He wanted his funeral to be his last chance to have the final word. He hoped both friends and enemies would be present. He died July 31, 2013.
Kelly Hayes, 61, recycled both trash and people. He had strong feelings when either were swept aside as if they had no value.
In 1995 I wrote an article about him for The Marketplace (MEDA publication). At the time he was running a one-man recycling enterprise, competing against the mastodons of the trash business. He called it the Sun Prairie Dog Services. The prairie dog symbolized his small business, the mastodon the major trash haulers.
The smallness of his business or the fact that he was brushing up against mastodons every day didn’t faze him. Profit was not his goal. Spreading his ideas was. At his funeral he once again spread his thoughts about what gave meaning to his life.
Several months ago, after the death of a friend, he wrote his own funeral service and emailed it to the church office. As usual, he did not follow the usual format for such an event. All his life he lived outside the box, doing things the way he thought would best serve God and the environment. This farewell was planned around hymns that had meant a great deal to him:
“Jesus loves me this I know.” When he was hurting, Kelly said he needed Jesus, God’s son incarnate in the flesh. Jesus’ love gave him comfort.
“My life flows on in endless song.... while to that Rock I’m clinging.” The church and Jesus Christ meant a great deal to him. The Mennonite church had given him a vision, a song, he said, and a community. Kingdom of God values were important to Kelly, not what he wore or owned in consumer goods. He kept his needs down the minimum, his concern for others’ needs hers high.
In the 1995 article he told me, “I try to take seriously Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 about the comparative value of life and food, body and clothes.”
At the funeral, several people mentioned how Kelly “recycled” people in addition to trash. He took homeless men into his home, hoping to get them back onto their feet and returned to society as contributing citizens. On occasion he sent his “roommates” to a neighbor’s home to shovel her snow-covered walk.
“Wonderful grace of Jesus.” The more he needed grace and mercy, the more God gave, Kelly said.
Recycling is hard work, messy and difficult, he told me, but he kept at it. He was always trying to look after the “little person” who gets lost in the clamor for gain.
Among his valued customers were older men and women who were shutting down and cleaning out a lifetime accumulation of possessions—a painful process. He was aware of their pain but also of their lightened spirit as they let their stuff go. He checked on older shut-ins on his route. He and they needed each other.
One funeral attendee said, Kelly never said, “I need something for me.” His word was always, “I will look after the needs of others.”
“Taps,” yes, Taps, that mournful yet at the same time joyous tune played at the end of day in countless settings. He wanted the world to know that “all was well.” He was now resting safely in the bosom of his Savior. His day had ended.
The final hymn we sang was “I am the resurrection and the life.” He saw society the way it could be, in its resurrection glory, not as it is. He saw the world as a place where there was no more pain, sorrow, judgment or condemnation.
I learned to know Kelly in the 1970s when he was a student at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas, majoring in English and mathematics. His father was a military man stationed in Guam. Kelly came to my office often to challenge what I had said in class, wanting to have the last word. He had little regard for punctuation and spelling. Yet we got along well. He was a creative person, churning out poems and plays. He lived outside the box – living at one time in in an intentional community. At times he looked like an OT prophet at times with his shaggy hair and beard.
When I moved to Wichita, he became my recycler, but also a person who cared deeply for me when I was suffering the loss of my daughter. He brought some friends to sing hymns.
Kelly was a man of faith and of the church. For many years he was a member of the Mennonite Church of the Servant, a house-church based congregation. More recently he had been attending Asbury Church.
He held to strong specific theological positions, especially with regard to the environment. He discussed easily his view how the Old Testament version of Year of Jubilee could be resurrected in a modern society. Sometimes he held his own Jubilee.
Kelly, once again you had the last word.