There is a hole in the heart of Switzerland County.
Each day people pass from this life; but rarely do two people, in the prime of their lives ahead of them and the future of the community in front of them leave us within days of each other.
Last week, Travis Griffith, age 46; and Kirk Works, age 53, passed away, and this community mourns.
Travis passed away on Sunday afternoon, March 4th. To say that he was a teacher at Switzerland County Elementary School only tells a fraction of his story. To choose a career in teaching is to choose that you won’t be rich with money, but you will be rich with the knowledge of the young lives that you mold and impact. Travis did that. He wasn’t just a teacher, but he was a mentor, a friend, and a guiding force that not only told children that they could be whatever they dreamed of being; but he also showed them.
If his profession was teaching, his passion was music. From church services to performances with his band, to simply sitting in his home, music was not so much a part of what Travis did, but more of who he was. Not only did he share that love of music with his audience, but he also shared it with his family and his children. Music has the ability to evoke a wide range of memories and emotions, and the song that formed the life of Travis Griffith will ring through this community for years to come.
But teaching and music — as important as they were —did not hold the same place in Travis’ heart as his family. Wife, Amy; and children Trayton, Kinsley, Analyse, and Kendall formed the core around which Travis chose to wind his life. He leaves them and this community a better understanding of what it means to be a loving member of the family and the community.
Kirk passed away just three days later, on Wednesday, March 7th.
It’s easy to hear the name Kirk Works and immediately default your thoughts to the Swiss Wine Festival, and we’ll get to that in a moment.
But Kirk was so much more than that. He was a man of vision, and he was a man who loved this community. He served on the Vevay Town Council, a position that opens you up to all sorts of criticism and very little praise. You take those positions because you make a decision that the public good is worth more than the noise; and not only did Kirk take that on, but he also served on the Vevay Park Board, helping the continuation of the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park to its present state as a truly beautiful entry point to the community and the county.
When the Swiss Wine Festival ended in 1994, there was real doubt about its future. The festival has to protect itself by having liability insurance for the people who attend, and that insurance can be very, very expensive. With few options available, the Vevay-Switzerland County Lions Club stepped forward, because the club has liability coverage from its international organization for events it sponsors. Few in the club knew about how to run a festival; but Kirk took on the challenge, accepting the position of leading the festival — a position that he continued to hold until the time of his death.
But to say that Kirk simply led the festival would be like saying we got some rain showers a few weeks back. He took control of the current festival, but also began to form a vision for what the festival could be — moving it from Main Street to the riverfront — and in doing so, began to formulate what is now arguably the premiere community festival in the entire state.
Kirk’s passion was the festival, not for the accolades that it brought to him, and there were many, but for the attention that it brought to his home county. When people all over the state met Kirk, they associated him with this community and the level of excellence that has been attained along the riverfront.
On a very personal level, Kirk gave me one of the great thrills of my life when he spearheaded the movement to bring the Budweiser Clydesdales here. Standing in the middle of Main Street on parade day and seeing them coming east still gives me chills to think about.
Kirk also loved his family: parents Tommy and Rita; brother Kent and sister Kendra — with all of his heart and soul.
Along with a love of this community, Travis and Kirk also shared something more ominous — both battled cancer. Cancer is the great plague upon our society, and if Kirk and Travis left us with any sort of legacy, it should be to commit ourselves to doing what we can to help eradicate this disease.
We have schools filled with students who can dedicate themselves to raising money and finding ways to support not only research, but also on a personal level for those in this county who are still involved in the struggle. It was Travis’ goal to motivate his students to reach higher and farther; and I believe that developing an ongoing school corporation program that fosters that spirit and hope is a fitting way to honor him and his fight.
I think it would be fitting for there to be some element of the Swiss Wine Festival moving forward that raises both funds and attention to the fight. I believe we can use the platform that Kirk worked so hard to create to truly make a difference in the lives of those he left behind. If a dollar from each entry ticket got targeted to cancer research and awareness, what would that look like over a year? Five years? A decade?
Our community has been staggered by the loss of these two young men, but we haven’t been knocked down. The torch that they carried is now ours to bear.
It should be the goal of this community to continue to move forward.