It was with great sadness that I heard about the passing of my friend Lee Shanks last Friday, June 9. I first met Lee over 25 years ago when he walked into my Clarion Newspaper office in Avon.
That day, he carried some stories hand-written on sheets of loose notebook paper and wanted them incorporated into a weekly ad for his refuse service. I took a few minutes to read some of the stories and immediately realized they were much too long and intricate to be incorporated into an ad.
Instead, I offered to publish them for free as a weekly column in the paper under the name , “Days gone by.” I wanted to use the subtitle “Reflections of a Garbageman,” but Lee objected and he was probably right.
What followed for many years were wonderful recollections of Lee’s life growing up on a farm in Western New York, serving in the Marine Corp during the Korean War era, working at Kodak and then striking out to start his own business, his enduring love for all things Ford and most importantly his childhood sweetheart and then wife Edna who he met at age 15.
For many years I served as Lee’s editor, correcting the spelling and sentence structure, but there was no need to correct any of Lee’s sentiment. His love of country and family shown through in every paragraph!
Eventually, we had enough columns to make a book so in 2008 I published “Days Gone By,” a 200-page compendium of the Best of Lee. I’ve lost track of how many times we re-ordered lots of 100 copies of the book, but Lee was fond of giving the book away to friends and customers and it received a wide circulation! In 2013 we issued a revised 220-page 2nd edition with 10 more stories added!
Our friendship was further forged as Comrades-in-Arms in the Great Avon Garbage War! Local historians may remember the misguided attempt by the Avon Town Board to monopolize the local refuse removal market by having the government contract with a single vendor to remove the trash and put the bill on the town taxes.
Lee was outraged at this interference with the Free Market and as a matter of principle refused to even bid on the contract. Instead he joined forces with the Clarion in a public relations war which ended with the proposal going down to a decisive defeat in a public referendum.
In later years, Lee would stop down to my office in Geneseo and take me out to lunch on a regular basis. Because of our 21 year age difference, I would often kid around and tell the waitress that he was my Dad. In many ways it felt like the relationship was that close, but it ran both ways.
Lee would confide his deepest concerns about family problems and business and sometimes I was able to help by suggesting a course of action. Other times I would unburden myself of my troubles and Lee had a wonderful way of putting things in perspective.
They say that those who served our country in World War II were the Greatest Generation, however, if Lee is any indication, those who served in the Korean War were a close second! It was a wonderful thing to get to know Lee’s Marine Corp attitude about “Duty, Honor and Country.” He truly was a messenger of a way of life that has sadly almost gone by. “Semper Fi Lee!”