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Friday, January 18, 2013

Jance Reynolds - remarkable life & heroic death

I was lucky enough to spend my junior year studying at Loyola University in Rome, Italy. There I met a sweet young man named Jance Reynolds.
I haven't seen Jance since that wonderful school year of 1970 - 1971, but I want to do a post in his honor. Recently there's been a surge of re-connections among my Rome Center classmates, and there was a reunion this past September in Chicago (which, unfortunately, I could not attend).
Just about three months after that reunion, Jance Reynolds died in a house fire after guiding his family members to safety. He was in the process of trying to save his daughter Mary Paige, but they both succumbed to  smoke inhalation.
I just received a remarkable email from Kevin O'Connor, a longtime friend of Jance's and one of those who spearheaded our Loyola Rome reunion.  His words are worth reading, just to get a look into the life of a remarkable man.

This is Kevin talking:
With this email I want to share with you some stories and aspects of the memorial service held for Jance on December 29.
The link below will take you to an article that provides a summary of the service and the three pictures that were in the program:
Newspaper article about Jance

The service was almost four hours long. But not once did I look at my watch. I did not want it to end. From others to whom I spoke, they had similar feelings.

I spoke to Yvette [Jance's wife] this week. She is so grateful for the outpouring of cards and messages from our Loyola-Chicago/Loyola Rome Center/San Francisco Bay Area groups. This week, she and Lauren Grace and Sarah Rose are moving into a condo in Cleveland. This will give them their own place after staying with friends and family the past month. The girls have settled back into school (8th and 6th grades). Yvette is out of the wheel chair, more mobile and driving again.

Below is a summary of the services:

Overall themes of all speakers were Jance's bigger than life personality, the care he put into the work he did, his fastidiousness, his undeniable sense of fashion, his sense of humor, his appreciation and knowledge of scripture and music of all kinds and the ultimate sacrifice that he made in leading his family to a safe exit and then going back to attempt to bring Mary Paige to safety.

Oh, and his sense of timeliness. Even though Jance had a reputation of not always being on time, I've come to the conclusion that he was right on time on December 18. He was right where he was supposed to be at that time. He was timely indeed.

In the program you see the names of a number of speakers. [Another Loyola classmate] Chester's name is listed. I went to the podium with him. Yvette had spoken to me at the service the evening before and invited me to add some elements of Jance's life during our college years, early adult lives and up to now. I was honored to be asked. Chester had me talk first as he stood next to me.

For my part, when I started my talk to those in attendance (400 or so people) I stated that I spoke on behalf of all you. I related that so many of you had been in contact with each other, sharing memories and stories and reacquainting yourselves with each other. As Chester and I had remarked at dinner on Friday night prior to the Saturday service, Jance had always mentioned that he wanted to bring Chester and me together after 40 or so years. We know this situation was not what he had in mind. Chester and I have reestablished our friendship. In hearing from some of you, you have had similar experiences connecting with people whom you have not had contact in some time. In the weeks since December 18, I have heard from almost 100 people. You are all receiving this email. As I look and find some purpose in Jance's death, I think one element is that in his inimitable way of bringing people together, he has done that for some of you as you have reconnected friendships from prior years.

As I started talking, I pulled out a green scarf and put it around my neck to acknowledge Jance's appreciation of splashes of wardrobe color. I then put on a baseball cap that has Chicago imprinted on it, to signify the location of our first connection. I talked about meeting Jance at Loyola during Freshman year, how we talked about our plans to go to Rome center during those first two years of college. He was unsure up to the last minute whether he would be going. It wasn't until his entourage entered the Alitalia terminal just prior to departure that his friends from Loyola knew he was going. I shared some stories of our travels in Europe and Africa and how elated Jance was to be "with his people" and how he practically gloated for this time in Africa, that I was in the minority.

Many people prior to me in the memorial service had talked about how Jance had given them nicknames. I told the audience that he gave me the nickname Bunky (among others). I talked about his phone call of 12-16 and how that call, like all our others over the years, allowed us to essentially pick up right where we left off. For many people at the service, I learned that I was one of the persons to whom Jance had spoken most recently.

In knowing Jance for 44 years, I stated that I likely had the opportunity to know Jance longer than most people at the service and that I could tell stories from me and others like all of you that would have kept me at the podium until next Christmas. Brevity is not an easy task for me. Many of you know Elaine Gregory Swenson. In relating my story about my presentation, she assured me that Jance was standing next to me keeping me on task, saying what was essential and comforting without wandering into a litany of events from 1968 til now. I believe there is an element of truth in Elaine's statement.

I concluded my stories with my perceptions of Jance's relationship with his iron and ironing board. I didn't think of this analogy as I spoke but afterwards thought that I could have mentioned like Tiger Woods has his golf club, or Rafael Nadal has his tennis racket, or Julia Child had her spoon, Jance had his iron. When we shared dorm rooms or apartments, if we didn't have an iron...and ironing board, Jance would be sure to supply one. Jance actually didn't need an ironing board. He taught me how to iron on more surfaces than I ever would have imagined. He ironed sequentially, precisely and routinely, talking at break neck speed or singing to whatever happened to be on the stereo, radio, etc. I told the group that I even knew Jance on occasion to iron his socks just so the dryer wrinkles would be removed. So, in my preparations to get dressed to go to Jance's service, I got the iron and ironing board out of the closet at the hotel. I ironed my shirt, my pants, my tie....and then as I looked at my socks, I put them on the ironing board and ironed them, too. I thought the least I could do to speak at Jance's memorial services would be to stand there wearing ironed socks! I closed my speaking time with a remark that through the conversations and time I spent with Jance all these years, I think we were always looking for and often finding a way to smooth out the wrinkles that life presents to each of us. The theater person in me wishes I had thought to take that hotel iron with me to the service and raise it heaven ward as I stepped away from the podium.

Jance's brother Keith sang an unaccompanied solo beautifully from the choir loft. One of Jance's nephews, Josias and two of his nieces (Keith's children) sang a song written by Josias called "Broken Glass". Jance and Jomaya were staying with Jance and Yvette that week. Josias was the first one to awake and alert the rest of the family to the fire. Josias is an aspiring song writer. All of his music and lyric notebooks were lost in the fire. Broken Glass represents the glass of the windows. The lyrics conveyed the relationship of Jance and Mary Paige with their family.

Without enumerating all the remarks of all of the speakers, let me just list a bit of what was said:

  • Jance died on 12-18, 28 days to the day his mother died.

  • One of his long-time friends, Larry, from SF told a story about how after church on Sundays, Jance would get back to Larry's family's house before he even got back to his house. Jance would be at the kitchen table, talking to Larry's mother, having already scoped out the food in the kitchen. Jance made himself so much at home that Larry sometimes asked: "Is this my house or Jance's?" I think some of you can relate to what Larry talked about.

  • The minister related that up until the night prior to the service he had never shopped at Saks 5th Ave. But he had to go just to be in Jance's environment. He bought a pocket square. He wore it during the service.

  • In further commentary about Jance's clothes, a friend told the story about the time he went up to Jance and longingly complimented him on his sports jacket he was wearing. Jance looked at him, smiled and said "This model was retired after I bought it."

  • One of Jance's youth group proteges served a tour in Iraq. When he returned from duty, the first person he went to see after his parents was Jance. Jance had helped him through difficult situations in his late teens. The young veteran, now studying for the ministry stated; " In my years in the military, I've met quite a few heroes. Jance was every bit the hero that these men and women are."

  • One of my take away quotes from the service: "Jance loved without discrimination."

  • I learned about Mary Paige. Here is some commentary that was shared about Mary Paige:


She loved to dance. She could mimic playfully. Two weeks prior to her death, a speaker talked about how Mary Paige was singing at the front of church with other youth. In addition to the swaying and side stepping in rhythm with the music, the speaker demonstrated how she added her own flair and would "get down" and then "double down" in her expressiveness. There were many there who were laughing in amusement at the service, watching the speaker's imitations. Many knew Mary Paige and no doubt could see her moving in just that way.

  • Tavis Smiley, the PBS commentator and broadcaster and commentator was a friend of Jance's. They met twenty years ago. Jance was working in LA at Neiman-Marcus. Tavis was then an aspiring broadcaster with few resources. He liked to go to NM, and he could afford the NM candy. One piece for $3.00. Jance introduced himself and their friendship began. Jance said that Tavis didn't have to just buy the piece of candy. Jance insisted on putting it in a big NM bag so that Tavis could walk to the parking lot and make it look like he had really shopped at NM. As Tavis' career on TV was starting, he would come to Jance for clothes purchases and wardrobe advice. ( If you've ever asked Jance for clothing advice, you know that he takes you to the finest clothes at the highest prices. ) Tavis said he didn't have "that kind of money". Jance said "Do you think I can afford to shop here?". Jance offered Tavis his employee discount. Tavis continued to shop with Jance. As he became more self sufficient, he was able to pay his own bills. They continued to visit each other through the years. Tavis was in Cleveland just a few weeks prior to Jance's death. Tavis told the story of one of Jance's visits to LA. By that time Tavis had moved to a big house with a walk in closet for his wardrobe. Jance walked into the closet and surveyed the goods. He opened the drawer containing Tavis's sweaters. Picking one or two out of the drawer, Jance turned to Tavis and kiddingly (perhaps!) said, "Tavis, y'know I could serve the Lord much better in one of these beautiful sweaters." Tavis said to Jance, "After all you have done for me through the years, pick out a few sweaters. In fact, take what you want from this closet." Tavis paused in his presentation to us and then said "Jance walked out of my house with two shopping bags full of clothes!" The audience laughter went up for grabs. I was laughing so hard I was crying because I could picture Jance perfectly in that whole scenario. A further note. Tavis said the shoes he was wearing were purchased from Jance almost 20 years ago. "Jance never sold me anything that wouldn't last".

  • Chester talked about the discussions Jance and he had about how much they enjoyed being a father and how important Jance's modeling of fathering was to the young people in his community. Chester also told a story about a business venture he and Jance entered together. He gave a humorous account of how he (Chester) hesitated to put his wife on the phone because inevitably Jance would convince her to buy an piece of jewelry from him.

Jance rarely missed a sale...whether it was products he was selling or a friendship he was making or a bond he was creating among others.


Kevin O'Connor
Fort Lauderdale, Fl

PS from Gail - If any reader is interested in helping Jance's family, the Reynolds Family Memorial Fund has been established. Checks can be sent to Cedar Hill Baptist Church, 12601 Cedar Road, Cleveland Heights, OH 44106. Checks should be made out to Cedar Hill Baptist Church with “Reynolds Family Memorial” noted in the memo space. Cards and well wishes may also be sent to the church.   

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