Following the tornado in Pierce City on May 4, 2003, the merchants had a meeting. All the downtown blocks had been badly damaged, and it wasn't clear at that time if any of the buildings could be saved.
It was a time of shock and disbelief and great uncertainty.
The merchants had to figure out what to do. It was clear they had to find a way to carry on, though for some even that was doubtful.
In their midst was Gene Kluck, owner of the Friendly Supply hardware store. Gene was over 80, and everyone expected he would simply retire. After all, why not? He had put in his time. Why not avoid the headache?
But that wasn't Gene Kluck. He announced to everyone in no uncertain terms that he would rebuild and stay in business.
Gene's declaration was stunning. Suddenly, there was a spotlight pointing forward. Many other merchants, if they had any doubt, felt that if Gene could do it, they could can do it too.
Beyond that room, Gene's message resonated with people who were still digging out and those who wanted to help. His resolute stance helped clear the doubt. As the recovery process moved slowly forward, Gene was there, never backing down, never waivering.
His was one of the first businesses to reopen on the expanded Main Street, bigger and better. Up until very recently, Gene could be found regularly at his post behind the counter at Friendly Supply, ready with a smile and a "Can we help you?"
Anyone who had a long life like Gene Kluck has many good days. As a World War II veteran, a family man and a successful businessman, Gene certainly had his share. But that day in May 2003 may well have been his finest hour.
People don't get statues put up in their honor these days around here. His passing this week at age 90 will be gradually felt, as his absence on future occasions is noticed. What Gene showed us that one day will be long remembered.
In the right circumstances, Gene Kluck showed that no matter how old you are, no matter how full your life has been, a person can be in the right place at the right time and make all the difference.