“Across the years, I will walk with you
In deep great forests, on shores of sand
And when our time on earth is through
In heaven, too, you will have my hand.” – “The Promise,” by Robert Sexton
By Jim Hague
Over the last 17 years that I’ve written the sports for The Observer, I’ve written about countless sports figures and personalities. Between Athletes of the Week and other features, I’ve written more than 2,600 stories in these editions and missed only one week due to a hospital stay.
This week, I’m writing one about someone who wasn’t necessary an athlete, but was a sportsman in his own right and more importantly, he was my neighbor and close friend.
Ed Bixler passed away last week after a brief battle with cancer. And he’s someone who deserves a tribute for all he did for so many people _ including yours truly _ for the entire eight decades he lived on this planet, all of which was spent in his native Kearny.
Ed was a sportsman, an avid hunter and fisherman. In recent years, with the help of some of his friends, Ed learned how to become a fly fisherman _ and was so very proud to show off the skills he learned about the sport, even to a guy who was a Jersey City boy and the only fish he knew about were the ones in the fish market on Danforth Avenue near his childhood home.
Ed wasn’t the biggest sports fan in the world, but he avidly read the pages of his hometown paper, including the ones written by the opinionated guy who lived across the street from Ed and his wonderful wife Peg on West Bennett Avenue for the last 24 years.
You see, Ed Bixler was my neighbor, but he and Peg redefined the word “neighbor,” because he was so much more than that.
He was like a surrogate father, a guidance teacher, a mentor, a caretaker.
When I fell ill with a disabling neurological disease a little more than four years ago, falling down in front of my home with the speed of Secretariat that summer, Ed and Peg were there for me and my wife every single step of the way.
Mary was deathly afraid that the neuropathy that caused me to fall repeatedly and zapped me of all leg strength was going to be permanent and that I would need constant care at a nursing facility, far longer than the month or so I spent at Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation in West Orange.
My wife was certain that I was headed for permanent residence in a nursing home. It was a terrifying time for the two of us.
But true to the word of being a caring neighbor, both Ed and Peg saw that we were to need nothing. Plenty a night, a hot meal was sent across the street to Mary and then the both of us when I returned home from Kessler.
Whenever snow fell, the Bixlers were the first to be outside my home shoveling away, despite their advanced age, because they wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going out in the snow to shovel.
When it came time to put the trash cans out on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Bixlers were the first ones to take our cans and drag them to the curb, then bring them back up from the curb later on.
When unexpected doctor visits popped up, Ed was the first to offer a ride to and from. There were times that I had a tough time fitting in Ed’s car, so he jumped behind the wheel of my car to drive me to the doctor _ and then sit outside and wait for the visit to end.
When there were extended visits away from our home, the Bixlers collected our mail and newspapers until we returned.
They also religiously looked over our home like they were part of an organized neighborhood watch program.
I know for a fact that we were not alone, that Ed and Peg looked after several neighbors in the Manor section of Kearny, where they resided for the last 50 years.
Ed Bixler was a fixture in his hometown. He was a realtor for the family business, E.H. Bixler and Sons on Kearny Avenue, before retiring a few years ago and turning the business solely over to his nephews, Scott and Tim.
Ed Bixler was an educated man, a proud graduate of Colgate University, earning High Honors in securing a degree in economics. A veteran of the United States Air Force, he retired after serving 14 years in the Air Force Reserve, leaving the military with the fan of captain.
He returned home to become the third generation to work for E.H. Bixler and Sons, which has operated in Kearny since 1891.
After meeting his future wife Peg, a retired schoolteacher in Kearny after working for 55 years in the Kearny school system, in 1957, their courtship was brief.
“I met him in October and we were engaged in December,” Peg Bixler recalled last Saturday, just two days after Ed passed away. “He said right away that I would like to get married.”
So they got married in 1958 and rarely spent a day apart.
“He was respectful and kind and always considerate,” Peg Bixler said. “We didn’t have many bumps in the road.”
Ed Bixler was also extremely active in his hometown. He was a minister at the First Presbyterian Church on Kearny Avenue and was still instrumental in the church right until his passing.
“We were always very active in the church,” Peg Bixler said. “We held offices in the church and went to church together every Sunday.”
Ed Bixler founded the Key Club at Kearny High School. He was a past president of the Kearny Optimist Club and was active in that organization. He was an active member of the Masonic Temple in town. He was active in Boy Scouts and was an Eagle Scout.
“He was very proud of that,” Peg Bixler said of Ed’s involvement in scouting.
Since he was young, Ed was an avid gardener and in recent years, he and Peg were instrumental in the Kearny Community Garden on Passaic Avenue, a location that should now bear his name in perpetuity. It would only be fitting if the location was renamed the Edward C. Bixler Memorial Community Garden.
Peg Bixler was asked how she would best remember her husband.
“He was just right for me,” she said. “That’s it. When I retired, at my dinner, they played ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ for me. Well, that’s how he was. He let me take the accolades. He never once wanted the attention.”
Ed Bixler gave his wife a plaque with the aforementioned poem, “The Promise,” some years ago. The poem sat in the Bixler’s living room as a constant reminder of how close the two were.
Peg said she will honor her husband by making sure the bird feeders in their yard are filled, because Ed loved feeding the birds and watching them.
“I’ll try to honor all the things he did, but it won’t be easy,” Peg Bixler said. “He was just a wonderful man, a wonderful husband.”
His nephew, Tom Bixler, found an easy way to describe his uncle.
“He was a gentle man who was a gentleman,” Tom Bixler said. “End of story.”
And he was the perfect neighbor, one who will never have peers in that category. Ed Bixler was so good to me and my wife that a few words in these pages could never repay the amount of gratitude that we have.
So this week, the column isn’t about a sports figure in the truest sense, just a sportsman, a neighbor, a friend who will be so sorely missed by me and hundreds of other locals who were blessed to know him.
Ed Bixler will be remembered Friday at the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive in Kearny from 2-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. There will be a Masonic service at 8 p.m. The funeral services for Ed will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington on Kearny Avenue.
The late Edward Bixler (right) is shown here with his wife of 60 years, Peg, a retired Kearny schoolteacher. Ed Bixler died last week after a brief battle with cancer. He was 85. Photo courtesy of Tom Bixler