BY BENJAMIN GOHS & CHRIS FAULKNOR
In his poem Hallowed Ground, Thomas Campbell wrote, “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
With the recent passing of Ed Vondra, and subsequent community-wide outpouring of grief and fond memories, that sentiment could not be any truer.
“Ed Vondra loved and was loved,”
Scott MacKenzie told the Boyne City Gazette upon reflection. “He was a critical and supportive thread in the fabric of our community. His humble and subtle presence in so many of the meaningful events and institutions so valued by the friends and families of our town was a reassuring force.”
Vondra, who died on Saturday Sept. 26 at the age of 66, was born to Vernon and Anna Marie Vondra, and was the oldest of nine children.
“He was just a very quiet man but spoke volumes,” said Ruth Skop. “He was always good for a hug. He wouldn’t let us out without a hug on Thursdays (at Kiwanis). Even though he sat there so quiet, he made himself present.”
Raised on a dairy farm, Vondra went on to marry Marty Hill on Aug. 5, 1967 at Holy Cross Church in Stockton, Ill.
“Twelve of his 15 years, I was on the school board with him,” said Dr. Richard Mansfield. “He was quiet. But, then he would chime in and you couldn’t really argue with him about anything going on in the school, because he was at all the games and all the events.”
He added, “You couldn’t say something didn’t happen, because he was there. If the politics got heated, he’d just be quiet and let it all get out, then he’d talk.”
Ed and Marty had seven children: daughter Peg (husband Matt and children Adam, Amanda, Noah, and Jacob) son Rick (wife Teri and children Isabelle, Rachel, Hannah, and Henry), son Chuck (wife Theresa and children Emma and Max), son Shawn (wife Stacy and children Sam and Grace), son Andy (wife, Katie and children Nick, Claudia and Conor), son Tim (wife Mandy and children Eli, Deanna and Abigail) and son Damian.
“His spiritual and peaceful presence had a calming effect on me and so many others,” said MacKenzie. “His passing has inspired me to become like him, a better listener, to try harder to be in-tune with others’ needs and emotions.”
He added, “We all know there has been great pain and sorrow in Ed’s life, like there is in many of our own lives, but that never stopped Ed from caring about others. I know personally, whenever I have felt stress, or the pressures of some of life’s great challenges, Ed would mysteriously be there and say ‘How ya doing? Everything OK?’ He would be there to listen, and full-heartedly display his model of love and support.”
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Vondra was an owner and broker for the Vondra Agency in Warren, Ill.
A lifelong servant of his fellow man, Vondra involved himself in numerous community service organizations and maintained his life of faith at St. Ann Catholic Church. He also sponsored and volunteered with many programs, including coaching several sports teams.
“One of the things I remember Ed for the most was his listening skills, whether it was in a meeting or on the street,” said Salli Hawkins. “When I couldn’t come for meetings, he’d park his car across from mine and talk to me, and it was always ‘How are you doing?’ and he’d always listen to me.”
She added, “He could always look into me and say, ‘What’s really going on?’ That was really evident, because whenever we’ve had a loss in our club, Ed was there. When we had an open house for my mom, he was going to speak. He was just this calmness that just sat there. As it got dark, we all migrated to the patio. He had us all talking about her. And, when we were done, he summed up everything he heard and everything throughout the day in this beautiful talk, and his listening skills were so acute that he could pull everything together. That’s how he was in the community, just a quiet spirit—even at the school.”
At age 30, Vondra had a special dispensation from Rome to become the youngest ordained deacon in America. And, within a few years, he finished his business career and started full-time work in the ministry of the church.
Deacon Vondra eventually moved his family to Northern Michigan where, in the summer of 1986, he served the parish communities of St. Matthew Catholic Church in Boyne City and St. Augustine in Boyne Falls.
“When we moved here in 1988, and I first met him, he was a youth minister at St. Francis in Charlevoix and he was helping young people,” said Julie Gudmunson. “He’s just a gentle, gentle man. When we lost our son, he was there for us. He came to the funeral, and then he came to our home weekly until we were strong enough.”
She added, “He prayed with us, and he sought out my youngest son and helped him. He was just a gentle presence among us.”
Vondra also worked with St. Francis Xavier Church of Petoskey and St. Mary Catholic Church of Charlevoix.
“When I started to become Catholic and had to go through the classes every Sunday, we would go to church and Ed was always sitting there in the same spot praying the rosary,” said Tracy Russold. “One day, we were just drawn to that pew and he was so peaceful. We never said much, but then we grew into hugs and ‘how are you?’ and there was a connection—we were all blessed to have him in our lives.”
The general consensus is that a person could not go to an event in Boyne City without seeing Ed Vondra smiling, waiving and talking to folks.
In addition to his 15 years as a Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education member and a Boyne District Library Board member, Vondra regularly attended school sporting events, Stroll the Streets, other local festivals, community meetings and he was a member of the Boyne City Kiwanis Club.
“Not only are we going to miss Ed’s presence and wisdom on the Board of Education, the district’s children and staff will miss his attendance at the various events he attended. Whether it was sporting events, band concerts, the musicals, the Christmas programs, Ed was there,” said Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Peter Moss. “If there was a job at an event that needed filling, Ed was always eager to fill in … whether that was to keep the scoreboard and clock or to announce the games. One thing you could always count on is, if the event was held at the auditorium, Ed could be seen sitting in his usual place—middle aisle and 20 rows up.”
He added, “Ed Vondra’s support of Boyne City Public Schools was enormous and indisputable, his work for the school thoroughly appreciated, and he will be missed and remembered by both his family and the school community.”
Ed Vondra was preceded in death by his beloved son Damian, his parents Vernon and Anna Marie Vondra, his brothers Jim and Joe, and niece Natalie.
“Ed certainly followed the Gospel message of being of service to others. One of the ways this was visible was his commitment to the Kiwanis mission to change one child and one community at a time,” said Bernie Beyer. “Among the many Kiwanis endeavors he volunteered for, Ed was very involved in helping with the fifth- and 10th-grade Eddie Essay Contests. Ed had a dream to have all the students who wrote an essay attend the awards ceremony.”
She added, “Ed was able to see his dream come true when Kiwanis hosted the 10th Anniversary of the Eddie Essay Contest in May of this year. I have no doubt Ed will continue to watch over us with each of the Eddie Essay Contests going forward.”
Donations in Ed Vondra’s memory can be made to the Damian Vondra Memorial Scholarship Fund.
The program provides college scholarships to Boyne City High School graduates.
“I will miss Ed Vondra greatly,” said MacKenzie. “This world needs more Eds. What a blessing for all of us to have known him, and what a great role model for each of us to try our best to emulate.”
Ed Vondra was laid to rest following a Wednesday Sept. 30 mass at St. Matthew Church in Boyne City.