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Tahoe’s Memorials Bringing Us Together

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When you scratch the surface and get underneath the Tahoe/Truckee tourist economy, you will find a small town that just happens to get inundated with a ton of visitors for a good portion of the year. Like all small towns, Tahoe’s foundation of life is a web of interconnections, business relationships, and long-term friendships.

This was clearly evident at the recent memorial service for longtime Tahoe City local John Corda. In true Tahoe-fashion, it was a positive celebration of the life he led, a telling of the funny stories that made him who he was, and a chance for our community to reconnect. At their best, Tahoe memorials allow us to overcome our differences and celebrate the shared interest in where we live.

There were about 900 people at John Corda’s memorial. Like many locals’ lives, Corda’s comprised several different circles of friends: He ran a construction business for more than 30 years, had a passion for racing sailboats and for his friends who raced with him, and he was actively involved with his daughters Katie and Lauren and their friends as they grew up in Tahoe.  

“There was so much love and support in the community, I felt like no matter what, I was going to be taken care of,” said his daughter Lauren Corda of John’s memorial. “My back is out of whack from all the hugs.”

Lauren was surrounded by a large contingent of fellow North Tahoe High School grads who are now in their late 20s and 30s. They made the trek because her dad was there for them when they were in high school. “He hired a lot of them to keep them out of trouble. And when they came over to my house and saw us having dinner together every night, it changed their perspective of what family was. He showed them love and that he cared about what was going on in their lives,” Lauren reminisced.

John’s love was returned. Without asking, a legion of friends took care of everything needed for the memorial. Local restaurants donated food and coffee, paying their staff to be there. “We didn’t even have to think about it,” Lauren said.  

Our hearts ache for the lives who have left us, but memorials like John’s give us a chance to look around at all those familiar faces and remember what a special place Tahoe is. Despite our disagreements about the future of Squaw Valley, or the Presidential election, or whatever other issue we will face next, we are all here, finding joy and companionship in this place where people plant roots because of a lifestyle.

John’s not our first rodeo of the Tahoe-style memorial. I remember the huge gatherings for Mark Sullivan, Robert Frohlich, and Kevin Murnane in the last few years. Not that anyone ever used their full names. They were Sully and Fro and Kevin from Tahoe XC. Sully was raised in Tahoe, and went on to coach skiing at Squaw Valley for decades, including his namesake Olympian nephew Marco Sullivan. Sure, there were a ton of Squaw Valley skiers of every age group at his memorial, but there were also childhood classmates from his days at Tahoe Lake School.

Fro, like Corda, led a life that revolved around different circles of Tahoe friends. He was the classic ski bum, who paid for his skiing by being an amazing writer. He was also a sailor and a long time Tahoe City resident who was always open to a conversation at the post office. His skiing buddies were there at his memorial, as well as a large group of people who enjoyed his writing, and a small group of fellow local writers who saw him as a cantankerous and fascinating colleague.

Then there was Kevin Murnane. As manager of Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area for 15 years, he touched the heart of North Tahoe’s Nordic skiers. When a thousand people jammed the parking lot of the ski area for his memorial, we choked back tears, but found some solace in the hugs and smiles of this great group of friends with a shared passion for Nordic skiing and community.

At the memorials of Johnny, Fro, Sully, and Kevin we enjoyed lauding their lifetimes of accomplishments, but what we truly remember are the funny stories that people told of what made them human. It was John’s insistence on picking a horse for a race that would come in dead last, Fro’s never-ending complaints about editors, Sully’s pleas for only a Budweiser and only in a can, or Kevin’s inability to throw anything away, ever, that brings their character and personality deep into our hearts to hold on to.

Perhaps we need to remember that what draws us to people’s personalites after they’re gone should be our focus while they are still here. We don’t have to all think alike, just be there for each other.

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July 12, 2018