One of them, anyway. This is the saddest post I’ll probably ever write on this blog. I got word this afternoon, about 4:00 PM, that Rusty Snyder, one of my very closest friends in life—for 30+ years—had suddenly, with no warning whatever, gone to be with the Lord. Excuse the stream-of-consciousness, but I’m not interested in a coherent post, but rather just my thoughts as they come to me. My first thought is that, for the believer, the homegoing of another believer is a cause for at least an element of rejoicing. “We sorrow not, as others who have no hope”, I’ve reminded countless funeral-goers through the years, and now, I’m finding myself having to remind myself again and again of the truth of the Scripture. It doesn’t say, “we sorrow not”, because if it did, well heck, you could probably throw the whole Bible in the can as so much hooey and nonsense; it hurts, man it hurts.

Rusty was a member of the first graduating class of Roanoke Valley Christian Schools; I was president of that class. If memory serves me, the vote that was taken for that position, in the first week or two of my senior year, was very close, and I think I won on Rusty’s vote. He didn’t much care for such things, and as I recall, the whole “election” consisted of some school official sticking his head in the door and saying, “hey, don’t forget to elect a representative to student government”. But nonetheless, Rusty cast a deciding vote (verbally) for me.

I’d met Rusty playing baseball. He played for Williamson Road Rec, and I played for Wilmont, and the only reason I recognized him from baseball—when I began to attend the church his family attended, Shenandoah Baptist—was because he had long, straight, jet-black hair. Nobody else had hair quite like that, and it gave him an appearance—well, I’ll be kind to him now and just say it was “different”. Didn’t really know him, but when I started at Shenandoah, there he was, and we recognized each other and hit it off. Later that year, we each played school ball, he first base for Ruffner Junior High, and I second for Lucy Addison. Each team went 7-3 in the regular season, tying for the championship and necessitating a playoff to determine the Roanoke City Junior High championship. We kicked their butts, no small source of enjoyment for me through the years.

Then Rusty and his family moved to Virginia Beach, and our budding friendship was put on hold until just before our senior year, Rusty and family moved back to Roanoke, and with a couple other guys from the church joining me, we managed to persuade him to enroll for his senior year at RVCS instead of Fleming.

Little did I know that his decision to do that secured our friendship for life.

I got the call from Tim this afternoon that Rusty had been out raking leaves today, had chest pains, and died at the hospital. The words hit me like an avalanche. I was so stunned that I didn’t know how to react, until the end of the phone call when I started getting emotional and, well, I’ve shed more tears this afternoon and evening than I have in a long time.

It wasn’t supposed to be Rusty. He was the picture of health, in better shape than myself; when I called WebbieDude Paul, another Class of ’78 friend, to tell him, Paul’s remark was, “I was supposed to be the first to go” (WebbieDude Paul needs to shed a few…well, OK, more than a “few”). We spoke on the phone for a few minutes, and Paul shared a couple of reminiscences that actually caused a laugh.

One of the best things that Paul said about Rusty is that, after high school, when Rusty and I went to Salem Redbirds minor league baseball games, and Paul would be there drinking beer with his “Rowdy Ridge” friends (they had a reputation), Rusty didn’t mind at all going over and talking to Paul, and acting like a friend, unlike me, stinking Tennessee Temple Pharisee that I’d become. Paul didn’t add that “Pharisee” part; I did. Ouch.

But see, that’s the way Rusty was. He was genuinely a friend. Yeah, I know you’re supposed to say that after someone is gone; that’s happy-talk that you always say, even if you don’t mean it. But I mean it. Rusty was a quiet, unassuming guy, but he let me know, in many ways through the years, how he felt about me as a friend.

I remember, back when I had more Pharisee leanings than I hope I do now (but I’m not pronouncing myself cured; spiritual pride is the worst kind, the most insidious kind, the nastiest, most disgusting stench-ridden kind), I really wasn’t sure Rusty was much of a Christian. After all, he had a rock music collection that’d be the envy of most any 70’s teenager. I, of course, didn’t listen to that stuff, because no good Christian ever would, you know. Oh, I walked the Olivia Newton-John fine-line, because she was “pop” or even “country”, not rock-and-roll, which would send everyone to hell who listened to it. Which Rusty did. Openly. Not in-your-face, but not hiding it either. And of course I judged him to be less than “spiritual”; sure, he was a Christian, but, you know…

But then it gets interesting. A family began attending our church, a fractured family, fractured because the dad was an abusive drunk kind of guy. Two teenage girls, both of whom are friends to this day, and two little kids, a boy and a girl. Boy couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6. Boy didn’t have a dad, or a big brother; just all those women in the house. And who was it that took little David under his wing, acted (for years!) like the dad he didn’t have, or the big brother (I don’t know all the details of the relationship)? Was it “spiritual” me, with my whitewall hair cut and my Bible college plans? No…it was Rusty. And the reason I know almost nothing about his relationship with David, other than the fact of it, is because Rusty didn’t talk about it. He just did it. He just loved that little boy and helped him here and there (the lack of specifics, again, is because he didn’t talk about it), and that little boy grew into an upstanding young man, who went to Bible college himself and got a youth ministry degree.

And then there’s the fact that Rusty worked for, what, over 20 years in the AWANA Sparks ministry. He didn’t talk about it much; along with his wife, he just did it. And how many hundreds of kids have been influenced for Christ through the years by this guy who didn’t talk about it; he just lived it.

And then there’s how he loved his family. His three girls, all roughly corresponding to the ages of my kids, were his life. He coached each of his girls (I assume he coached his youngest) in basketball, and softball, and who knows what other kind of ball, and he coached other kids, too, a ton of them, in soccer as well as the other sports; I couldn’t keep up with how many teams he coached. And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he did it right. Not only well, but right, teaching them all the right lessons, not only about sports, but about sportsmanship and teamwork and all of those things that stick with us for a lifetime because of people like Rusty.

And then there was the time a few years ago when we sat in his basement and he told me the story of a stand he took, in a situation he was in, that demonstrated to me incredible integrity. Not that I was surprised, mind you, but I was just beaming, listening to this guy who “wasn’t spiritual” tell me about how he was faced with a choice of compromise or taking a hard stand, and how he’d done the hard thing, because it represented integrity. I told him in a subsequent email how proud I was to have a guy like him for a friend, a guy who’d put it on the line to do what’s right. He told me how he bragged to people about me being a pastor, and how happy he was to have me as a friend as well.

You know, those kinds of conversations are the kinds that we ought to have with all our friends, before it’s too late, because now, Rusty is with the Lord, and I hope he died knowing how much he was loved. I love him, and I will miss him dearly. I can barely see to type. Would you pray for his wife, Sherry, and her daughters? Would you pray for his mom, Jane, and his dad, Russell, all of whom must be experiencing grief like I can only imagine. It’s killing me sitting here in Georgia, three states away, and I can only imagine. Pray for Karen and I as well; we’ll leave after church tomorrow, and I want to do whatever little bit I can to ease the pain for the family of this man I loved so much.

Finally, and maybe I said this already, forgive me: let’s tell our friends more regularly how we feel about them. I’m glad that Rusty and I had a couple of conversations where we said those kinds of things; I really, really am. You just never know, do you?

Oh, and one other thing; sorry, this is my post, and I’ll write it as long as I please. When I got the news, I drove over to the Speech and Debate Tournament my kids were in, and that Karen did hospitality for. The closing event, where the awards were handed out, was finished by a song and a prayer. I have no idea why this song was chosen; it doesn’t seem to me to “fit” with an event such as a Speech and Debate Tournament. But the song was,

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way;
When sorrows, like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Needless to say, I couldn’t sing, but I listened as those time-worn words took on fresh meaning. We sorrow not as others who have no hope; it is well with my soul.

18 responses »

  1. Mary Beth says:

    Yes, today has been a most difficult day here in Roanoke. It just can’t be real. Thank you Byron for posting your thoughts. Your friendship with Rusty was very evident. And while I’m at it, let me take the opportunity while I have it here on this earth to say that I am blessed to have you as a friend for these many, many years.

    From one of David’s big sisters.

  2. Barbara Shelor says:

    Byron – I just read your article about Rusty. I know how close you and he were and I know you must be hurting. I will be praying for you and Karen – you as you preach tomorrow and for both of you as you travel. Thank you, also for the part about David. Byron, I had no idea that you knew about Rusty and David. Believe me, we have talked about that in my family much today. David could not believe this when I called to tell him. Thank you, Byron — Barbara Shelor

  3. Byron says:

    And I love you both, dearly. Why don’t we say these things when we have the opportunity? We laugh, we cut up, and that’s all well and good, but we just never know, do we, when the last time might be?

  4. jen elslager says:

    Byron, I’m so sorry. We will pray for everyone involved, and for your safe travel to be with them.

    God knew you needed that comforting old hymn today.

  5. Don says:

    Your phone call yesterday certainly took me and my family by surprise. What a shock for such a relatively young man (not yet 50) to be suddenly taken from this world. Rusty and I weren’t nearly as close as you two. In fact I’m pretty sure I hadn’t seen him in nearly 25 years. But I still remember his big smile and that jet black hair and the “BIG DON” he’d say every time he’d see me. And I do remember hearing about the relationship he had with David. He may not have talked about it much, but I can tell you that his testimony didn’t go unnoticed. My mother still talks about it with great pride to this very day.

    I’ll be making plans to attend the funeral. I’m sure it’ll be bitter sweet as we reunite with some of our old high school pals. I’ll be praying for you my friend. And let me just say while I have the opportunity that I have always cherished our friendship. You are truly a friend that is closer than a brother to me. I love you my friend with all my heart and I pray God’s comfort you in your lose.

  6. Trenton says:

    Thank you for sharing Byron. Its been years since I have seen Rusty. I do remember that he was a great encouragement to me when I played for a year with his brother on the basketball team at RVCS. I’m sure the family will greatly appreciate your presence at the funeral. I’ll be praying for all involved.

  7. jack Brooks says:

    I’m sorry to hear about this shocking loss of your friend, Byron. I was thinking yesterday about how our departures are planned for reasons we can’t foresee. I caught the flu last week (still have it), so one of our elders is preaching this morning. There’s some reason for it. I was removed for the morning, so that something else would happen that was meant to happen. But I still pray for Rusty’s family, that their shock and grief can be tempered with the hope of everlasting life and reliance on God standing by them and helping them endure the weeks and months ahead.

  8. Paul - SteelerDirtFreak says:

    I’ve been trying to write something over on my own blog and just can’t get anything out. So I’m going to try adding a couple thoughts here, although it is just as hard to write while crying here as it has proven to be on my own site.

    I’ve always told people that our senior class at RVCS, due to it’s size (16) and being the first graduating class, was (and is) a family. Sure, it may have been a bit dysfunctional (with some of us more on the “dys” side than most) but it was still ‘family’.

    But Rusty didn’t care how far to the ‘dys’ side I wandered, he always accepted me just the way I was. And he was that way with everyone. He didn’t see the ‘stuff’ ABOUT a person,he saw the person.

    I’ll definitely never forget the nights spent sitting around in my basement with a bunch of us playing Strat-o-matic Baseball. Great times, and Rusty was always in the middle of it.

    Like we were saying yesterday when you called with the news, if we were to make a list of who from our class was going to be the first to go, well, my name has been at the top of that last since our senior year. (Different reasons over the years, but still at the top) But Rusty’s name was never even near the top. It just shouldn’t have been Rusty.

    I hate that I’m not going to be able to make it down to Roanoke for the funeral. Family should be together at a time like this to grieve, comfort, and celebrate a life well-lived, always to the fullest, and always, at all times, lived to serve and honor our Lord Jesus.

    I’m also proud to have had the privilege to call Rusty Snyder “FRIEND”.

  9. Jean (Black) Taglavore says:

    My brother, Don, called me yesterday with the news of Rusty’s sudden death. All I could think about was that he was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known. He was a great athlete in high school, and I don’t ever remember seeing him lose his temper. I didn’t get to know Rusty very well until after he gradutated from RVCS. I was 3 years behind you guys, so Rusty was only there for 1 year when I was there. He stayed in Roanoke after graduation, though ,and was still coming to church on Sundays while I was in high school. I remember one Sunday he showed up without socks on. I gave him a hard time about it,so every Sunday after that we did a “sock check”. He would pull up his pant leg and show me that he was indeed wearing socks! Then, at my Junior/Senior banquet, he came with one of the Senior girls. He was all decked out in a white tuxedo. I was a little nervous to be at my first big banquet with my first date. (Ok, It was only Randy Childress, but the first date thing was a little unnerving!) Rusty nudged me, pulled up his pantleg, and showed me his sparkling white socks to match his shining white shoes! I was at ease the rest of the night.

    I was closer to Rusty’s brother Mike who is 2 years younger than me. Mike and I traveled with our youth group drama team together. I also carpooled with Mike and Terry Burrow to school my Senior year. (My mother would die if she knew we listend to STYX on the way to school each morning! I’m sure it’s a shocker to you, too! Little Miss Goody-Two Shoes rockn’ out with the guys on the way to school!)

    After college I had the opportunity to go on a summer missions trip to Jamaica. Jane Snyder went with us as one of the adults. She and I got to be close during that trip. All I could think about when Don told me was how hard this will be for her.

    I knew Sherry briefly, too, when we worked in day care together. I don’t remember the time frame, but it was either right before or right after Rusty and Sherry got married.

    Today in church, my sister-in-law,Kim, sang “More Than Enough” and I finally cried. I cried for Sherry, with whom I had worked in Day Care, for Mike, my high school buddy, and for my dear friend Jane as well. I know this will be so hard for them all, but God really is “more than enough” for them to make it through this.

    I will try to go to the funeral,too if I can. My mom was friends with Jane, too, and still has a soft spot for Mike who was once our paper boy. She’ll try to come as well.

    Just so it doesn’t go unsaid, I love you my dear friend, “Byrony”. Hey, you even came to my wedding! I’ll be praying for you, too.

  10. Deanna (Jackson) Rothhaar says:

    Dear Byron, thanks for the wonderful words, for taking the time to express them, really for all of us. You know, I never really knew Rusty very well, but my mom are Jane were always close when we were little because they were born on the very same day. A couple of years ago my mom sent me the 1970 Airlee Court church directory, which I treasure, so I have a picture of Rusty at age 9. Some of us go way, way back!
    I want to express my condolences to you, Mary Beth, Barb, David and everyone else who was a part of those pioneering years at RVCS, as well as the whole Snyder family. I live in Ohio now, too far to visit often, but I read the Roanoke Times online every single day, so you all are still so close to my heart. May God wrap His comforting arms all around us and may we praise Him for the hope and blessing of eternal life, and the peace that only He gives.
    Lots of luv,
    Deanna

  11. Deanna (Jackson) Rothhaar says:

    Dear Byron, thanks for the wonderful words, for taking the time to express them, really for all of us. You know, I never really knew Rusty very well, but my mom are Jane were always close when we were little because they were born on the very same day. A couple of years ago my mom sent me the 1970 Airlee Court church directory, which I treasure, so I have a picture of Rusty at age 9. Some of us go way, way back!
    I want to express my condolences to you, Mary Beth, Barb, David and everyone else who was a part of those pioneering years at RVCS, as well as the whole Snyder family. I live in Ohio now, too far to visit often, but I read the Roanoke Times online every single day, so you all are still so close to my heart. May God wrap His comforting arms all around us and may we praise Him for the hope and blessing of eternal life, and the peace that only He gives.
    Lots of luv,
    Deanna

  12. Mark Merritt says:

    Byron,

    I’m sorry for the sudden passing of your friend. Thanks for telling us about him – I can tell I would’ve liked him had we ever met.

    I’ll be praying for his family, as well as my favorite blogger…

  13. Dirk van de Kaap says:

    Byron,

    Great testimony about Rusty! What a neat legacy to leave behind. God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good. He was the church in action. I’m sorry for your great loss. I’ve been dealing with several deaths in the past week – the most recent being a Navy SEAL we know who was killed in a training accident. Grace & peace to you, my friend.

    wjt

  14. Sara Davis-Leonard says:

    Byron,

    I’m one of the several kids that Rusty coached at RVCS. Rusty was one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had because he didn’t care if we won but if you played your best and if you were a testimony for Christ. I think Coach Rusty would be astounded to know that RVCS is closed for his funeral. The outpouring of sympathy for Mrs. Snyder and her family is overwhelming. That is one of the greatest things about RVCS and the body of Christ: you’re family forever.

    Sara Davis-Leonard
    Class of ’06

  15. Deering says:

    Byron,

    My deepest sympathies to you in your time of loss. A Japanese proverb says, “When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends”. I’m sure this is more than true for both you and Rusty. Please know I’m praying for you and Rusty’s family in this time of loss.

    In Him,

    Deering

  16. Byron says:

    I want to thank all of you for your comments, those who knew Rusty and those who didn’t. I thought today (Wednesday) might be the first day since Saturday that I hadn’t cried, but then I read your comments…so much for that. Thank you.

  17. john peters says:

    Hey Byron,

    Wonderfully written tribute to Rusty. I was shocked to learn of his passing, and wish I could have been there for the funeral. Though the circumstances would have been grim, wish I could have met up with you and Mary Beth and Chad and Don and Jean and all the others…

    Drop me a line. Would love to hear (read) how you and Karen and the family are doing.

    John

  18. michael snyder says:

    Byron,

    Thanks for this. My brother loved you. And yeah, he bragged on you to me as well. You know I hate the circumstances, but it really was nice to spend some time with you and Karen and a whole host of old friends this week. Thanks for loving Rusty and his family well.

    Mike

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