Archive for Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Shouts and Murmurs: Local man leaves legacy of friends

August 16, 2006

I went to David Welton's funeral without Kleenexes.

It had probably been 20 years since I'd seen him, and he and I had been mere acquaintances.

But he was part of my childhood memories, a peaceful, smiling man whose mother, Marge Welton, stayed close to his side at our family Thanksgiving dinners and other events.

David was developmentally disabled, born in 1934, at a time when it was common for children like him to be institutionalized. However, his parents, Marge and Robert Welton, refused to send their son to be raised by strangers. Instead, they kept him at home and educated him themselves. David's father died in 1959, and Marge died in 2000.

Because David, who died at age 72, was the last of his family, it seemed likely to me that people might not attend his service. So I went, primarily out of a sense of fondness for his late mother, a former neighbor who long ago taught me to crochet.

To my surprise, David's friends half-filled the church. Of those present, there appeared to be a couple dozen Tonganoxie residents. The rest, as it turned out, were those who knew David from Community Living Opportunities in Lawrence, where David had lived the last 15 years.

As I soon would learn, the David I had remembered was only a glimmer of the David whom those who lived with or cared for him, knew.

Within minutes after the service started, a new and greater-encompassing picture of David began to emerge.

Ivo Ivanov, of CLO, had known David for about 17 years.

Speaking from the pulpit, Ivanov talked about how life had started out unfair to David, "From the moment he opened his eyes, David was told by his own destiny that he is to never have his own children, go to college, have a career, throw a touchdown pass or play the piano."

As the others who spoke at David's service noted, Ivanov said David had a passion for classical music, bow ties and bolo ties, old-fashioned hats, children and small animals.

And, as Ivanov said, David was a "gentle soul" whose peaceful personality seemed to have a positive effect on everyone around him.

"David's greatest accomplishment is that he went through life making so many friends and not one single enemy," Ivanov said. "How many of us can say the same? His path was never polluted by empty ambitions, envy and greed. His closet was always wide open and there was never a single skeleton in it. Look all you want -- all you'll ever find are beautiful old hats and colorful bow ties."

Ivanov spoke of David's incredible memory.

"I would tell him the name of any president and he would immediately answer with the corresponding vice president," Ivanov said. "Amazingly, he also knew every world and state capital and could identify any piece of classical music in about 10 seconds."

And, David, who read a newspaper every day, kept up with current events.

"Dave was very aware of the world surrounding him," Ivanov said. "Back during the 1996 election every time he saw Bob Dole on television he would proclaim: "Bob Dole -- a Republican from Kansas!"

And David, even when he lived in Lawrence, loved Tonganoxie. Ivanov used to drive him to Tonganoxie to visit his mother, at home, and later, when she lived in the nursing center.

Each time David's reaction was the same, Ivanov recalled, "About two miles short of the city limits he would recognize the landscape and say the exact same thing: "Tonganoxie, it's my neck of the woods!"

The past several years, life dealt David a blow. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, as well as dementia.

When, two days before his death, he was admitted to the hospital, the staff of CLO and David's roommates, Roy Walker and Terry Truehe, kept vigil.

Ivanov said there were 17 past and present CLO staff members at the hospital room on Aug. 6, the day David died. And at his funeral there were 31 past and present staff members.

Among those was Kalli Sanders.

"He and I used to warble Cole Porter songs to each other as I helped him get ready for bed at night," Sanders recalled of her work with David.

When David was in the hospital, Sanders volunteered to stay in his room so he wouldn't be alone at night.

"I brought a radio, my Cole Porter CD, some lavender lotion to rub on his head, back, and hands, and just had the opportunity to talk to him and tell him how much we all loved him and how many smiles he had brought to so many people over the years," Sanders said. "I slept (for an hour or so) in a chair next to his bed, with my pillow next to his, and held his hand. I went back on Saturday night and did the same thing."

Sanders recalled David's last breath.

"David opened his eyes wide and looked out into the distance very intently, and then peacefully left us," Sanders said.

He left this world surrounded by friends.

"I was holding his hand," Sanders said. "Another person was stroking his head and telling him goodbye, someone else was rubbing his feet, and another person was telling him it was okay to go and see his mom."

By the time Sanders finished speaking, I was digging in my purse, looking for the Kleenexes I should have brought.

I left David Welton's service knowing him far better in death than I ever had known him in life. It was my loss.

And it is with gratitude to Ivanov and Sanders for allowing their comments to be used in The Mirror that I conclude with Ivanov's words:

"And a little bit of each and every one of us left the room forever along with that precious last breath," Ivanov said. "Where David once was there is now an empty space -- a space that will never be filled. ... At the end, I realized that this quiet, frail man had even succeeded in changing the face of his destiny. ... At the end I realized that David did have a career, he did leave a legacy and looking at all those teary eyes around I also realized that he did have many, many children.

"He wrote his own beautiful story. His own happy end. Where he is now they always play Tchaikovsky and his loving parents no longer wait.

"David was a happy man, but he is even happier now ... only there is one less angel among us."

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