Look at your hand and count your fingers.
If you’re fortunate, five is the number of good friends — ones who won’t leave your side regardless of the circumstances — you will have in a lifetime.
Last week, Middletown Municipal Court Judge Mark W. Wall, 70, died in his home and his longtime friend Carl Bergman feels like he lost a finger.
“I’m down one good friend,” Bergman said at Wall’s funeral Thursday morning at Holy Family Parish-Holy Trinity Church.
When Bergman was told of Wall’s passing, he broke down. As people age — as they attend more funerals and fewer weddings — their emotions get closer to the surface, he said.
No one could blame Bergman, or anyone else who knew Wall, for shedding tears.
Arguably the most powerful man in Middletown, Wall left a legacy that will be hard to replace. The man had a large shadow, and it had nothing to do with the size of his robe.
He served as municipal court judge for 23 years, and ran three times unopposed. He ran his courtroom with the firmness of a U.S. Army veteran, and with the fairness of a grandfather. He locked up thousands of criminals, but he treated them with the same respect he did his fellow judges.
“He saw the person, not the crime,” said Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins during a eulogy at Wall’s funeral. He added that Middletown had lost “one of its brothers.”
Ironically, Middletown nearly lost Wall several times, years before he was appointed municipal court judge in 1994 by then-Gov. George Voinovich.
Which brings us back to Bergman, one of the four men tasked with delivering Wall’s eulogy. If you really want to know a person, sit in a church and listen to the eulogies.
Bergman let us see a different side of the man we called Judge Wall, or Your Honor.
The two met as freshmen at Miami University, what Bergman called the “adventurous years” and “character building years for a couple of characters.”
He hesitated, he said, to share some of the details of their escapades with a church full of law enforcement officers, sheriff deputies and judges staring back.
Judge Wall’s career at Miami was a “string of misfortunes,” Bergman said. The two lived across the hall from each other at Dennison Hall and became “fast friends,” he said.
He was there when Wall, then a freshman, didn’t feel well and went to the college infirmary, a place that only diagnosed mononucleosis, he said. Wall had a pancreatic attack and took a cab to a Hamilton hospital, but en route, his appendix burst.
The next year, while Bergman never was told the complete story, he said Wall was involved in a train accident and his head went through his car’s windshield. He spent the next year visiting a plastic surgeon repairing the damage.
About the time his face healed, Wall and a friend were “at the wrong place at the wrong time” and the friend got shot. Wall stepped in to keep his friend from getting shot again and he fought a guy who just got out of the military and was a professional fighter.
Wall didn’t have a chance.
More facial damage.
“But he saved his friend’s life,” Bergman said.
There were two other near death experiences: Wall drove his car into a building in downtown Cleveland after falling asleep at the wheel and ran into a snowplow on Interstate 75 near Evendale.
Through it all, Wall never complained.
“He just seemed to carry on,” Bergman said.
Wall and Bergman weren’t interested in the Greek life at Miami so they moved uptown, became bartenders at the Boar’s Head and joined “Tappa Kegga Day,” Bergman said as laughter filled the church.
Another time, they went to Cincinnati, had a few beers in a neighborhood bar and Wall, always the talker, struck up a conversation with a patron who was “18 sheets to the wind,” Bergman said.
Wall asked the guy at the bar if he recognized his buddy Bergman. The guy put down his mug of beer and said he had never seen the guy before.
“Surely you recognize him,” Wall said. “He was in a movie.”
Wall thought he may have the guy convinced, so he continued with the story. He said his buddy was in “Godzilla” and he asked the guy if he remembered the little boy running down the hill yelling, “Godzilla is alive! Godzilla is alive!”
Then he dropped the hock.
“That’s him,” Wall said, pointing to Bergman.
For the next few minutes, Bergman tried to play out his role as a white man who starred in a Japanese horror film.
He cherishes those stories more than he did before Wall died. It’s painful losing a finger — and a friend.
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