This week, in particular, has been a difficult one for me. On Tuesday, I found out that one of my dear friends, Ben Kline, a career journalist who retired at the Dayton Daily News in Dayton, Ohio, passed away from complications related to an ongoing illness.
The most difficult part was learning he passed away several months ago.
I first met Ben the summer after my junior year of college. I had just finished a whirlwind year, in which I spent my fall semester studying music in Vienna, Austria and the first half of my summer in Cape Town, South Africa, covering crime stories for a newspaper in the Western Cape.
The second half of my summer was spent in Dayton. It was a place I knew very little about, but I was offered a six-week internship at the Dayton Daily News, Cox Enterprises, Inc.'s flagship newspaper.
Having little time to secure housing for myself, the paper arranged for me to rent an apartment from Ben, who was a veteran in the newspaper. He had a small, detached room which he often rented out to interns.
Ben was in his mid-60s, and with the exception of his trusty Doberman Pinscher, Duke, he lived alone. When I first met him, I assumed he had seen many interns come and go, and that I wouldn't be any different. I was surprised at how quickly and genuinely he intergrated me into his life.
Ben had a very charming and quirky personality. One of the first things I noticed about him was that Ben -- who was white -- seemed to have a positive relationship with the entire African-American community of Dayton.
I would eventually learn that he was friends with almost everybody. However, I never met a person with such a strong passion for seeing young African Americans succeed.
He would joke about it sometimes, occaisonally greeting me with "Whad up, Dawg?" However, he really understood that in the journalism profession (as with many other professions), talented African Americans are sometimes overlooked, because they lack the proper connections.
Between working on stories, Ben made sure every important person at the paper knew exactly who I was. He even went out of his way to make sure I was presentable. One day, he surprised me and bought me my first set of decent work clothes.
However, he never treated me like a project. He treated me more like a grandson. For the six weeks I was there, I attended church with him. Over Sunday brunch, he would share the illustrious history of Dayton with me, from the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop and the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, to the Mead school supplies company and the many funk bands which came out of the Dayton area.
I often went with him to local Alcholics Annoynmous meetings, which he attended religously. He had given up the bottle many years earlier, but he had a special talent for bringing people up from their lowest points and helping them get their lives together. He often offered his home to recovering alcoholics, and personally chauferred those without cars to make sure they made it to all their meetings.
Earlier in the summer, Ben had an episode that put him in the hospital. I was able to contact him at the hosptial, but understandably, he was having a crisis and couldn't speak for long.
I told him to hang in there. At the time, I didn't know it was the last time I would ever speak to him. It took me months to find out that he was transfered to Hospice care, where he eventually died.
The thing I liked about Ben the most is that he took a deep interest in everything around him. Whether it was the history of Dayton or the people he interacted with, he always payed attention to the little details most people overlook.
I will always appreciate Ben's zeal for life and his willingness to share that with others.
Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.