While the headlines last year certainly belonged to the marquee obituaries of Ted Kennedy, Michael Jackson, Patrick Swayze, Walter Cronkite and others, I'd like to give a final month-by-month tip of the hat to a dozen who left the national scene in 2009, but maybe, somehow, we missed their final exits.
On Jan. 22, we said goodbye to Vivian Illing. She was 108 and was the oldest living survivor of the San Francisco Earthquake. Since she was almost 7 years old when the devastating event happened, she remembered it with great vividness and told stories about it for a century.
On Feb. 3, Millard Fuller died at the age of 74. In 1976, with an army of volunteers and President Jimmy Carter as "chief hammer and nail man," Fuller's organization, dubbed Habitat For Humanity, began coordinating the construction of low-income housing for the needy across the South, and later the entire country. Since 1976, more than 300,000 homes sheltering nearly 2 million people have been built in the international Habitat community.
Jimmy Boyd died on March 7, at age 70. He recorded "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" when he was just 12 years old. It has sold 60 million copies. In 1960, he married Yvonne Craig, TV's first "Batgirl." When Boyd's novelty song came out, it was banned by the Catholic Diocese in Boston for "mixing sex with religion." Huh?
Jane Bryan died on April 8, at the age of 90. She was groomed to be a leading lady by Warner Brothers in the late 1930s. She eventually appeared in films with Bette Davis, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and other stars before catching the eye of money-bags Justin Dart in 1939. He proposed, she said yes, she quit the movies and life was good (very good) for the now-billionaire Mrs. Dart. Oh, and where did his dough come from? A little company called Rexall Drug Stores.
On May 31, Melvina Dean died at the age of 97. She was the last survivor of the sinking of the H.M.S. Titanic in 1912. Dean's death date was exactly the same as the date of the official Titanic launch in 1911: May 31!
On June 20 of last year, we said farewell to John Houghtaling. Of course we have never heard of him. But for those of us who spent many a night in a Catskill or Adirondack roadside motel in the 1960s, we sure enjoyed his "gift" to us weary travelers. Houghtaling invented the coin-operated sleeping amenity called "Magic Fingers." He was 92.
Oscar Mayer died on July 6. He was 95. Yes, the hot dog guy. Go ahead and sing it. You know you want to. "Oh, I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener ..."
Charlie Bond died at age 94 on Aug. 18. He flew with the legendary World War II unit "The Flying Tigers." On May 4, 1942, his plane was shot out from under him. He parachuted (with his clothes on fire!) into a cemetery, crawled to a creek and doused his flaming clothes, all the while eluding capture. He was back in the air within four weeks. Whew! Only three Flying Tiger pilots survive today.
Susan Atkins died on Sept. 24. She was the member of the Manson Family who killed actress Sharon Tate. She was denied parole nearly 20 times over the years and was the longest incarcerated female in a California prison when she finally exited her wasted life at the age of 61.
All right, admit it. How many of you Baby Boomers followed Soupy Sales' advice to "go into your parents' wallets while they are sleeping and take out some of that funny paper with the presidents faces on them" and sent it to him? A pie in your kisser if you admit to doing it! Soupy left us Oct. 22, at the age of 83.
On Nov. 23, Robert Denger finally "put his whole self in." The creator of the "Hokey Pokey" song and dance died at the age of 104. And by the way, Bob Karnes, the creator of that other wedding-party staple "The Chicken Dance," died on April 9, 2008. Thankfully, Chubby Checker is still "Twisting the Night Away" at 68.
Tim "The Barrel Man" McKernan died on Dec. 5, 2009. The No. 1 Denver Broncos football fan, he attended every home game, both at Mile High Stadium and Invesco Field, wearing nothing but an orange barrel. Yes, an orange barrel. We don't know why he did this. When he retired in 2007, he sold his barrel (autographed by 49 Broncos players) for $30,000.
As they say ... it takes all kinds.
I'll catch you in two ...
'Big Chuck' D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." He invites you to contact him at email@example.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.