If ever there was such a man, Dan Kasten was the real thing. He decorated our lives with his good fellowship and infectious signature laughter.
True to form, Dan didn’t like the spotlight on him. At his funeral service in Harrisonburg, Va, in late May, his devoted wife Dot honored his wishes that the service be a tribute to the spiritual life he led and the music he loved rather than to him as an individual. It was not to be about him but what he was about.
Inside the beautiful St Stephen’s United Church of Christ, family and friends could almost hear Dan keeping time as an honored string quartet of two violins, viola and cello played the Pachelbel Canon, Amazing Grace, and Mozart’s Andante from String Quartet K. 157. The quartet ended with Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. For the dapper and dignified preacher, it was a fitting farewell.
My last visit with him was particularly poignant. His breathing was labored and he appeared to be in a deep sleep with just occasional hints of consciousness. Dot’s brother and sister-in-law were there and we were talking. Nurses were supposed to keep a close eye on him, since he was on a strong diuretic, so when he had to go he really had to go. Because they had been a bit slow in responding earlier, he had gotten out of bed when no one was there and tried to get to the bathroom on his own. Not sure if he made it unscathed, but it scared the staff who were afraid he would fall.
When I got ready to leave, he suddenly went from the horizontal to a sitting position on the side of his bed. Dot immediately plopped down beside him for fear he was going to get up on his own again. He was suddenly quite awake and had been listening to our conversation. When I leaned over to say goodbye, he popped out of the bed and embraced me. I got a weakened version of his famous guffaw, and then he said with a muffled laugh that the hug wasn’t for me but for my wife Jody. My job was to take it home for her. Lovely moment.
I’ll cherish that goodbye for the rest of my life.
Dan was 86 when he left us. In his long and happy life, he would have been the first to say he had been a blessed man. He was married to Dot for over 50 years and was the father of three fine sons and eight grandchildren. As Doctor Spock once observed:
“I would say that the surest measure of a man’s or a woman’s maturity is the harmony, style, joy, and dignity he creates in his marriage, and the pleasure and inspiration he provides for his spouse.”
It is only fitting that Dot chose the word “gentle” to best sum up this good man.
In his rich life, he had studied architecture and served in the Navy during WWII before deciding that he wished to devote his life’s work to the ministry. Although he enjoyed learning to design buildings as a young man, he eventually decided he needed to work with people and redirected his compass toward the ministry. In a few years, he was to graduate from Eden, then an Evangelical and Reformed Seminary and now a seminary of the United Church of Christ, in St. Louis. With his schooling finished, he and Dot were soon married and began a fulfilling life raising a family and serving the needs of parishioners at several churches in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.
As his friend Harold explained to me, Dan’s seminary days led him down the path where he lived his faith and was compelled to set an exemplary model based on the teachings of Christ. In this sense, Dan embraced the example of the good news of salvation in and through Christ alone. As a lasting tribute, I believe Dan would be pleased that he will always be remembered for his love and care for the well being of others.
In his presence, I believe we sensed his preoccupation with what moral beauty looks like. He saw the world and those around him with his heart. He knew that what is essential in each of us is invisible to the eye.
He was a lovely person to spend time with in any setting. What most comes to mind was his great laugh that still echoes in our memories. Immortalized in the words of his friend Adair, the laugh was known as the “Kasten Kackle.” The never shy outbursts always meant he was in exceptionally fine form and in the mood to enjoy hearing or telling funny stories. Their friendship even extended to sartorial matters as they were quick to remind one another to wear their seersucker suits on the first Sunday of summer and then again on the Sunday closest to Labor Day as the season came to an end. He also enjoyed a satisfying glass of wine in the evenings and would frequently walk up the road to the home of his neighbor Bob for a touch of the grape and good fellowship.
In trying to absorb the spiritual dialog he was capable of having with others, the words of the novelist Richard Powers come to mind, “All we can ever do is lay a word in the hands of those who have put one in ours.”
And so he is gone now, back to Richmond where he was born and is now buried. If there is that so-called better place, then Dan’s surely in it. His going left ours a lesser one.
May his soul be forever bound up in the eternal bonds of life.