What can I tell you about Wayne Shull...much to his horror, everything.
I am Wayne's youngest son, David. I've never done this before. I've never formally spoken to a group about my father and I've never spoken at a funeral. I feel that I know what most people think about funerals, and I must say that most people are wrong. Death is not an ending, it is only a finality of life on earth; death is not an ending, but the point at which something else is beginning.
So that's the way I'm looking at my father's funeral...something glorious, yet mysterious is beginning...and we shouldn't be sad about that.
Many of you here today only knew my father in one aspect, perhaps as: teacher, rancher, master of ceremonies, or church brother. I knew him in all categories, plus as father. This enables me to inform the members of the different categories of things that they may not have known about my father.
Wayne began teaching in California, later moving to Oklahoma due to his mother's fight with cancer, then on to Arkansas. So, it was here in Arkansas, a place he initially had no real plans to be, that he would grow deep roots and influence so many fourth grade children.
I also had the pleasure, or should I say the opportunity, to attend the same school in which dad taught, and was even his student for math and reading. It was a little strange to call my dad "Mr. Shull", and to hand him my homework, but it went pretty good. During this time I noticed how Dad's, uhmm...Mr. Shull's...teaching style would change between teaching math then later teaching reading.
During math, he was the drill sergeant of multiplication tables, fractions, old division, base-10 division, averages, and polygons. He drilled, quizzed, and gently embarrassed us into knowing them in any direction or situation.
During reading, he became the literary connoisseur of subjects, predicates, vocabulary words, plots, introductions and summaries. Asking each student to read aloud, he would gently coach correct pronunciation, ask the questions that required one to think (instead of to regurgitate information), and would throw in the occasional command of "speak up". Many times, he would teach by example and would read a popular book for the last fifteen minutes of the period. Dad really new how to be a theatrical storyteller by drifting off his voice near the climax of a suspenseful scene then literally shouting out the best part, causing boys to flinch and girls to squeal.
Dad was quite the prankster with his fellow staff members. Every night I prayed for the teacher that was across from the hall from dad. Shirley May probably lost a good ten years due to dad's shenanigans. He'd wait until Mrs. May's students were quiet, serious, and working away, then he would get out his squirt gun and go to work. "Mrs. May, I felt some water on my head!" The class would be disrupted and a search would commence for rain clouds and water leaks. After the class settled back down, another squirt would be volleyed forth. Another noisy uproar in her class, then dad would come over and insist that Mrs. May keep her class quiet, so that his class could get some work done.
If any teacher had forgotten that it was Friday, or that payday was the fifteenth of each month, they would soon be reminded by the nut that was skipping down the hall into the teacher's lounge, singing some impromptu melody, jumping onto the couch, with the occasional finger poke to the ribs for good measure. He tried to brighten up things wherever he went.
For years, the students of Wayne Shull were blessed with a field trip to our ranch. The week after school was out in the spring, the fourth graders were treated to a world without concrete, riding horses and tractors, and swimming in a flowing river. The day was topped off with an endless supply of hotdogs that were cooked over an open fire on the very riverbanks that Native Americans used years before. Add in some potato chips and every flavor of generic cola you can think of and it's a time that a kid will never forget...and it didn't cost them a dime.
As a rancher, Dad stayed busy as well. Initially we raised broiler chickens, beef cattle, registered quarter horses, and border collie dogs. Caring for all of these animals, plus teaching school was very difficult, so eventually we raised only horses, for the horses were his favorite.
Working with and training horses requires a certain temperament and a person with special talents; much of the same talents of a schoolteacher. He used a mixture of patience, affection, bravery, intimidation, and repetition to first break the horse's spirit, then to win over the horse's favor and confidence. He could switch between these talents at will to achieve his goal. I was always amazed at how dad could make the huge, strong, magnificent, and spirited creatures execute his every command.
Dad and his stallion, Poco Dude Time, managed to earn many trophies together at horse shows in the halter class.
THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES
When I think of bluegrass music, I think of horses, coal mines, railroads, mountains, forests, and beautiful people that were caught up in a depressed economy. Dad grew up in rural Oklahoma and he could relate to the music. Southeastern Oklahoma was a place full of hardworking, God-fearing, simple people that tried their hardest to carve a life out of the soil and to raise their kids right. The characters were his kind of people. You see...Bluegrass musicians take basic acoustic instruments, like the guitar, banjo, mandolin, or fiddle and basic human emotions and situations, like love, birth, church, or death ... to create a sound blanket of warmth that one can wrap up in and almost see.
Dad was quoted in a newspaper interview years ago saying, "I like horses and I like teaching, but I love bluegrass."
He would preach bluegrass to anyone within earshot, even the state trooper we would occasionally meet on the way to the bluegrass event. By the time dad was done, the mission-oriented trooper had at least three festival flyers, a newsletter, a bumper sticker, and was giving us escort to the state line as if mom was delivering my next of kin. I say he preached it, because when I was I little, I attended an Assembly of God church. I'm talking about a slice of Christianity known for getting' on with some read hot preachin', and my dad had some game. If you're worried about my dad, don't...he's in heaven right now, because he probably talked his way out of hell by noon last Friday.
Now that tells you how we got to the festival...at the festival, he was all business, and his business was making people feel at ease. Whether you were a person in the general audience, a band member, the promoter, or the person making funnel cakes at the top of the hill, dad's business was to make the person feel at ease and to organize the music in an equitable manner.
What fans and band members weren't prepared for was the prankster inside Wayne Shull. People crowded the stage on Saturday nights to see if dad was going to shoot someone with blanks, dress up as a female, or if dad was to be the victim instead.
No offense to other musicians, but the fiddle and the dobro were tied for first place with dad; with probably the harmonica being in third. When he was worked-up with a fast fiddle or dobro number, dad would give his ultimate compliment by throwing his cowboy hat into the audience.
Dad was fortunate enough to work with some of the greats of bluegrass music. People like: Jim & Jesse, Grandpa Jones, Minnie Pearl, Mac Wiseman, Lonnie Glosson, and even with Bill Monroe himself.
The Bill Monroe show was quite a scene from the very start. Backstage the Father of Bluegrass was a bit confused with an M.C. that would be sitting on the same stage during his performance. Who did this guy think he was? Well, Mr. Monroe and band take the stage, start singing, and during one of the choruses, dad decides to jump up from his chair and join in with Bill. The band kind of looks over at each other, but didn't miss a lick.
After the show, Bill Monroe offerred dad a job. He wanted dad to ride with him on his tour bus and be his personal M.C. wherever Bill played. Dad thanked him and then turned him down, saying that he had to be with his family, his horses, and his cows.
I think that being offered a job on the spot by Bill Monroe says he did a good job.
I think that being the only five-time recipient of the "Mr. Bluegrass" award says he did a good job
I think that handling 27 festivals a year says he did a good job.
I think that when you show up to a festival late due to mechanical problems and leave without them (and not be able to find out whom to pay) says he did a good job.
I think that when the Red Man Tobacco Company sends ten cases of Red Man tobacco to your house, it says that you're chewing too much tobacco.
I was very proud of dad when he kicked his tobacco habit. My only wish was that he would have timed it better. You see, we had a small chimney fire in early winter one year, so hey, no problem...let's just move the family into our 25 foot travel trailer and just for fun...let's have the alpha-male stop abusing nicotine cold turkey. It wasn't a good Christmas.
Asking kids about their father is like strolling through a minefield...nobody's perfect.
Dad did teach us all kinds of great ideas and skills though, some that come to mind include:
* The value of the country lifestyle
* The value of hard work
* Perseverance, and that...
* Education is the key to solve most problems
He was a man that would not be shamed, or wronged, nor laid a hand upon. The consequences for these would be fierce.
He loved America and the flag that represents her, but he did not approve of the present direction our government is taking. He also felt that the flag should be protected by law against being burned.
Served 4 years in the Navy during the Korean War. He was on the destroyer "John A. Bole", earning the Good Conduct Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and the China Service Ribbon.
Life on a ship means constant work; the ship never sleeps. This translated over to our ranch and to our educations, as there was seldom a day that something didn't need to be done on our 117 acre ranch.
Thank you, David Shull