By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Normally we post on Tuesdays and Fridays but this week is not a normal week. Today my brother Bob has the heavy burden of delivering the eulogy at the funeral of his best friend, Don Klapperich. So as friends and family gather today to mourn Don, I want to pay tribute to a very special friendship.
While so many of us have let childhood friendships lapse into occasional emails or Christmas cards, Bob and Don maintained a close bond for 53 years. They first met in 1959 when they were juniors in high school. They struck up an immediate friendship, connected by a love of music, sports and good humor. This was the era of folk music – the Kingston Trio, Limelighters, etc. – so Bob and Don started playing guitar and singing. They dubbed themselves “The Neverly Brothers”. They actually were darn good; they could play, sing and banter with the best of them.
Over the years they got several paying gigs and more importantly for us, they entertained our family, turning every gathering into a joyous sing-along party. Somewhere along the line Don insisted on drinking rum and Coke, but only if it was cheap rum and diet Coke. He dubbed that drink “the Klapper” and many a family gathering has resulted in too many Klappers!
They stayed in touch all through college and afterwards, when they both joined the Navy. Don was a fighter pilot and served four tours of duty in Viet Nam. He stayed in the Navy for 20 years and retired as a Lt. Commander. After leaving active service, Don worked overseas as a fighter pilot instructor before finally retiring to San Antonio a few years ago. Bob, after his Navy stint was over, elected to teach and then joined the business world and was very successful in the mortgage business in California
I give this background because what is amazing about their story is that their bond of friendship never faltered. No matter the distance in their residence or hectic pace of their lives, they still found time for one another. This is not to suggest that they never disagreed. They held very different political views and had some lively discussions over the years. But their opinions never got in the way of their friendship.
They saw each other through marriage, divorce, re-marriage, children and finally grandchildren. They shared all of life’s experiences together, as close as two people could be without being related. Of course, being friends with Don was, let’s just say, “interesting”. He was a cross between a steely-eyed jet pilot and John Belushi.
In the early 1980’s the three of us were out for dinner and Don decided he was going to teach me how to properly eat a hamburger. He took a huge bite out of the burger, threw his head back, mouth agape, picked up the plastic mustard and ketchup containers, and squirted them directly into his mouth. As you might imagine, it got the attention of the wait staff, not to mention the other diners. This was one of the milder things he ever did. He was always brilliant, at times socially inept, but always a true friend.
Don never went to any high school reunions but last September, for their 50th, Don agreed to attend with Bob and reunite The Neverly Brothers. They sang and entertained the crowd, not knowing that it was the last time that two great friends, doing what they do best, would be together. Thankfully it was taped and put on YouTube for posterity.
I recently received an email that said, “Treat your friends well, for you never know when God is going to want them back”. It is certainly understandable that God would want Don back – for good humor, good music and maybe even a “Klapper”.
Rest in peace, Don. And to Bob: my heart aches for you today but just know that you were the best friend that anyone could possibly have.