PEPER COLUMN: One man's lesson of thanks

Trying to find a reason to be thankful as next week approaches?

I might be able to “tie” it all up for you. Just take a moment to hear the story of the Kutcher family of Mount Pleasant.

Joe Kutcher's seat will be empty on Thursday when his wife and three girls gather around the dinner table. The longtime math teacher at Wando High School lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in July. His wife, ReBecca, teaches at Cario Middle School, which their youngest daughter, Sammi, 12, attends. The older girls, Trista, 23, works in the area and Suzi, 20, is a sophomore at South Carolina.

In October '09, ReBecca noticed a yellowing in Joe's eyes during an afternoon kiss. That led to the discovery of cancer and set off a series of medical trips that included chemo, radiation, surgery and more chemo. Ninety-five percent of the people who are diagnosed are given less than five years to live.

Fit to be Tied

Joe Kutcher was known as the “voice of Wando” because he announced basketball and volleyball games. When the company that brought him to Charleston in 1987 as an electrical engineer wanted to move him to Florida, he decided he wanted to stay in the Lowcountry. He wanted to be a teacher.

Joe was a math teacher; ReBecca taught English.

She counted on him to know the numbers, and besides, she avoided math because “it gives me the hives.” There was something else that was starting to add-up in Joe's closet ... his collection of neckties.

He wore one to school every day and owned almost 200. A few were dressy; most weren't. There were ties depicting everything from chile peppers to school supplies. Some displayed cartoon characters. Even Mr. Potato Head appeared on some of his neckwear.

Before Joe died, he asked ReBecca to give those ties to their friends. He didn't want them to just hang on the rack. He wanted others to wear them and get the same enjoyment he did.

The idea of sharing and laughing and enjoying life was not lost on his students. A few weeks ago, the high school celebrated “Mr. Kutcher Tie Day.” Many of his fellow teachers and a number of his former students wore his ties. To honor his wife, a similar day was held at Cario Middle to celebrate Joe's life and his spirit. It was a simple, thoughtful gesture that seemed to tie everything together.

Still teaching

As ReBecca and her daughters gather on Thanksgiving, how will they find the words or even the motivation to say grace? Should we blame them if a moment of silence is all they can muster?

Joe's message before dying still rings true. We should all try to find some sunshine in every day. Smile, laugh, engage, enjoy ... that's what he wanted to say with his ties. Maybe we're too conscious of tying the perfect knot, without appreciating the larger lesson of life's imperfections.

Eventually, ReBecca and the girls want their favorite ties made into quilts. A quilt created from Dad's ties definitely would provide a nice way to still wrap his arms around his family.

Joe's desire to have those ties worn and not hidden should invite us all to recognize things for which we are thankful. Little things, things that make us smile, things that cause us to remember.

When the Kutchers gather on Thursday, there's an outside chance the empty chair might just have a tie or two draped across it. Blest be the tie that binds.

Reach Warren Peper at wpeper@postandcourier.com.

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