I came back from vacation this week to tough news about two inspiring characters who were featured in 2013 columns.
One, Joel Stumph, donated blood, gifts and love at a pace unprecedented in Pierce County — more than 42 gallons of blood, dozens of walking sticks and a daily lap nap for a demanding orange cat.
Stumph died Dec. 23 in the Tacoma home he built in 1961, in bed with his wife, Connie. He was 88.
The other, Bob O’Neal, is a veteran of two tours in Vietnam and 21 years in the Army. He re-learned to play his 1927 King Silvertone trumpet four years ago at age 72, after not having touched it in 54 years.
O’Neal joined a band, then Bugles Across America, playing taps at the funerals of veterans.
The same evening Stumph died, someone stole O’Neal’s trumpet from his van. The horn had been in his family since his grandfather purchased it for an uncle in 1927.
Joel Stumph caught our attention back in 2013, the year his career blood donations to the Cascade Regional Blood Services reached a total of 42 gallons.
“We’d kept track, and Joel donated 337 times,” director Dan Schmitt said Tuesday. “No one else is even close to that total.”
Stumph remembered giving blood for the first time in 1954, when a co-worker’s relative needed two pints.
“After the second time I thought, ‘Why not keep going?’ ” Stumph said. “The Lord kept me healthy enough to keep giving, so I kept giving.”
Donors legally can give blood once every 56 days.
Stumph, who built his home, raised four children and spent 41 years working for Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, rarely missed the chance to donate.
“Surgeries stopped me a few times,” said Stumph, who’d had both knees and shoulders replaced.
Throughout 2014, he fought cancer and refused to use a wheelchair. Instead, he’d walk gingerly on one of the hundreds of walking sticks he made in his basement workshop.
Those sticks, beautifully hand-polished, occasionally were sold at a church bazaar or farmer’s market. Far more often, they were given away – often to complete strangers.
Stumph kept extras in his car trunk, and if he saw someone walking who looked as if they could use one, he’d take a stick out and give it to them.
Visitors rarely left the Stumph home without eating Connie’s soup or carting away a homemade bird house or walking stick.
Stumph lost his first wife, Ruth, after 53 years of marriage. A few years later, he met, courted and married Connie.
Each day after lunch, Stumph felt compelled to sit in his recliner. His orange cat, Sunny, demanded it.
“If I’m not sitting in my chair, he starts to yowl. If I am in the chair, he wants a blanket over my legs, and he curls up and falls asleep,” Stumph said.
In the final days of his Stumph’s life, son Denny had a lovely moment with his father.
“He said in a weak voice, ‘I hope I was a good man,’ ” Denny said. “I told him, ‘No, you were a great man.’ ”
Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Mountain View Cemetery’s Valley Chapel.
Bob O’Neal figures the chances of ever seeing his trumpet again aren’t great.
“I’d say it’s 50-50,” O’Neal said, then caught himself. “It depends on the conscience of person who took it, the honesty of whatever pawnbroker or shop gets hold of it.
“The thief didn’t take the mouthpiece or case, and it could be this person has a tough time selling it and just throws it away. My chances are probably less than 50-50.”
O’Neal blames himself for leaving the horn in his unlocked van after playing Christmas carols for his neighbors on Dec. 23. The van was parked outside his house in the 2100 block of North Union Avenue.
“The little guy who sits on your shoulder was debating, ‘Should I take it inside or leave it out?’ ” he said. “It was in the back of my van. I thought, ‘I’m going back out. I’ll leave it there.’
“Then I went in the house, pressed the wrong button on my key and didn’t lock it.”
An hour later, the trumpet was gone.
On Monday, using a horn borrowed from a friend, O’Neal played taps at seven funerals at the Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.
“I have a sign in front of my house that says, ‘Please return my trumpet, no questions asked,’ ” O’Neal said.