This blog is going to take some time to do. It is going to cost me emotionally. By the time this is in the paper, it will be old news, as I write these blogs the week before they appear.
David Kemm died last week. If you have lived in Marshall for any amount of time and did not know David, then you weren’t paying attention.
I moved to Marshall in 1988. The first phone call I got from outside of work was from Bob VanDyke, welcoming me to town. The second was from Richard Pemberton, asking if I wanted to join Kiwanis. The third was from David Kemm. He asked me how I liked Marshall and said he was glad I was here to help the disadvantaged at the Marshall Habilitation Center. Then, he asked if I could pick him up and take him to Walmart. I did, and that began a long and interesting friendship. It certainly had its ups and downs. David could pester people. Let’s just put that out there and deal with it. For most of the time that I knew him, David had no car. He also had pain in his body. Walking everywhere was probably good for him, but it also cost him. I remember a short time where he had his mother’s car, as well as her dog. That must have been glorious for him. It did not last long.
David loved people, but he had a lack of social skills. He could come off as abrasive, but the reality was that he did not have much of a filter. He tended to say what he felt at the time. He told me of his love for Marshall. He told me that we had the best mayor (Connie Latimer) ever and best police chief (Mike Donnell) ever, and he meant it. He loved those two people and was so appreciative of their time and energy.
You see, David liked people who did things for Marshall. That was David’s purpose in life. He was involved in a lot of projects; some of them were spectacular failures. I have no idea how many projects he was involved with, but I do know of two. One was over a period of time when he got trees from the Missouri Conservation Department or some subsidiary of it. He planted trees everywhere he could. That stopped after a few years, but his trees are still there. I know where a few are planted to this day.
David’s premier accomplishment, and something that everyone associated with him, will always remember him for was his annual “Take Pride in Marshall” day. Talk about pestering. I would get daily calls asking me to go get meat for the party he would hold after the clean up was completed. I would get calls asking me to help him deliver fliers and pick up cakes and drop off something or another. I was not alone. He pestered the mayor, the chief, his cousin, and anyone else he could get to help him.
Looking back on it, I am amazed at what he did. This guy, who had no car, who had been asked to leave some establishments in town, who people would ignore when they saw him walking on the street; this guy did amazing things. He had that citywide clean up day for over 30 years. He had food and prizes for his volunteers at the city park in the years that I helped him. If you ever wanted to see David Kemm genuinely smile, all you had to do was go to one of the after parties.
There were years when the weather was bad. There were years when he was counting on a civic group that had promised to come and didn’t show up. There were years when David could barely walk. I did not help every year. I helped for five or six of them. Then like many other people, I felt that I had donated my David Kemm time and would not help as much in later years.
There were times when I took David home after council meetings. He would invite me in and show me some of the items he had collected as prizes for the event. He would show me his fliers, and then on rare occasions, he would bring out his coin collection.
David was like all of us in many ways. He liked company and people, but he didn’t always show appreciation immediately. He loved his community and always wanted for it to be better, and he never stopped doing so.
I remember when my mother moved to town. He went to her house a few days after she moved here and introduced himself. He knew that she was my mom and wanted her to feel welcome. They talked for a bit and discovered that they had the same birthday. He never forgot to wish her a happy birthday. Mom didn’t know how to take David at first. He would show up with a handmade birthday card and stay for a bit. He would show up out of the blue and talk with her. She would get the pleasure of multiple phone calls from him. One day she asked him to quit calling, and he stopped calling. A few months later, we were at her house for her birthday and she told me that David had not been by to wish her a happy birthday. She was surprised, then she recalled that she had asked him to quit calling. When we left the house that evening, there was a handmade card taped to her door, wishing her a happy birthday. Mom got his number from me, called him and thanked him and told him he could call her again whenever he liked. They were friends until mom got ill. That was David; you took him for granted while he was here, and you missed him when you realized he wasn’t around.
David had some faults; most not of his own doing. He had some great qualities, as well. If David was able to overcome his problems to make this a better community; then what is our excuse? We can all do a lot better for our families and communities, and David showed us the way.
By now, he has been laid to rest and he had a first class ride to his final destination. David, in your own way, you were great! The community will miss you immensely. I will miss my old friend, and I want you to know that I am proud to have known you and that I love you.