Charlie Alsheimer—Much More Than a Deer Hunter
Lessons from His Legacy—Availability, Clarity, Urgency
Attending the memorial service of Charlie Alsheimer on Friday in Canisteo, New York was a blessing. Buena Vista Wesleyan Church was packed, although few people from the world of deer hunting could be there due to the weather, the travel demands, and busy schedules this time of year.
Those who attended were mostly from that area. It was a privilege to meet a few and get a sense of what Charlie meant to them. My take-aways come partly from Pastor Dan Pickering's funeral message, partly from talking to Carla, Aaron and others at the luncheon that followed the funeral, and partly from knowing Charlie.
In Pastor Pickering's message, he told a story that gave lots of insight into Charlie, and illustrated one of the traits that made him a great man. Several years ago Pickering was the coach of the high school baseball team. He described it as “an excellent team”—made up of great kids with a mediocre 7 and 7 record. Somehow they had advanced to the finals of the section playoffs, and were set to face an undefeated team they had never played. They had also never faced a left-handed pitcher, and the team they were about to play had one who threw a hard curve and had a wicked change-up. An idea popped into Pickering's mind. Charlie Alsheimer had been an outstanding left-handed pitcher for Avoca High School.
The 1966 Avoca, New York High School baseball team celebrates after winning the school's first-ever Section V title, which capped off an undefeated season. Head Coach Marvin Skillman hands the trophy to senior pitcher Charlie Alsheimer (#9).
Pickering called Charlie and asked, “Can you still throw a curve ball? Could you come and pitch to my guys for two days to get them ready for this game? We don’t need practice in fielding, or base running, but we haven’t faced a lefty all season. Come and help us if you can.”
For two days Charlie pitched for batting practice. At first the batters would back away from Charlie’s sharp curve, but Charlie encouraged them to stand in there. “I won’t hit you, and if I do it will hurt only for a minute!” At first no one was hitting, but Charlie coached the batters pitch by pitch, and by the end they were all knocking Charlie’s curve balls and change-ups all over the field. The next day they went on to beat the other team’s star southpaw, winning the game and the section championship. The score was 21-0.
What does that story tell us? It tells us Charlie was available. If Charlie could do something for you, he wanted to do it. Too many of us are not available. We don’t get involved in the lives of others, but Charlie did, and because Charlie was available he touched countless lives.
Charlie was a man who lived his life not for himself, but for others. He was available in 1967 when he enlisted in the United States Air Force and proudly served us all in Vietnam. He was available to Family Life Ministries in Bath, NY, where he was a long-time board member of the organization which was instrumental in the transformation of Charlie’s life through Jesus Christ. He was available to his church, which he attended on Sunday mornings even if he got home in the wee hours from a Saturday night speaking event. If Charlie said he would pray for you, he prayed. He took an interest in people. He invested in hundreds, maybe thousands, and continued into the last year of his life even while facing a series of challenges to his health. People were important to him, and they were better people because he was available to them.
A long time ago Charlie adopted a Bible verse for his life that brought him clarity. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Charlie would tell us that yes, the key to life really is that simple.
There was no pretense about Charlie, no duplicity. What you saw when you looked at Charlie was exactly what he was. His life was not cluttered with the things most of us allow to clutter our lives. He knew the only way to make time for the important things is to cut the unimportant things. Since Charlie’s passing, I’ve thought of many things I would like to talk to him about, and only a few are about whitetail deer. Although deer hunting is what people knew him for, that was not his greatest area of expertise. He was a real expert in life, and I regret not calling him more often in the past year because talking to Charlie always brought clarity.
Charlie also had a sense of urgency. He often said to people “We have three score and ten years. What will you do with them?” Even though Charlie made himself available to others, he was always in a hurry to do the next thing. He knew better than most that we have limited time on this earth, and we must have a sense of urgency to accomplish our mission—what we are here to do. Charlie got a lot done because he had a sense of urgency. If Charlie had not become one of the most successful wildlife photographers and influential outdoor writers of our time, he would still have been a giant in any field because any person whose life is marked by availability, clarity and urgency will become a person of influence.
Charlie’s life has many lessons for us and those who knew him can think of more, but here are three worth remembering:
Be available even if it costs you—we will not finish well if we are unwilling to serve others.
Be clear about your life—we will not finish well with lots of distractions.
Be urgent about your life—we will not finish well by believing we have plenty of time.
“We have three score and ten years,” Charlie said. “Anything more is extra innings.”
In addition to Charlie's Air Force photo above, below are a few photos that were on display at his funeral.