack’ Steele Jr. died peacefully in the presence of family at the St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City late Saturday, June 27, 2009.

He was born Sept. 11, 1938, in Witchita Falls, Texas, to John Hyland and Dorothy (Heim) Steele; they preceded him in death. He also was preceded in death by his son, Kelly Steele.

Jack served his country in he United States Air Force for six years and, for most of his life, received joy helping countless people have a good experience buying a car. He never met a stranger and was loved by all who met him.

He leaves behind the love of his life, Charlene “Charley” Steele and children: Ray Anthony Steele, Jonnette Ann Kraft, Dawn Marie Nickell, John Russell Steele, and Damion Lee Steele; his seven grandchildren and his sister, Jean Mohri.

Jack was a fighter and fought until the end.

At his request, there will be no services. In lieu of flowers, Jack would appreciate donations to Fremont County Orchard of Hope, 111 Orchard Ave., Cañon City, CO 81212.

Arrangements handled through Wilson Funeral Home.

I have never been embarrassed to say “my father is a car salesman”. Horse trading is a long and honored tradition, and my father just applied the same principles to cars that was once applied to horses. In more than 30 years of working the deal, I never met anyone who thought they hadn’t gotten a fair trade from him. Even after he was forced into retirement by his battle with cancer, he could still be found sizing up, buying and selling cars and trucks in his spare time.

A good portion of the population in Leoti probably remembers him as Hyland Steele’s only son, Jack who inherited the service station that Hyland built. A volunteer fireman and occasional fire chief, my father was active in that small community in ways that would put most activists to shame in this day and age.

John Hyland Steele, Jr. was born in Wichita Falls, Texas. My gramma (Dorothy. From Kansas) when talking about those times, remarked “if he’d have waited another hour, he’d have been born in Oklahoma.” that was the life of people who worked the oil fields in the 1930’s. It wasn’t long, though, before they settled in Leoti, and that small town remained home for three generations of Steeles.

I remember fondly, riding the tractor with my Uncles and my Grandfather, working the farms that belonged to friends and relatives. I earned my first wages working in the service station, and my second job was in the fields, clearing weeds from around crops too sensitive to be mechanically maintained.

What I will remember most about my father though, is his love of fishing and hunting. Long stretches of the summer season would be spent washing lures in Swanson Lake near Trenton, Nebraska. Winter weekends were to be spent in Twin Buttes, Colorado hunting Canada geese; or quail, pheasant, deer and elk when in season. Fishing, more than anything else, defined the good times that I remember from childhood.

His health in his later years was so poor that I can’t even begin to understand how he managed to drag himself through each day. But he did it for years. He fought his cancer tooth and nail till the end, and survived far longer with it and its after effects than any of the MD’s thought he could. He breathed his last with his youngest adoptive son (as I was also adopted) by his side.

We miss you already, dad.

Courtesy Cindy Crays

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The obituary we paid for in the Canon City Daily Record never made it into any online databases because they didn’t have a partnership with an online database (neither did Leoti) in 2009. The current owners of the paper are not interested in making good on payments made to the prior owners, and are only interested in getting me to give them money to do the job I thought we already paid for. Consequently the only place I can currently (3/31/2018) find my father referenced is on this blog, and on Tributes.com which just happens to reference my blog as the source. I will update the broken link to the official obit if the physical papers in either Leoti or Canon City are ever scanned and uploaded to the internet. 

Harry Browne

He was the first presidential candidate that I actually believed in when I cast my vote for him (two times, even) I wish I could say he was “my friend” or that I “knew him well”, but we only met briefly, once during each campaign. He had what was needed in a presidential candidate, that air of confidence and and charisma that makes you want to trust him.

We’ll miss you, Harry.

Here’s a bit of him in his own words (thx to TL Knapp for the link)
I Love America. Do You?