MARC CHASE: Give thanks for true public servants

2013-11-28T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Give thanks for true public servantsMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
November 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Do what is right. Avoid what is wrong.

In the laws of good citizenship, it doesn't get boiled down any simpler. Add to that rule a credo of always seeking and filling a need, and you have the words by which 77-year-old Highland public servant Larry Vassar lived.

Larry knew the importance of passing this ethic on to his four children. His example is something for which we all should be thankful today as we gather around our holiday tables.

Those closest to Larry remember him as an engine of service that never seemed to run out of fuel.

"When he saw a need, he met it," Larry's son Tim told me last week. "And nothing got in the way of that. If somebody needed help, he just did it. He didn't wait to be told."

Larry's children watched his example through volunteer work at their church, St. James in Highland, and eventually through Larry's three decades of service on the Highland School Board.

Larry Vassar's engine never quit. School Board member, father, husband, eucharistic minister, church food drives, Little League coach, cubmaster, Highland Park Board member: For decades, he just wouldn't stop.

Larry always had an affinity for children living with disabilities, Tim recalls. He won his first term on the Highland School Board at a time when it was common practice to place disabled children together in one facility, isolated from the other public schools.

Larry didn't believe it was right. He saw a need. He helped change it.

Larry was on the forefront of what is now known as the inclusion movement, incorporating disabled students into the public schools rather than herding them together in one facility. Today, it's part of the public education fabric.

Outside of the School Board, Larry's other volunteer work continued at a tireless pace. Even a massive heart attack during a schools conference in Florida in 1987 couldn't slow him down. Not even subsequent open-heart surgical repairs in 1996, or the defibrillator and pacemaker inserted in his body to keep his heart beating properly.

No, that just showed him more voids that needed to be filled. He became president of the Munster Mended Hearts chapter, a group offering support for heart patients and their families.

Everything he did influenced his children. Larry's daughter Kim became a nurse. Eldest son Tim became a special education teacher and now serves as principal of Crown Point's Col. John Wheeler Middle School. Larry's son Dan is a Highland Town Council member, and son Patrick is Highland's assistant police chief.

Time catches up to everyone — even the most driven among us. Three weeks ago today, Larry's heart physically quit, and he died at home.

More than 2,000 people attended his visitation, recalling the legacy of a man who lived to serve.

Today, Tim plans to honor his father's memory by bringing Thanksgiving dinner to a Highland family whose patriarch is jobless — a family that otherwise wouldn't have much holiday bounty to celebrate.

It's the best possible Thanksgiving tribute for someone like Larry. Find a need. Fill it. Do what is right. Avoid what is wrong. Find a way to serve.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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