Batteries Not Included

Dave Lovewell

Dave Lovewell was a man of few words, but, perhaps owing to a genetic gift handed down from his grandfather, they were always precisely the right words.

The first time I saw Dave I wasn’t aware of who he was, and some part of the story of his origin remains a mystery to me to this day.  When I attended the Lovewell/Davis family reunion at Lovewell State Park in 2007, his aunt Rhoda asked me, “Have you met Dave? He’s the one with the hair.”  I hadn’t, and it took me a while to spot the ruddy-faced man who could be distinguished from other attendees because of the long sprigs of hair that splayed across his shoulders from beneath a cap emblazoned with I took to be a logo associated with trucks or farm equipment.  He seemed to be a youngish sixty, with a round face and great, knotted cheekbones which, where I live, usually suggest some Cherokee ancestry, although, in Dave’s case, they offer solid evidence that he was a descendant of Thomas Lovewell.  However, I had not yet seen a genuine photograph of the Kansas pioneer in his prime, and thus took no note of any family resemblance.

I missed a couple of family gatherings and did not get around to having that chat with Dave until the spring of 2013, right after giving a talk about a couple of historical photographs which had turned up, one that almost certainly depicts Thomas Lovewell at the age of 59, situated among fellow G.A.R. members at Republic, Kansas, and another which I believe stands a good chance of showing him at 35, posing behind fabled Pikes Peak promoter and accused con-artist Daniel Chessman Oakes.  After I took my seat, a man sidled over whom I did not at first recognize as Dave.  His shaggy locks had been shorn and he was dressed like a businessman.  Easing into a chair immediately across the table from me, he teasingly announced, “You make my great-grandpa sound like Forrest Gump.”  

He had a point.  I had been on the trail of Thomas Lovewell for only a few years, idly poking about here and there, though it had already begun to occur to me that wherever I poked, he seemed to turn up.  I hadn’t even been looking for pictures of Thomas when I came across those two group photos where he seemed to be peering at me from the margins.  I did wonder for one second whether Dave had left out a “great” when describing his place in the family tree, but soon realized that he hadn’t.  Dave was indeed the great-grandson of Thomas Lovewell, being the grandson of Thomas’s son Stephen, a man described by family chronicler Gloria Lovewell as, “good at making speeches and would do so whenever called upon.  His style was similar to that of Will Rogers.  He was quite a wit and spoke to many appreciative audiences through the years.”  

I began tending this website a few months after my first talk with Dave, and he became not only one of its most faithful followers, but a valuable contributor.  Among the most important clues he dug up was his great-grandfather’s various bids to establish mail routes in Marshall County before the Civil War.  In addition to such bits of information gleaned from patient searches of the Internet, Dave helped to fill out the family story with details he had learned from eyewitnesses.  Born in 1945 to Mary Lovewell Hurd, Stephen Lovewell’s daughter with his second wife, Alta Kershner Mann, Dave grew up in his grandparents’ home, absorbing bits of family lore that have never appeared in print, such as one he shared about Thomas Lovewell’s widow Orel Jane.  “Stephen’s new wife Alta told me that the fence around their farmyard was built to contain Orel who  was prone to run  away in her last days which she spent with them.  She told me Orel was pretty small and  when she  had to go catch her  she could carry her back in a bushel basket.”

Not only did Dave grow up in the household of a man born in 1874, but as the health of Stephen’s older brother Simpson Grant Lovewell went into a final decline, seven-year-old Dave was taken for a visit.  Dave's grand-uncle Simpson Grant was born in January of 1869 at Clifton, where his mother had taken refuge after White Rock was beset by a series of attacks by Cheyenne Dog Soldiers.  Simpson Grant Lovewell may not have given young Dave any insights into such pioneer matters, but it’s easy to imagine some symbolism in the gift bestowed by the dying man - an ancient flashlight in need of fresh batteries and a new bulb.  Even though the flashlight didn’t work, Dave was impressed enough by the gesture that he remembered it vividly over 60 years later. 

After being shipped home from Vietnam with a Purple Heart, Dave completed his education at Kearney State College, where he studied history and political science.  Military service was regarded far differently back then than it is today.  About a year after Dave received his discharge papers, I enrolled at KU, where I took Army R.O.T.C. training.  While still in uniform following an afternoon of drill, I was sometimes greeted with shouts of “baby-killer” as I approached my dorm, even though I wasn’t actually a soldier, and would never fire my single-shot, bolt-action M1 at anything other than a paper target.

If Dave had a similar experience, he did not mention it to me.  In fact, while obviously proud of being a Marine, Dave may have felt that the pendulum had swung too far in the other direction in recent years.  

“It seems to be in vogue these days to tell service men active and former, thank you for your service.  When someone tells me that, my usual response is, you are welcome, but I was paid for that.  In fact I am still being paid for it.  Most of (my) ailments have been determined by the VA to be service connected and thus a grateful nation sees fit to pay me more each month than I was paid for the whole time I spent in a combat Zone.”  It’s clear that Dave was allergic to baloney.  If someone asked how he was doing, he assumed they really wanted to know, and gave them the sobering truth, though he did so gently.  For a man nearly 70 years old with arthritis, diabetes, “ischemic heart disease, braces on both legs and one bad shoulder,” he would declare himself to be, “pretty damn good.”

In addition to his dry humor, Dave had another quality in common with Will Rogers.  He was not a member of any organized political party, being a Democrat.  It was perhaps to be expected, since his favorite Bible verse was Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Knowing that the odds against him were long, Dave nonetheless put up a spirited fight with lymphoma until he was forced to withdraw from the field a few weeks ago.  I’m grateful to have had a running correspondence with him the last few years, and also glad to have met his wife Donna and daughter Mandy at the 2015 reunion.  They struck me as a well-matched bunch.  His other family, the Marines, will drop by to see him off on December 3rd.

His life may have come up a decade or so too short, but, he made the most of what there was.  Nicely done, Dave. 

© Dale Switzer 2016  dale@lovewellhistory.com