Skelton remembered as a 'regular guy'

In this Dec. 3, 1976, photo, then newly elected members of the House of Representatives Ike Skelton, D-Mo., left, and Bob Stump, D-Ariz., attend an orientation meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington.

In this Dec. 3, 1976, photo, then newly elected members of the House of Representatives Ike Skelton, D-Mo., left, and Bob Stump, D-Ariz., attend an orientation meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo by The Associated Press.

LEXINGTON — A B-2 bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base flew over Lexington’s Machpelah Cemetery, as former U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton was buried.

“I don’t believe the B-2 bomber would have been at Whiteman if it had not been for Ike Skelton,” Mike Lierman, Wentworth Military Academy president, said Monday afternoon, shortly before Skelton’s funeral service began in the school’s gymnasium.

Skelton, 81, died last week from complications of pneumonia.

The Rev. Emanuel Cleaver, a Methodist minister in Kansas City and a long-time politician who now is in his fifth term in Congress, remembered Skelton on Monday as a strong political personality who remained “a regular guy — who lived a substantially wonderful life.”

Even though it wasn’t unusual for Skelton to be on a phone call with “top military leaders here and around the world,” Cleaver said, “Ike’s open personality (meant that) he could be approached from any direction at any time from any one.”

Cleaver reminded the 2,000 people gathered at the funeral that Skelton was “a Christian man — a man who believed deeply in Jesus Christ and practiced his religion openly. Ike looked up to God and, therefore, refused to look down on anyone.”

And the Rev. Everett Hannon Jr., who served as a pastor of Lexington’s Second Baptist Church, said in a prayer at the beginning of Skelton’s funeral: “We’re delighted that he’s there (in heaven) with you but, Lord, we’re sad down here, because we’re going to miss him quite a bit. ...

“He was a friend to everyone, and Lord, may that friendship carry on as we live life to its fullest.”

Both Hannon and Cleaver joked about Skelton’s speaking skills.

“Congressman Skelton continued to worship with us, every chance that he was at home (in Lexington),” Hannon noted. “At first, I would have him say something to our beloved congregation.

“But he was getting very good at it — and I didn’t want him to change occupations. So I just had him wave to the congregation.”

Cleaver said Skelton “delivered the Independence Day sermon at our church (in Kansas City) about nine years ago, and received a standing ovation — in church.

“And I told him later that day that he would never be invited again!”

But Hannon noted the often-smiling Skelton’s deep sadness after his wife, Susan Anding Skelton, died in 2005, a month after their 44th anniversary.

“In 2005, the twinkle in Ike’s eye left him,” Hannon noted. “Her illumination went to heaven.

“But it cast a shadow on Ike’s heart.”

On one Sunday, several years after Susie Skelton’s death, Hannon said, “Ike had a twinkle in his eye once again — there was a lady with him!”

Cleaver told a similar story, first reminding those attending the service that Skelton often got rides to the U.S. Capitol from JoAnn Emerson, a long-time friend and fellow U.S. representative, from southeast Missouri.

“JoAnn came over to me in the (U.S. House) Chamber and said, ‘Has he told you?’

“Told me what?” ...

“So I went over and just kind of hung around Ike. (And) he waited at least hours — and then he said, ‘I think Patty is the one. Right there, under my own nose — there she was!’

“And the light in his eyes was bright!”

Patricia “Patty” Martin, a widow and a long-time teacher in Lexington, married Skelton on Aug. 29, 2009, in Kansas City.

“Ike’s last days were great days, because of you,” Hannon told Patty Skelton during Monday’s service.

Cleaver told Skelton’s three sons — Ike Skelton V, James Skelton and Harry Page Skelton — that “the death of a loved one leaves a pain that no Earthly power can cure.”

But, he told them: “Your dad’s immortality exists in your DNA. This means that he has not, completely, died.

“His blood flows through your veins (and) his memory will always be with you.

“His memory and legacy will live on through you, your children and, even, their progeny.”

At his request, Skelton’s funeral was held at Wentworth Military Academy — which he attended more than 60 years ago.

“I’ve known Ike for 30 years,” Lierman said Monday. “About eight years ago, we buried Susie, his first wife. ...

“About three days after that service was over, Ike and the boys came over to see me and to thank me, and he said to me (then), ‘When I pass away, I want you to do this for me.’ And he told the boys, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”

Wentworth officials canceled classes Monday, and students — including the Honor Guard — either took part in the funeral service or acted as escorts and doorkeepers for visitors throughout the campus.

“What we’re doing today is in honor of him,” Lierman told the News Tribune, “and all that he’s done for Wentworth, for Lexington, for the state of Missouri and for our nation.”

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