Eulogy by the Hon. John Moolenaar
Member of the Michigan House of Representatives
Monday, July 7, 2003
As we mourned our loss over this 4th of July weekend, it seems only fitting that today, we celebrate Joe’s life and honor his memory in the context of freedom. In II Corinthians, the Bible says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” In Joe Overton, I witnessed the Spirit of God and a love of freedom.
When we were roommates, Joe displayed a copy of the Declaration of Independence on his wall and on many occasions would speak about the importance of a limited government and its role in protecting our God-given rights. To Joe, it didn’t matter whether these rights belonged to the residents of Michigan or Mongolia, his mission was the same.
The Declaration says: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The theme of freedom in our nation’s heritage is reflected in a song that reminds me of Joe and his love of liberty:
“My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims pride; from every mountain side, let freedom ring.
Our fathers God to Thee, Author of liberty, to Thee we sing; Long may our land be bright, With freedom’s holy light; Protect us by Thy might, Great God our King.”
Joe’s convictions were not based solely on a patriotic love of country but resulted from many hours of study, prayer and reflection about our purpose in life and what it meant to glorify God and enjoy him forever. He had a strong faith in Jesus whom he knew as the ultimate source of freedom in life. Our last conversation here on earth ended with Joe asking if my wife, Amy, and I would be interested in joining a Bible Study with him and Helen — revealing the desire of his heart to grow as one with his wife in their relationship with God.
It gives me comfort to believe that Joe is no longer captive to time and place and a mortal body but lives in eternity with his God. He is free to use his God-given talents which were evident in an inspiring, yet fallible way, through his excellent work at the Mackinac Center. He has now been perfected to oversee and inspire a herald of angels. Joe is a patriot, yea a prince, in a Kingdom, which knows no end.
Joe’s faith in Christ and his commitment to freedom ran deep. Yet, although Joe had a lot of depth, he also had an earthier side — brimming with humor and personality.
Joe liked to tell jokes. One that he told me years ago that for some reason has stayed with me was: A horse walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a drink. Bartender looks at him and says, “Hey buddy why the long face?” That was Joe’s humor — he’d wait to see how long it took you to get the joke and then laugh with you about how ridiculous the joke was.
He was a natural developer of people challenging them to a higher standard of performance — sometimes in ways you’d least expect. Early on as roommates, Joe recognized he was frequently having to place a new roll of toilet paper on the dispenser when we ran out because I was simply placing the new roll on the back of the toilet. Rather than confronting me with the fact that I was being lazy and unconcerned about keeping the house in order, Joe sincerely and courteously invited me to come in and learn how to put the paper on the dispenser. I found myself agreeing that was a better way to do things and to this day have faithfully put the roll on the dispenser.
Joe also had a child-like, fun-loving quality that attracted young and old alike. Our kids loved it when Joe would give them a surprise gift that let them know he was thinking of them – like packets of seeds placed mysteriously under our windshield wipers or a special pin for Maggie. Joe also paid our teenage daughter Sarah to take care of his lawn. He gave her an unlimited budget to buy hanging baskets with flowers and to landscape in whatever way she thought best. Not that he was all that concerned about the appearance of his yard, but he knew she needed the income and so gave her the opportunity to work.
A big step occurred while Joe and I were still roommates. Amy and I were dating and her 10-year-old son Ben, who had recently lost his Father at an early age to cancer, came for a sleepover. The idea was to give Ben and I a chance to build a relationship and for Ben to have some time together with the guys. My main concern was that we keep him entertained and safe. Within minutes of arriving, Joe was chasing Ben through the house shooting rubberband guns at each other which ended with a full-scale wrestling match. I kept watching to see if Ben was doing okay and if I was violating any agreements with my future wife. What I saw was Ben having the time of his life.
On another occasion, our son Ben (by then age 12) got to hang out with Joe for an evening. Joe, being a man of culture, had pre-purchased tickets to a play and invited Ben to come along. By intermission, Joe could see Ben wasn’t very enthusiastic about the play so they got up and left, went to the Cinema and bought tickets to see a zany comedy, Ace Ventura Pet Detective, starring Jim Carey. They sat in the front row and laughed and laughed while eating candy, popcorn and pop. In an evening, Joe had been transformed from the Vice President of the Mackinac Center, to a friend to a twelve-year-old boy. Over the years, that relationship went from rubberband guns, to paintball, to teaching Ben how to drive a stickshift in the Target parking lot to celebrating his high school graduation.
Joe enjoyed building friendships through common projects. A few years ago, Joe, Tony Stamas and I, were part of a small group that met ever other week at Joe’s house to study the Bible. We thought of doing something together to build a deeper relationship and Joe came up with the idea of going over to Pizza Sam’s (Tony’s family’s business) and making pizzas together. At great risk to the Stamas’ family name and fortune, Tony agreed and we spent an evening spinning dough and making pizzas. Although none of us was offered a job out of the deal, it was a time I will always treasure.
Joe was very successful professionally but was not at all pretentious. He loved to play basketball and often would get up and play at 6:30am at the Community Center before work. Earlier this week I spoke with Chris Stevens, who also was a former roommate and played basketball with Joe. (I’d encourage you to read the moving column he wrote about Joe in Sunday’s Midland Daily News). Like Chris, I noticed that Joe didn’t get caught up with all the rules and etiquette of basketball. Sometimes he would bank a shot off the backboard from 20 feet away or throw behind the back passes to his teammates when they weren’t prepared or stick his arms out and stop someone from dribbling past him, which was really a foul but he felt it was just good defense. He played 100% with tremendous intensity for the game. The only time I mentioned something to him about basketball etiquette was when basketball shorts had changed styles from being really short to being knee length and Joe, because he wasn’t into styles and was somewhat frugal, hadn’t yet made the adjustment. He was walking around in what looked like hot pants. He attentively listened to my input, said thanks for the constructive feedback and from then on wore new shorts that made him look Jordanesque.
My last time together with Joe was a few weeks ago when our son Ben had some friends over to celebrate his graduation from high school. Joe came over and played some basketball (his team won the best of five) and we had a wonderful talk over a few slices of pizza. Amy and I had an opportunity to tell him how much we enjoyed his recent wedding, sitting with Scott and Tammy and Laurie and Saunders at the rehearsal dinner and to participate in such a festive and wonderful occasion.
I can’t tell you how happy I am that Joe had those brief yet love filled months married to Helen. He beamed with pride and affection. His love for Helen was evident by the passion of his pursuit of her while separated by distance and the romance that continued in their marriage. Also, according to reliable neighborhood sources, Joe had developed a keen interest in yard work and home repair, not evident during his solo days of spartan living as a global freedom fighter, but now inspired to make a home worthy of his new bride.
But Joe also remained passionate about political philosophy and he enjoyed debating and discussing ideas from early in the morning to late in the evening. When Joe and I were roommates, he relished opportunities to share points of view on issues of the day. Often we agreed, at times we passionately disagreed — which sometimes led to one of us getting defensive or reading the backs of cereal boxes or hurrying up breakfast.
So, I was curious about how his passion for ideas and debate was being received by his new bride in the context of marriage. He said, “well, take recycling: she thinks it’s a good idea and we talk about it but I just think it isn’t cost effective yet. You use up fossil fuels, detergents and it still needs to be subsidized, but I haven t persuaded her and she’s still committed to it” – then he broke out in a big grin and said “that’s okay.” That spoke volumes to me about how much Joe the free market economist adored Helen the wife of his dreams.
That we didn’t get to say goodbye is sad. He had so much to offer. It comforts me to believe that, although he was a young man, Joe lived a full life for what God intended – he finished the race he was meant to run. It says honor your father and mother and your days will be long. I know Joe had a special relationship and truly honored his mother and the memory of his father. After hearing his mother’s memory of Joe’s sense of adventure in taking her on a fast and exhilarating ride in his Mazda Miata, I can only conclude that Joe lived life to the fullest and packed over 100 years into 43.
The Book of Revelation says: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
Joe was thirsty, drank deeply of that water and has gone on to his eternal inheritance.