Frank Russell “Rusty” Tona passed away on October 26, 2014. This story is dedicated to him. It was his creative energy, ability to connect to people, and leadership that catalyzed the imagineering of the universe this story is set in and all but one of the characters that populate it.

Hearing from Frank could be likened to hearing from that “right jolly old elf” who spreads so much fun early every winter. When he’d come up with some wondrous new take on an old idea or perhaps even fabricate something none of us had ever imagined, he could draw us enthusiastically into his imagination to share the fun he was having.

A look at his Facebook page even now will bring out the truth of something I posted there when he passed – something I think bears repeating here:

It’s been said that the highest purpose of a life is to so live your life that the significance of your life outlives your life. Judging by Troy’s words, Frank (Rusty) did just that.

That his life continues to be significant is not just my opinion, it is common to all who knew him. Virtually everyone connected to his Facebook page posted something to it after he passed. Some posts were added more than four months after he passed. When I began to work on this project in earnest, I was asked/encouraged/entreated to dedicate it to him. While that was obvious to me, it’s noteworthy that I’m not the only one who felt that way.

Also noteworthy is his wife, Shellie, and her place in the lives of those who survived him. His influence was such that anything and anyone important to him became important to those around him. While their marriage only began within the last dozen years, she is still firmly rooted in his family; her son regards his brothers as Uncles and he is received that way by them, and she and his children have a powerful bond. In my view, this speaks loudly of his ability to unite people in an enduring manner.

Finally, his importance to me. I met him when we were 17. That was a looong time ago. He was crucial to my being accepted into the fold, and his influence was so profound that I am welcomed, maybe even embraced, by them still. They messaged me within an hour of his passing. I was notified of when and where his funeral was. These in spite of the fact I had not seen any of them since December 2008. Frank was, more than anything else, a connector.

I’d like to make this last note apart from whatever religious beliefs the reader may hold; please see my message for what it is rather than look for “reasons” to be offended. The most important connection he was responsible for in my life was my connection to God. Regardless of your ultimate belief on the subject, we all seek to resolve our relationship to God (even if it’s only to conclude he doesn’t exist). Rusty perceived my need when I didn’t know it even existed, and he acted – acted – in the most amazingly patient, time-tolerant manner. It was a single act, but it had repercussions that persist to this day and only get stronger as time passes.

Thank you, Frank Russell (Rusty) Tona.