Tuesday, July 17, 2018

This Week Tree of Life Mourns then Celebrates with Music

Ann and Bob Tirk in their Choir tour T-shirts.

It is going to be very busy at Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry.  First, Friday evening and Saturday afternoon we bid a fond and emotional goodbye to a long time beloved member and then at regular Sunday worship services will be inspired by great music performed by an internationally admired classical guitar duo.
Bob Tirk died on July 3 just days after entering hospice care.  He succumbed to pancreatic cancer after a long battle.  Most of us last saw him in June as he made his way with his beloved wife Ann to the annual Barn Service at the Tinkler barn.  A large man, he looked frail and needed a walker to get up the gentle slope to the barn.  But he wanted to be with us one last time.  During the joys and concerns part of the service he quietly stood up and announced mater-of-factly that he would be entering hospice.
A visitation will be held from 7 to 8:30 on Friday July 20 and celebration of Bob’s life will be held on Saturday July 21 at 2:00 pm, both at Tree of Life.  In lieu of flowers, donations in Bob’s name can be made to the Congregation or Land Conservancy of McHenry County, 4622 Dean Street, Woodstock, IL 60098.
I first met Bob maybe 25 years ago or so in a different context.  I was helping organize my first big event for the Democratic Party of McHenry County—an election rally with our county candidates on Woodstock Square.  It was one of the years when the Party made a big push to have candidates in almost all races that were often left uncontested in what seemed like a hopelessly Republican territory.  I was new to this sort of thing and had neglected to arrange for candidate posters and yard signs to festoon the Gazebo—an important visual.  The candidates themselves were coming off a day long tour with several stops in the county.  I was in a near panic when someone called Bob Tirk, who was a precinct committeeman in Marengo.  Bob showed up with a carload of signs for all of the candidates and helped get them up in a nick of time for the event.  
Bob Tirk, fourth from left singing with the Frothy Boys.
As I would discover, it was typical of Bob’s eagerness to pitch in where ever needed.  I would witness it time and again over the years first with the Party and then at church.  Bob was a beloved figure even then in Marengo where he had been a long-time music teacher and Band Director at the High School and where he had since become Director of the Park District.  Despite not having ambition for elective office or much taste for the sometimes ugly side of running for office, when the Party told him that only someone with his deep connection to the community and universal respect would have a prayer, he agreed one year to run for County Board in probably the most deeply Republican district in the county.  As always in those days, it was an underfunded candidacy and could not overcome and entrench GOP organization, but he did succeed in elevating the Democratic profile in the area.
Not long after that Bob and Ann moved to Woodstock where they both quickly became huge parts of what was then the Congregational Unitarian Church.  Both musicians, they sang in the Choir and Ann sometimes subbed at the Piano.  Those were the days of the annual Dille’s Follies shows, large-cast musical reviews that played to sold-out houses for several performances every summer and raised money for both the Church and local charities.  Bob was always a member of the ensemble and also pitched in helping to assemble stage platforms and build sets.  Always a good singer, he would be the first to admit that he was not much of a dancer.  But you could always spot him in the back row of elaborately stage production numbers shuffling along gamely alongside to other rhythmically challenged big men, the Rev. Dan Larsen and Whit Sears.
In addition to his regular presentence in the Choir under the direction of Kathy Brunke, Tom Steffens, and Forrest Ransburg,  Bob enjoyed singing in barbershop quartets and choirs and especially with the Church’s men’s a capella group the Frothy Boys who performed in their signature matching bowling shirts and raised money for charities at numerous public performances.  When he and Ann began wintering in Florida he lent his voice to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota choir as well.  But the highlight of Bob and Ann’s long association with our church choir was going on the 2016 concert tour to Transylvania in Romania.
In his element--Bob Tirk cooking outdoors with his Dutch oven.

Another of Bob’s passions was cooking—preferably for a lot hungry people.  He was a proud and active member of the Black Hawk chapter of the International Dutch Oven Society and participated in their regular events and picnics.  Bob also was a dedicated volunteer with PADS, the McHenry County church-based rotating homeless shelter.  The Woodstock church was long a host on Wednesday evenings to PADS guests and Bob liked to cook them big, hearty breakfasts of bacon, eggs, and sausage the likes of which they never got at any other site.   When we began our weekly summer Compassion4Campers to help the homeless during the May-September months when the church shelters are closed Bob became the regular grill master.  He also frequently cooked for the monthly Thursday night gatherings of the church’s informal Men Group at members’ homes.

There is no way to recount all of the ways Bob volunteered at church and in his community.  He would often just show up ready to work when jobs that needed doing were hard, dirty, and thankless.  He did it without expectation of praise or glory.  

Bob at a 2017 Inaugural protest in his winter home town in Florida.

If he sometimes ducked attention, he reveled in knowing that if a poll were taken he would have been voted the church member any one would mostly like to sit down and a have a beer with, or share some of his favorite gin and tonics.
Here is some more background on Bob from his obituary.
Robert “Bob” James Wescott Tirk was born May 29, 1943 in Boston, MA, the son of James Wescott and Marguerite (Greb) Wescott. James Wescott died while serving in the Coast Guard during World War II. Marguerite married Richard “Dick” E. Tirk, who adopted Bob at age 4. Bob grew up in New York and also spent time with the Greb family in Wisconsin.
Bob graduated from Briarcliff High School (NY) and was one of many family members to attend Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, where he majored in music education. There he met fellow music student Ann Uber, who was performing the opera double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Die Fledermaus. Bob and Ann married in her hometown of Hartford, WI on June 19, 1965 and spent 53 happy years together.
Bob and Ann both taught in McHenry County where he served as a music educator for 29 years in Huntley, Woodstock, and Marengo. Early in their teaching careers, they lived on farms in Woodstock where they raised pigs, chickens, and got into the hay baling business. In Marengo, Bob took his band students on many grand adventures including trips to California, Florida, and Churchill, Manitoba. After retirement, he continued to teach part time and worked for the Marengo Park District where he created the “Summer with the Arts” program and helped to build the town pool. As if those activities weren’t enough, Bob enjoyed many hobbies including ham radio, model railroading, family history, National Park stamp collecting, bee keeping, and serving as a den mother for his son’s Cub Scout Pack.
After Bob’s time at the Park, he returned to teaching with Ann at Huntley. Once Ann and Bob both retired, they continued their travels visiting all 50 states, Mexico, and all but one of the Canadian Provinces hauling their fifth wheel (except for Hawaii). At home in Woodstock and Florida, Bob enjoyed singing with several barbershop groups, the Tree of Life Church Choir, and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota Choir. He was an expert chef at Dutch Oven Gatherings, for P.A.D.S. and Compassion for Campers, and for his grandchildren who loved his bacon and pancakes. Always up for a party, Bob loved Friday night fish fries, hot dog roasts, and any opportunity to gather with his family and friends.
He is survived by his beloved wife Ann, his daughter Liz (Brian) Yanoff, Niskayuna, NY; his son Richard (Suzanne) Tirk, Norman, OK; his brother Kirby (Veronica) Tirk of West Chester, PA; and grandchildren Eliana and Jacob Yanoff and Simon and Malia Tirk.
Classical Guitarists Bert Lams and Fabio Mittino.

Classical guitarists Bert Lams and Fabio Mittino will perform at a musical worship service at Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation this Sunday, July 22, at 10:45 pm.  The worship is part of a Sumer with Music series and will also feature a message of community and wisdom by Worship Committee Chair M.E. Tanabe.
Lams and Mittino will present a program from their album Long Ago featuring compositions by G.I. Gurdjieff and Thomas De Hartmann arranged for two steel-string acoustic guitars by the duo.
Mittino is Italian and began his study of classical guitar at age 13. In 1998, he attended a Guitar Craft course presented by renowned English guitarist Robert Fripp. Since then, he has continued studying and playing with the Guitar Craft technique.
Lams is originally from Belgium. In 1984, he graduated with honors from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, where he studied classical guitar. Shortly after that, he became involved with Fripp and the Guitar Craft school where he met Mittino. 
They successfully perform as a duo internationally and record their unique guitar stylings.  This is their second visit to Tree of Life.
The exotic music they will feature Sunday features the work of G.I. Gurdjieff, a philosopher of Russian/Armenian descent who had the remarkable gift of remembering music he had heard during his travels in Asia and the Middle EastArmenian songs, Hindu melodies, Kurdish melodies, an Orthodox Hymn, Sayyid dances, and others.  Many years later he sang and played the melodies to Russian composer Thomas De Hartmann.  Together they created over 300 pieces between 1918 and 1927.
The service is open to the public.  Coffee and refreshments will be shared in a social hour after the service.
Child care for infants and toddlers is available.
For more information call the church at 815 322-2464, e-mail office@treefolifeuu.org  or visit https://treeoflifeuu.org/2018/07/05/guitar-duo-at-tree-of-life/.

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