Word reached me this week about two deaths from early parts of my life, which means both men are close to me in age. Rick Lucke was among the first students I taught in Browning, Montana, on the Blackfeet Reservation. I don’t think he was Blackfeet though an outsider couldn’t have told. He was a tall, lean, humorous cowboy-type like Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott, or Sam Eliot.
The very first funeral I ever attended in Browning was for Rick’s father, Herman, who had been logging and was killed by an unpredictably falling tree. The funeral was in the Browning Methodist Church, where I served for a year after leaving the Unitarians in 1988, and I attended back then in 1962 or so because Bob was a friend of Herman’s. The minister in those years was Jim Bell, a Texan who was also of the long, lean, humorous mold, and what he said has affected me throughout my lifetime. He said, “Herman Lucke never came around this church or any other in his lifetime, but he spent his life in God’s church out in the mountains and forests. He was close to God up there every day and therefore, a place was made for him in Heaven, which we hope is a lot like the places Herman roamed.”
Earl Benson was from the class ahead of me, though he was my age. At Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon, we had a near-professional drama department and music program. Earl, an extra-large man, vertically, horizontally, intellectually -- and big-hearted besides, excelled in all the programs we produced: skits, plays, assemblies, concerts. He’d be the magician in “Maker of Dreams” or the caterpillar in “Alice in Wonderland.”
Earl claimed the right to be different. The quotes below are from columns and blogs off Google. I never saw him perform at this level. In high school he was like a big kindergarten kid, bouncy and jovial with hair like Woody Woodpecker. His obit photo shows an old man both long hair and full beard now gray. He has the same slightly bemused eyebrows, tilted up in the middle.
"Portland music icon, Earl Benson died November 26, 2007. He was 68 years old. Earl graduated from Jefferson High School in 1956, where he was a tenor in the school choir and acted in various plays both at Jefferson and in Portland Parks productions. It was during his high school years that he began his extensive collection of recordings covering a wide range of musical genres. He pursued a music degree at Lewis and Clark College and graduated in 1963. Earl, house musician at Cafe Espresso, was a pivotal presence on the coffeehouse/folk scene in the 60s, as a solo act, singing and playing autoharp, or in duet with Molly Malarkey on bass, and later with rock band, Sterling Stem and the Bumcounts. It was at the 9th Street Exit coffeehouse that Earl, Steve Bradley and Bill Wyatt formed the core that became the Sleezy Pieces, one of Portland's legendary bands of the 70s.
"Earl was a prolific songwriter and the band performed many of his originals as well as some brilliant medleys and old standards that were early influences. He could croon Red Foley's hit "Midnight" and turn around and belt out Dylan's "Come Crawl Out Your Window", totally comfortable in either genre. His eclectic repertoire and harmony singing added much to the band's sound, where all 5 players shared the lead vocal work. Sleezy Pieces had a great following and the many fans will remember Earl: stage left, shades on, cigarette in hand, dancing to the music."
“Longtime Portland music critic SP Clarke writes: “[Benson’s] delivery was something to behold—a bearded boyscout in Bermuda shorts and a wrinkled sportscoat singing in a rich falsetto, while quoting St. Paul, fronting one of the best bands the city has ever seen. In the annals of Portland weirdness, Earl Benson stood apart. Way apart. ”
Here’s Rick’s obit:
Feb. 16, 2008 Great Fall Tribune
Rick Lucke, 1947-2008
Richard Allen “Rick” Lucke, 60, of East Glacier, an Army veteran and co-owner and operator of Lucke Construction Co., died of pulmonary fibrosis Wednesday at his home.
A celebration of his life is 2 PM Monday at the East Glacier Community Hall with a potluck feed to follow. Cremation has taken place under the direction of Hi Line Funeral Home in Cut Bank.
Survivors include his mother, Shirley Melton of Kalispell; his children, John Lucke of East Glacier, Bobbi (Myron) Lucke of Browning, and Monty Montana Lucke of East Glacier; a step-daughter, Sarah Augare of Browning; brothers LeRoy Lucke of Kalispell and Don Lucke of Bigfork; a sister, Georgia Eckerson of Kalispell; and his grandchildren, Rylee, Ryana, Cody and Jeremiah.
He was preceded in death by his father, Herman Lucke; his stepfather, Bud Melton; a step-son, Cole Augare; and infant grandson, Chace Ryan; and a nephew, Eric.
Rick was born March 6, 1947, in Glasgow to Herman and Shirley (Oliver) Lucke. he worked in his family’s outfitter business providing packtrips into the backcountry. Rick served with the U.S. Amry from 1964 to 1966 and later became co-owner and operator of Lucke Construction Co.
An avid outdoorsman and horseman, he enjoyed fishing, hunting, and snowmobiling. Rick was a member of the Warrior Society Veteran organization in Browning.
My life has brought me into contact with a broad spectrum of people who have challenged my idea of what success might be, or even good health. I don’t know whether Rick and Earl would even have liked each other, but I liked both of them. When I was in Portland, it didn’t occur to me to go looking for Earl Benson -- I didn’t even know he was still there. I don’t know what he was doing in his later years or how it was he died young. Rick, I know about. His was a working man’s death, brought on by exposure to dust and other particles, maybe intensified by smoking. It’s an alluring fantasy to imagine a long chat with both these guys. Maybe that’s the seed of a story.