Little Things
Off The Wall, January 08, 2010

One never knows how and when actual friendship blooms. It could start in a meeting place with others, attending a class or sharing an activity together. I became acquainted with a gentleman over the sale of one dozen worms, or two, I don’t really remember. That is how long it was.

Michael T. Stein had come into my store with one of his sons, Adam, to buy some fishing bait. His $2.50 investment would result in us both being fishing buddies for years to follow. I’ll never forget shortly thereafter, the Greensburg resident called me out and wanted to know if I wanted to join his family and friends on their boat on Loyalhanna Lake. I felt honored that only after a short period of knowing him, the real estate manager and owner would invite me, the sole proprietor of Pee Vee’s to accompany the group on their cabin cruiser out on the open waters.

It was a wonderful experience not only fishing with Mike, but getting to meet and drown some worms with his four boys and female companions as well. I felt touched by a family I had never known. But this was special as I see it. Sure, I have had friends before, male and female, and sure, I may have met others by selling them bait. But Michael wasn’t just someone I would meet and spend a few hours lifting fish from the depths of the waters. I believe God was behind getting us together, so I would come to appreciate a man who was true to his faith and also introduced to a closely-knit family that spelled “dedication of family” in every sense of the word. Sadly, his wife, Patricia, had passed on in the early years of his marriage as a result of cancer, so I never got to meet her.

So, every Sunday I would subsequently be invited to go out on Mike’s Jon boat, sometimes just the two of us, and other times with Tom and Dan. It was more than a day on Conemaugh Lake, for example, for that is where we enjoyed fishing the most. He would always ask, “Where do you want to go, Paul?” For Mike it was my wish rather than his. I always said there.

Here is where I knew God set up our friendship. Many times we’d be fishing, and I would say to my fishing buddy, “In the Jewish religion, explain…” and he would go into full detail. That was special to me. This wasn’t just once, but many times. Even though I couldn’t comprehend everything, he was there to help and guide my thoughts.

I’ll never forget when my friend decided to invite a friend with us on one of our Sunday outings.. There the three of sat in the boat, Mike, Jewish, his guest, a Jehovah’s Witness and me, Christian. Nobody agreed on anything, but we all respected each other.

Mike knew of my interest to learn about his faith, so he took me to the Congregation Emanu-El Israel Synagogue in Greensburg for classes. Weekly he would drive over from Greensburg, pick me up and bring me back just so I could understand the faith. That was special. But that was just some of the many ways he blessed me.

Months apart in age, I never thought of my friend as a senior citizen. After all, 66 is just over the wire. But everyone who knew my friend quickly realized he would give the shirt off his back to do anything for anyone. If he saw someone laboring over something, he would quickly go to his aid. As a member of Beth Israel Congregation on Weldon St., he freely volunteered his services to the synagogue. If a friend needed help, Mike was there.

That’s what made him so special to so many. Some people may be noted for big things, but this animal lover thought nothing of helping where he could lend a hand. That is why the saying is so applicable here – “It’s the little things that count.” He understood God’s ways not only demonstrating them to his family, but to those he encountered as well.

On December 16, 2009, my good friend and fishing buddy passed away. If I could have spoken to him one minute before he moved on, I would have told him, “Mike, I’m so thankful you were my friend. You answered God’s calling by teaching me your faith, inviting me to the synagogue and fishing.” But I guess I’ll just have to wait ‘til I pass to ask God, “Why did you allow Mike to always catch the biggest fish?”

- Paul J. Volkmann
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