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Unsung Heroes

Bun Wivell: A good man who isn't hard to find

Susan Allen

(12/09) His given name is Bernard, but he's always been called Bun--is a caring and lovable man. Loyal, dependable, easy to get along with: these are the words which his co-workers and friends use to describe him. I'd call him a gentleman of the old school, unfailingly polite and good-humored. Naturally outgoing, Bun's life has been hammered by events that might have soured a less strong and resilient personality. He has turned his sorrows into opportunities for generosity and service to others.

Bun grew up on the family farm on Dry Bridge Road, the son of Roy and Helen Wivell, number six in the fabled Wivell generation of twenty. He learned the value of working hard and doing things correctly, and also laughed a lot.

I met Bun in 1957, when I was ten-and- a-half, just the age to form a major crush. He drove down our lane one summer morning and went to work for my dad. He worked in the fields all summer and through fall harvesting. My sister Edie remembers taking quart jars of ice water to him when he worked in the back field. I don't remember exactly when he left, but soon he was working for my uncle Bob at Sayler's Store.

Bun recalls that "I was out of the service, back home, and looking for a job. Your daddy put me to work that summer. And then I did some odd jobs for Bob and kept looking for full-time work. And there just wasn't anything around...I was ready to re-enlist when I just asked Bob if he thought enough of my work to hire me full-time. He said he would have to think it over, but he would let me know in a day or two...[then] he told me I had a job. And I never left until he closed the store [in 1982]." He remained a great friend of my parents all their lives, and virtually a member of the Sayler family to the present time.

Bun worked twenty-five years for Uncle Bob, taking care of farm machinery and lawn mower repairs, hauling feed out to farmers' trucks, and doing whatever else needed to be done. He married his wife, Betty, and together they built a family with Cathy, Connie, Carolyn, Mike, Sandy, Steve, and Doug. They lived, as Bun does now, in Rocky Ridge. Like many men in the area, he joined the Rocky Ridge Volunteer Fire Company in 1972. He was elected treasurer in 1977, and still "does a terrific job" in that capacity, according to Dennis Mathias, a fire company officer.

Though he doesn't answer fire calls, he helps in many other activities--Ridgefest and butchering in the fall, the summer carnival, and bingo year 'round. Secretary Paulette Mathias' records show that he was honored by the fire company in 1990 with their Charles Mumma Award for outstanding volunteer service. In 2005 Bun was named to the Frederick County Volunteer Firemen's Association's Hall of Fame.

The 1980's were not kind to Bun. His eldest son Mike, "my baseball player," was killed in a car accident within months of graduating from high school and beginning college. Betty Wivell was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Many of their friends helped Bun take Betty to her cancer treatments. Since her passing in 1984, Bun has made a practice of returning that kindness to others, driving people not just to Frederick but to Baltimore and Washington for treatment of their serious illnesses. His supervisor and friend Jim Grinder says that Bun is "always willing to take people who need rides," and he often spends his day off engaged in that good work.

Folk wisdom tells us that things--usually sad things--happen in threes. Bun's third great loss came in 2000, when his youngest son Doug drowned in a kayaking accident. When the worst of his grief was over , Bun decided to create a memorial to both his boys that would benefit young local athletes.

That was the start of the Michael L. and Douglas A. Wivell Memorial Walk. "It was strictly my idea, not the kids'," although his daughters do a great deal to manage each year's event. Donations from sponsors and other supporters, and registration fees for the walk itself have generated a fund that donates to individual athletes and groups.

Bun works with the Catoctin Sports Boosters and Catoctin Youth Association to identify students who need financial aid. Mike Valentine of the Sports Boosters says that the fund has paid for equipment, "but what he [Bun] really wants to do is support the students with their direct needs...[and] he's there at the games."

Both Valentine and Tom Sherald, Catoctin's athletic director, agree that he is not only a big donor to Catoctin athletics but one of their most loyal fans, and not just for the sports his sons played. "He's just a fine man...who doesn't flaunt his generosity," declares Sherald. This year at the Catoctin graduation, Bun received the Community Citizen Award from the boosters, a honor paid to someone who gives time or financial assistance for students.

At an age when most men have retired, Bun still works three days a week as a driver for the Daughters of Charity. He tinkers with lawn mowers for his friends and acquaintances. "I like to stay busy, and I just like what I'm doing." As for the games he attends, sometimes three or four nights a week this fall, "I just can't make 'em all!" He and daughter Carolyn are busy planning for the tenth Wivell Memorial Walk, which will be held in June 2010. They hope to make it a really special event for the Emmitsburg and Thurmont communities.

Bun's brother Sam said this summer that "my brother Bun really is an unsung hero" for all the help he has given to student athletes since the first walk was held. To that statement, I and many others say "Amen."