When it comes to newspaper obituaries, I’m a connoisseur.

The “obits page” forms one of the most-read parts of a paper. It is one of the first things I turn to. Even if I don’t know any of the departed, I find their life stories interesting.

For decades, most obituaries were as dull as ditch water. Then, about 30 years ago, newspapers started charging for obits. When that happened, we in the newspaper biz endured some terrible attacks from outraged funeral home directors who were forced to charge their customers more money.

But overnight, it seemed, life began to appear on the obits page. For the first time, families could decide for themselves how long their loved one’s obit would be, what would be included in it, and how colorful and creative the writing would be. Many masterpieces have followed.

For instance, I keep rereading the one for Michael Lee “Wop” Ingargiola, 62, of Cayuga, Ind., which ran in the Commercial-News in mid-May. Whoever wrote it captured his endearing, free-wheeling personality in a marvelous way. I never knew the bearded, long-haired, smiling guy in the photo, but somehow, he seems like a friend.

“Mike was a man who was so cool he had to be defrosted twice a day, and his foo-foo had to be perfectly fluffed,” the obit reads. “His love for life, for helping people, and for the love of his life, Nan, will never be forgotten.”

Most obits, even now, are rather stale and routine. They give the person’s birth date, survivors’ names and a little about his career. If he served in the Army, they note that. They might mention a membership or two. That’s it.

But Wop’s tells a story. From it, we learn:

He was one of 12 children, and left a wife, children, grandchildren, 10 siblings, a boatload of friends, and “his three dogs, T-Bone, Bear and Cocoa.”

Through the years, Wop worked as a handyman, cleaned carpets, ran a bar, did roofing, had a karaoke business, and worked for a beer distributor.

He was an artist, too. He played guitar in several bands, and was a former member of the musicians’ local.

A devoted Harley-Davidson motorcycle owner, Mike was active in the Heart for Life Benefit Ride ever since he founded it in 2006. He was active in the American Legion, and in A.B.A.T.E., the motorcycle safety and education organization.

Wop was 20 when he married Nan. Clearly, they were meant for each other; both are seen smiling broadly in his obituary photo.

“Nan spent almost 50 years trying to get Mike to come out of his shell,” the obit says with a wink and a grin. “He was known for his sense of humor and his big, contagious smile. And his words, ‘Grrrrr! That’s niiiiice!’”

Mike Ingargiola is gone, but surely his joyous spirit is in the clouds, cruising down a country lane on a gorgeous, tricked-out hawg. Rockin’ guitar licks fill the air … and Wop is saying, “Grrrrr! That’s niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!”

Nice obit, too.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at irishhiker@aol.com.

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