Calling him uncle doesn’t fit. He was more like an unhinged, prankster big brother looking for mischief, and always in trouble. Though his ways were completely unconventional, I realize he taught me some important life lessons.
Here are 10 life lessons I learned from my crazy uncle:
Life Lesson #1: Rules are unnecessary
When Dion built his first home, it became the cousin haven and hideaway. No one got in trouble. There were no rules. One time my sister Kari and cousin Alicia got in a fight. There was no intervention. Dion pulled out two steak knives, handed one to each of them, and said, “Have at it.” Both of them looked up in confusion and said, “I don’t want to hurt her.” Fight over. I always wonder what he would’ve done had one started chasing the other. We respected and loved Dion so much, we wouldn’t have dreamed of disappointing him.
Life Lesson #2: Be a kid at heart
He had many, many toys…four wheelers, an old beat up jeep, a hot tub, Billy Bob teeth, and every prank gadget you could find in the books. Who uses construction equipment to build four wheeler courses through the woods? Who comes home from France with a fart book? Some people patiently wait to buy something for fun, but not Dion. Living life to the fullest was priority #1 for him. Though he died at 54, he had lived the life of three average men.
Life Lesson #3: Find a reason to celebrate
Be there. Dion never missed a monumental event. From baptisms, birthdays (especially 21st ones), high school/college graduations, and weddings, it didn’t matter what was on Dion’s plate. He made it because he knew it was important, and always, he was the life of the party.
I’ve never met anyone more popular than my uncle. People flew in from all over to attend his funeral, which was in the middle of nowhere in MO. Boarding my flight, I was stopped by a gentleman in first class who flew in from CT. Celebrate others and they will be there for you.
Life Lesson #4: Make people feel on top of the world
My freshman year at the University of Missouri, Dion showed up with the whole Golden Girl pom squad in tow. They were standing on my bunk bed, sitting on my desk, spilling out of the dorm room. Everyone in Wolper’s Hall knew who I was after that day. If you were with Dion, you knew he had your back, and your best. Times spent with Dion were unforgettable. Maya Angelou said, “People won’t remember what you said, or what you did, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.” Because people felt like kings around Dion, they would do anything for him.
Life Lesson #5: Live in the moment
Some people live in the past, some worry about the future. Not Dion. He lived in the moment. Nothing could stop him from enjoying the moment. Not even cancer. This past October, we went mudding through the fields on some four-wheelers. In the middle of ramping over hills, mud flying everywhere, I knew it was a special moment. I got a glimpse of how Dion lived his life. In that moment, there was no sickness, cancer didn’t exist. To dwell on anything else in those minutes would’ve been to deny the grandiosity of God’s creation. It was uninhibited freedom.
Life Lesson #6: You can never have enough friends
There were no strangers with Dion. He made friends wherever he went. We stayed at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, MO once a year, but the bar singer knew him by name. In Vegas, some Asian businessmen got a table next to ours. An hour later, they were sending bottles of Cristal our way. Everyone gravitated towards Dion. Shy kids, anti-social kids could only resist him for so long. My nephew Zach ranked Dion #1 for what he was most thankful for in his life…over the Royals, Santa Claus, and grandparents.
Life Lesson #7: Stop worrying about what others think
No doubt, Dion was a character, but self conscious he was not. He must’ve gone bald in his mid-20’s, and his on-the-road dietary habits pushed him overweight, but nothing was going to stop him from being 100% Dion. I watched him disarm celebrities, politicians, and wealthy businessmen with his uninhibited authenticity. There were many times I was embarrassed by his inappropriateness, but not him, nor the people everyone else was trying to impress.
Life Lesson #8: Family above all else
I’ve only seen Dion cry a few times, and that was over family and when we prayed for him in his last few months. Dion was the ultimate salesman and could be successful anywhere, but he couldn’t get away from his small hometown in Tipton, MO. Maybe it’s because he never had children of his own, but my cousins and I were his wild offspring, and we knew he’d be there for us if we were ever in need.
Life Lesson #9: It takes one person to start a party
I’ve watched dull and boring rooms spring to life when Dion walked in. Some people only dip their toes in upon entering an awkward space. Dion dove in head first. Shy people became social, posers became clowns, obsessive texters joined in on the fun. No one could quite break the ice like him. His hearty laugh thawed hearts everywhere. But if one man can single-handedly change a room, why can’t you?
Life Lesson #10: Go big or go home
We worried about Dion’s all-or-nothing mindset, but subconsciously he must have known he’d always be provided for. Not much of a planner, he went out on top in the end. He lived in his dream home with his dream wife working his dream job. I’ll never understand why God took him, but I know Dion would’ve wanted us to remember him full of life, no struggles with cancer, no prolonged heartaches. Go big or go home, so he went home.
Thank you Dion Koerkenmeier for your influence over my life. I hope you got a glimpse of who this amazing man was to so many people. It’s been a privilege to call him uncle.