KC Star reporter Mike Hendricks had a Page One story in today’s paper that I’ll bet was the best read story in the paper.
It was the story of the late Ronnie Deffenbaugh’s $14 million (asking price), palatial residence, across the street from the Johnson County Landfill, which Deffenbaugh once owned and which holds the trash collected by those ubiquitous Deffenbaugh trucks we see throughout the Metro area.
…I know Hendricks’ story was well read because 1) our daughter, a rare, 26-year-old newspaper devotee, read it, and 2) when I was at McDonald’s at 79th and State Line this morning, a group of about five senior citizens was huddled around a woman who was reading the story aloud.
I haven’t seen a clutch of people gathered around a newspaper in years. So, Mike, congratulations — you had Kansas City turning the pages of the print edition today and going to the Website.
Oddly, Hendricks’ story ” “Trash titan’s home is for sale” — wasn’t the lead story in the paper. That honor went to Laura Bauer’s “Love conquers all” story, about Terri LaManno, one of three people shot to death last year outside Village Shalom and the Jewish Community Center.
As tragic and gripping as the LaManno story is, the Deffenbaugh story is more intriguing to me.
I mean, here’s a guy — Deffenbaugh — who, after being almost completely paralyzed as the result of a hospital mishap, built a 13,000-square-foot mansion, outfitted it with custom-made furniture and had waterfalls, fountains, an indoor-outdoor swimming pool and horse stables constructed outside. Plus, a 40,000-square-foot garage for his sports cars and antique fire engines.
Deffenbaugh got to enjoy the estate for only a few years. Work began in 2010, three years after Deffenbaugh fell off an X-ray table at Shawnee Mission Medical Center and broke his neck. He died last August at age 73.
In addition — according to Hendricks — “it as just him, and his staff” in the house. Twice divorced, Deffenbaugh had no partner or spouse for the last years of his life, although he did have children and grandchildren.
I’m sure this story prompted a lot of people besides me to think and reflect on Deffenbaugh and his end-of-life decisions. Why would he choose to spend millions on a humongous house and exquisite furnishings when he knew — had to — that he didn’t have long to live?
I guess he might have done it simply because he could…or maybe he wanted to go out in style. Perhaps he envisioned a front-page story that would supersede an obituary of any length. (His was longer than this post.)
But my first and persistent thought is that Ronnie might have been a lot better off arranging entry to the Jeanne Jugan Center, operated by the Little Sisters of the Poor at 87th and James A. Reed Road.
Instead of surrounding himself with luxury that he couldn’t fully appreciate, he could have had an airy room with lots of natural light, where he would have gotten great care and plenty of time to reflect and prepare for a happy death.
(I visited former State Sen. Harry Wiggins at the Jugan Center a few weeks before he died of cancer in 2004, and he was ensconced in an atmosphere of tenderness and serenity.)
…Now, I’m not saying Ronnie Deffenbaugh didn’t have great care or that he didn’t have a happy death. I truly hope he had both.
I’m just saying if it was me, and if I had all that money and had been almost completely paralyzed, I wouldn’t be spending millions on buildings and landscaping…I would just want to be in my comfortable ranch house, with my wife, daughter and maybe my son (if he wasn’t too busy) holding my hand and assuring me that God would forgive me my many trespasses and that, with luck, I would find peace and eternal happiness on the other side.