This is the text of the eulogy for Aaron D. Wolf, my longtime colleague at Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and my best friend, that I delivered at his funeral on April 29, 2019, at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Rockford, Illinois. Aaron passed into eternal life on Easter Sunday 2019, a day that he had told his family earlier was the happiest day of his life.
Lorrie, Gus, Kati, Carl, Nora, Josie, and Peter; Don and Carol—as we come together in this Easter season to celebrate Aaron’s life and his faith in our Risen Lord, we thank you for sharing your husband, your father, your son with us.
And share him you did, not just in the sense that we all knew him and benefited from his wisdom and work, but in the reality that much of the time that he spent building up the best magazine in the United States was time taken away from you.
I say “much of the time,” because some of it will return to you in the weeks and months and years ahead. Every word Aaron wrote captured not only his insights but his voice, his humor, his faith, and his love for his fellow man. He wrote for all of us, but as we discussed often, everything either of us wrote was written with our families in mind. Those words are a part of his bequest to you. Treasure them, return to them often, and feel his presence with us still.
Editing Chronicles was always rewarding, sometimes enjoyable, but rarely easy. I reacted too often to our daily trials with frustration and anger; Aaron almost always reacted with humor. His wit kept both of us sane through many dark times. The humorous exchanges we inserted in each manuscript as we edited the text electronically formed a running commentary on our life together at Chronicles. A future historian—or better yet, a novelist with an appreciation for the absurd—may someday mine those notes to great effect.
But that’s a story for another day. Today, I want to share two brief anecdotes that illustrate not only how much Chronicles meant to Aaron but how much Aaron meant to Chronicles.
In late 2006 or early 2007, Aaron received a submission—a “Letter From Texas”—from Egon Tausch, a lawyer and longtime Chronicles reader and contributor who passed away last year. Entitled “Gott mit uns” (“God be with us”), it was an amateur historian’s account of the history and culture of the Texas Germans. Aaron immediately recognized it as a quintessential Chronicles article, a story of local culture that illustrated universal truths, and he fought doggedly for it, until Tom Fleming finally relented and agreed to publish it.
Shortly after that article appeared in the August 2007 issue, Chronicles received a donation from a woman named Hannelore Schwindt, a native German who had married a Texas German and moved to Texas. That was the only donation we ever received from her—the only one, that is, until her death a year and a half later, when she bequeathed a quarter of her nearly $30 million estate to the magazine.
That bequest became the endowment that kept Chronicles alive during the early years of this decade, a period when donations to nonprofits—The Rockford Institute included—were declining dramatically.
An investment banker who brought in an account worth seven times’ the firm’s annual budget would have received a promotion and a healthy bonus, but even though the article that Aaron had fought for had resulted in this bequest, he never asked for a raise. As far as I know, he never even told this story to the members of the board of directors who will, in the coming days, consider how to do justice to Lorrie and their children. He was simply happy to have published a great article; everything that flowed from it was, for him, an added grace.
Then there was the night of February 1, 2011. As Aaron described it in introducing my Ides of March Lecture in 2017, that was the night “we slept together”—though, he hastened to add, just “for warmth.”
The March issue was scheduled to go to press on Groundhog Day, but over the night of January 31, a storm had been brewing. When we arrived at the office on the morning of the first, we weighed our options. With projections of up to two feet of snow, we knew that we might not be able to make it back into the office the next day. We could work from home, but we had no guarantee that either of us would have power or internet access.
That, Aaron said, left us with only one option: “We’re going to stay here until this issue is finished.”
By noon, we’d sent the support staff home, and by 5 P.M. the snow was coming down at close to two inches per hour. By 9 P.M., with the end of our efforts in sight, we thought it was odd that we hadn’t seen a snowplow on North Main for a couple of hours. At 10:50, we uploaded the final PDFs to our printer in Midland, Michigan; and we approved the proofs of the entire issue by 11 o’clock.
And then we tried to leave.
Now Aaron, as you know, was a big man, and I’m not so small myself, but even with our combined bulk, we couldn’t force the door of the Institute open by more than a couple of inches, and neither of us was going to be able to squeeze through that opening. So we went back up to the second floor, out the door onto the deck, and cautiously made our way down the icy, snow-covered steps, which looked like the sledding hill at Aldeen Park. I had walked to work; Aaron’s car was buried in snow halfway up the doors. As he shoveled it out, I headed down the drive between The Rockford Institute and the Howard Center to scope out the situation. Before I got to the front of the two buildings, the snowdrifts were up to my waist.
Defeated, we headed back up to Aaron’s office, where we texted Amy and Lorrie to let them know we were OK but we weren’t coming home. Neither of us had eaten since breakfast, so we took stock of our supplies: Aaron found a couple of ancient pieces of venison jerky in his tobacco drawer; I dug up an old protein bar; and we stole a half-empty can of mixed nuts from Cindy Link’s desk.
To wash our great feast down, we cracked open a bottle of my homemade cherry liqueur. As I poured us each a glass, we realized that, in our aborted attempt to return home to our families, we had forgotten to toast the successful completion of another issue.
Every month, that toast consisted of the same five words—words a colleague had uttered with a resigned sigh one month as he pulled the latest issue of Chronicles from his mailbox. We raised our glasses high and said in unison: “It just keeps coming out.”
And then we poured another glass, and another, and yet another, until sleep took us.
When I woke up in Aaron’s office the next morning, the sky was completely blue, and the sun was glaring down on an arctic landscape. Aaron was already awake. “Good news!” he cried. “Punxsutawney Phil says it’s going to be an early spring!”
No offense to our former colleague, but Chronicles didn’t just keep coming out. For all of us who dedicated our lives to it, Chronicles was a labor of love. Between April 5, 2017, when Aaron and I toasted the successful completion of my final issue of Chronicles, and June 11 of that year, when I departed Rockford for our new home in Huntington, Indiana, I often passed by 928 North Main and saw the light in Aaron’s second-floor office shining like a beacon in the night.
That light has been extinguished, but Aaron’s light still shines. It shines in every word he wrote, every speech he gave, every one of the 220 or so issues of Chronicles that he shepherded to conclusion. His light shines in Lorrie and Gus and Kati and Carl and Nora and Josie and Peter. It shines in every one of us gathered here whose own faith was strengthened as we watched the faith that Don and Carol had passed on to Aaron grow ever deeper as he suffered trials, trials worthy of Job. As Aaron would be the first to point out, that light is nothing less than the reflected glory of the Risen Christ, Who died for Aaron’s sins, and for the sins of us all.
May the God Who makes all things new in Christ grant Aaron D. Wolf blessed repose and eternal memory.