GREENFIELD — It was a touching final tribute, a celebration Skip Kuker would have called “fantastic,” which was one of his favorite words.
Just as the light faded from the cold January sky, family and friends stood outside in front of the Wooden Bear Wednesday evening and raised their glasses toward the night to toast the late husband, father and community leader.
His casket was sitting in the hearse with the back door open so Kuker, who died Sunday after a long battle with cancer, could also be part of a goodbye gathering.
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“To the man, the myth and the legend,” James Wood, Wooden Bear tap room manager, said while holding up a glass of SKIPA beer — a craft brew named after Kuker. “Thank you for all the memories and laughs, Skip.”
The celebration of Kuker’s life — held at his favorite watering hole — came after his funeral Wednesday at Park Chapel Christian Church.
Kuker, the director of the Hancock Economic Development Council and a well-known figure in the community, had asked those planning his funeral to keep things positive and to gather at his favorite brew house to celebrate his life with a few drinks, lots of smiles and good cheer.
Diane Snider, one of Kuker’s close friends from Logansport, where he used to live, came to Greenfield to celebrate his life.
After the toast outside the hearse, she took a drink of beer, then lowered her head and tried not to cry while thinking about what a good friend she had lost.
“The Earth really lost someone special,” Snider said. “There is a true absence there. He just had such a unique ability to connect with people.”
Inside the bar, Jenny Saunders, one of the Wooden Bear employees, stood beside Kuker’s favorite table, No. 25, which is now marked with a plaque, and reflected on their friendship.
Every time he walked in the door of the Wooden Bear, he had a smile on his face, she said.
Saunders recalled a time, not long ago, when Kuker was getting ready to go into the hospital for cancer treatment. He took time to text her and ask how her mother, who had been sick, was doing.
“You would have never known he had cancer,” Snider said. “He set such a great example of how to love life.”
Prior to the life celebration at the Wooden Bear, more than 200 of Kuker’s closest family and friends, including his wife, Ellen, and daughter, Jordan, attended his funeral. Guests were greeted with pictures capturing moments of his life on a video screen.
Charles Gill, manager of the Greenfield Water Utility, came to the funeral to pay tribute to Kuker, a man he knew through work but became friends with thanks to Kuker’s outgoing personality.
“If he could help you, he would,” Gill said. “I don’t think we’ll ever replace the kind of energy we had with Skip.”
Danny Curry, Kuker’s pastor, spoke during the hourlong service along with four of Kuker’s closest friends: Ron Pritzke, Jeff Dillon, Jim Mayfield and Scott Kraud.
Curry reflected on Kuker’s personality.
“How many other people can be identified by one name?” Curry asked. “There’s Elvis, Tiger, and there’s Skip. I don’t know who Nolan E. (Skip) Kuker is.”
Curry reminded Kuker’s family and friends he did not lose his battle against cancer, because Kuker is now in a better place thanks to his faith.
“He got an upgrade,” Curry said.
Kraud, a member of the Logansport Redevelopment Commission, fought back tears when he told the crowd about the fun he and Kuker used to have during their “beer and budget meetings,” but what Kraud will remember most about his friend was how giving and caring he was.
While the service was filled with several light moments and laughs as his friends shared several fun stories about him, the reality hit many hard. Those who loved him and worked with him lost someone very special — a man who made a real difference and got the most out of his 55 years on Earth.
Beverly Gard, the former longtime state senator, tried to take inventory of his time here. “It’s incredible what he’s done for this community,” she said.
You can watch two poignant videos about Skip Kuker at these links: