Saturday, August 11, 2012

About my friend Todd Withnell

Todd Withnell was a friend of mine who lived in Moorhead, MN and died 30 years ago in 1982 at the age of 29. I was thinking about him the other day and Googled his name. I was surprised to find a record of his birth and death, yet there was nothing else about him on the internet. That seems a shame, and so I wanted to just share my recollection of Todd.

Todd had health problems all the years I knew him, and I'm quite sure he eventually passed away of complications relating to cancer. He didn't like to talk much about his illness, I didn't pry about it, and so I didn't learn much about it. There were days when I would go to visit Todd at his home that he just wasn't feeling up to company, and other days when his mom would tell me that he was in the hospital.  The vast majority of my visits found Todd talkative, alert, and we both enjoyed our meetings a great deal.

During the 1970's CB craze, Todd was active on the CB radio, which is where I first met him. His handle was the "Bushwacker" and his call letters were KVB-5036, which he always pronounced "KVB-five-ought-three six." Later, Todd became a ham radio operator and enjoyed talking to people all over the world.

He had a hearing aide which caused him some problems with copying Morse Code on the ham radio. It was only by his presistance and strong character that was able to earn his ham radio license, which at the time required being able to send and receive morse code, because his hearing made it very difficult.

Todd was also small in stature and wore glasses.  He spent a fair amount of time indoors, but through his radios he made a lot of friends and enjoyed many, many hours of lively conversations.  The CB and ham radios were the internet of his day.

Todd would sometimes build some of his ham equipment. I remember that he built an "automatic keyer" for sending morse code. During one of our last meetings, Todd was kind of down. He wanted to sell me a bunch of his radio equipment. I didn't need it because I had my own, but I did buy a morse code key and electronic keyer from him, which I still have today. He was very proud of this key, because it was a high end Browning paddle key, which among those in the know was a status key.

I always regret not going to his funeral, or sending a card to his parents. I found out about his death after the funeral, when I returned home from college. Information didn't travel at net speed back then. I've always wondered where he is buried.

Todd was a good guy. He was always full of opinions and enjoyed talking to people whether on the radio or in person.  He died too young.    I hope anyone else who might be searching for a piece of Todd on the internet will come across this post, and know that his life mattered.  When I'm sick, I often think of Todd and what he had to endure. It has made cancer my main charity, and I once had the honor to donate bone marrow to someone I knew. I thought of Todd that day.

Some people you know a long time and never really know. Others, you know for just a little while and they touch you deeply.  It's 30 years after his death, and the older I get the more I realize how important it was for me to know Todd during my teenage years.  Todd's life was short, but it made a difference and it's still making a difference to me. Thanks, Todd! See you again one of these days.

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