We have gathered here today to mourn the loss, but also to celebrate the life of Don Stevens. When we gather together with family and friends to say goodbye to someone we love, we face a swirl of emotions. There is sadness that we will no longer be able to go and talk to the one we love. In this life we can’t go back and visit Don, the loving father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend. At the same time, we smile as we recall the stories of a life well-lived. Ultimately today, we can draw comfort from the truth we find in the Bible.
The apostle Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth that this life is not all there is.
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. (2 Corinthians 5:1, NLT)
We can stand here today with confidence that for the person who has faith in Jesus Christ when they die they have a house in heaven, and enjoy an eternal body made by God himself. We cling to the truth of God’s promise that if we trust in Jesus, we too can be guaranteed an eternal home in heaven, where we will one day be reunited with those who have gone before us.
Since we recognize that our comfort comes from the Lord today, will you pray with me?
Our Father, we come today with hearts heavy with the realization that we will not see Don again in this life. At the same time, we are hopeful because of your promise that there is life beyond the grave. Today we ask for your comfort as we grieve. Bring to mind the many fond memories we have of Don, and make us ever aware of your presence and the reality of eternal life with you. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Donald Clyde Stevens was born August 26, 1924 in LaHarpe; the son of Clyde and Addie Helmers Stevens. He joined the Navy shortly after high school and was stationed on the SS James Eagan Layne during World War II. He was on the ship when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1945. Thankfully he and the others on board survived, though the ship eventually sank.
When he returned home from the war on survivor’s leave, he married Mary Jane Boyd on April 27, 1945 in LaHarpe. They had been happily married for 56 years when she preceded him in death on July 15, 2001.
Early in life, Don worked at the Miller Grocery Store in LaHarpe as well as the Little Brothers Hardware Store. He served as the acting Post Master for LaHarpe in 1961. He then worked for the Illinois Dept. Of Transportation, before becoming the LaHarpe Township Road Commissioner, a position he held for 26 years. Don was a member of the LaHarpe American Legion for over 60 years, and served on the LaHarpe Fire Dept. for 25 years. He enjoyed following the local school sport teams. Don was a member of the LaHarpe Union Church.
He passed away at the La Harpe-Davier Health Care Center on Friday, May 16, 2014 at 2:05 AM. He was 89.
Don is survived by three children: Sheila (Richard) Clover of Danville, IN, Todd (Carol) Stevens of LaHarpe, and Kevin Stevens and Debbie Koerner of Chesterfield, MO; nine grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; one great-great-granddaughter; and one brother: John Stevens of Wauwatosa, WI; as well as several nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his wife, parents, brother Charles, and two infant brothers.
For a person like Don Stevens, it is a lot of fun to sit back and reflect on his life and the experiences you shared with him. He was known and loved by so many in our community.
If there is one thing that has stood out to me about Don as I’ve talked to his family, it is just how much he loved each and every one of them. He worked hard to demonstrate that love to each one of them.
Growing up, he would often spend time at the FS station in the evenings talking with the guys. The kids always looked forward to when he came home, because there were many times that he would return home with fudgesicles or ice cream sandwiches. He loved to bring home treats because wanted his kids to know how much he cared. It clearly made an impact on them, because when Todd had kids, he followed much the same pattern, except his girls looked forward to getting a candy bar and a bottle of pop.
Don tried to be supportive of his children’s endeavors. He always made time to attend their sporting events, even making an effort to get to all of Kevin’s football games during his freshman year of college. Once he started having grandkids, Don worked hard to make it to their activities as well. Lesley said there was always comfort in being able to look up into the crowd and see Grandpa there cheering her on. Anyone who ever watched Don watch these events will remember that he always had the biggest grin on his face as he watched those he loved play.
Even when he no longer had family playing in La Harpe, he still loved to attend sporting events and cheer on the local kids. As he got older he even had his own reserved seat in the gym, because they always knew he’d be there. He and Clifford Rich often sat next to each other during the games and talked (or argued) about what was going on.
When he was growing up, Don lived with his Aunt Carrie and Uncle Oscar, and always thought of them much like his own parents. As a result, their children were like cousins to Don’s children. Don liked to keep in touch with his extended family. Most weekends when the kids were younger, they would go for a drive on Sunday afternoons to visit some of the other family that lived in the area.
All of Don’s children and grandchildren can probably share fond memories of riding with him in the road grader or driving the township roads in a truck. He loved being the road commissioner and loved sharing that experience with his family.
When Mary Jane got sick, Don did whatever he could to care for her. He helped out around the house, he ran errands for her, and most of all, he just looked after her. His love for his wife was evident in the way he cared for her as she reached the end of her life.
Don was particular about most everything. He cared about the way he was dressed, the way he smelled (his personal combination of Mennen aftershave and Old Spice), the way things were organized in his house and later on, in his room at the nursing home, and he cared about how his tools were organized and cared for.
The fact that Don was very particular about how things were done served him well as road commissioner. He didn’t do shoddy work on the roads in the township. He would work on a patch of road over and over until it was the way he wanted it. He was concerned about making sure the roads were done right. He took Todd under his wing early on and helped teach him the right way to do things, and that same care is now evident in Todd’s work. Don loved being the road commissioner and took great pride in his work—and it showed.
After Mary Jane died, Don even took pride in his somewhat limited cooking abilities. He may not have been an expert in the kitchen, but he got really good at making both spaghetti (which was his favorite thing to eat) and navy beans. He was proud that he could make those things and loved sharing them with others. I have to think that if Don were on Facebook, his page would be filled with pictures of his grandkids and great-grandkids and his latest batch of navy beans!
Don genuinely cared about the people around him. His standard answer to most people when they asked how he was doing was, “I can’t complain!” About the only person that he did like to complain to was Sheila. Whether she liked it or not, he felt comfortable sharing with her all the concerns that he had.
He worried about his family because he cared for them. He worried about Todd and Carol riding horses (even more so after Todd’s accident), and he probably worried about Kevin and Richard on their motorcycles, though he didn’t really let on about it. He didn’t want to see anything bad happen to those he loved.
Don loved his family, but that love extended even beyond those who shared a bloodline with him. He also loved his children’s and grandchildren’s friends. Many of them thought of Don Stevens as somewhat of a second father figure to them, and even as the years passed, he would ask about these friends because he thought about them often. As he got older, he made time to visit others in the nursing home, and when he moved there, he still made it a point to get around and talk to others as he was able.
Don took great pride in the work he did, but probably his greatest source of pride was his family. He was so proud of his children, and then his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and his great-great-grandchild. He thought so highly of them and loved to be around them. His love for others was contagious. It was hard to spend time with Don and not leave with a smile on your face. That’s the effect that one person’s love can have on others—it makes you want to be around them…it also makes you miss them that much more when they’re gone. For all these reasons and more, Don Stevens will be greatly missed by those who knew and loved him…and were loved by him.
In the Bible, we read a story about when Jesus’ good friend Lazarus died. When he arrived to comfort Lazarus’ family, he reminded them of an important truth, which I think is applicable today. He said to Lazarus’ sister,
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26, NIV)
Jesus reminded Lazarus’ family that for those who trust and believe in him, this life is not all there is. He reminded them that the person who lives a life of faith in Jesus Christ never truly dies, they simply move from life on this earth to life in heaven.
I believe that Don Stevens is in heaven today. I don’t believe this because he was a good man or because he went to church. I believe Don is in heaven because he had a genuine trust in Jesus Christ. He understood that he was a sinful person who needed the forgiveness that was available only through Jesus. As a result, I believe he has now seen Jesus face to face.
The reason I share this now is because I think it is intensely relevant. So many times people think of faith as something of a preference. They believe that you should believe in “religious stuff” if that works for you, but if it doesn’t work for you, then it’s no big deal. They believe that if it makes you feel better to believe in God then you should, but ultimately it doesn’t matter much. But as we stand before the casket of someone we love, the question of what happens after you die becomes much more important. The question of whether God is real is no longer philosophical, but intensely practical. And the question we all ask is is there life beyond the grave, or is this life all there is?
Jesus Christ clearly tells us that there is life beyond the grave—and more than that, he demonstrated it by allowing himself to be killed and then coming back from the dead! This is great news, but simply knowing this is true is meaningless unless you believe it and live a life of faith.
When Jesus talked to Lazarus’ sister, he asked her a very important question, “Do you believe this?” The answer to that question makes all the difference. Many people seem to believe that everyone goes to heaven when they die, but that’s not what the Bible says, and it’s not what Jesus told his followers. What he did say is that if you will trust in Him to save you, then you will live even though you die. I believe that Don Stevens had this kind of trust, and so for those who trust in Jesus, today we do not say goodbye to Don, but merely, “See you later.”
As we reflect and remember today, it seems to me that there are many lessons we can learn from the life of Don Stevens.
- We learn that God has only given you one family, so you should love and cherish them while you have them. We should look for ways to let those closest to us know how much we care.
- We learn that if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Whether that’s clearing or repairing a road, caring for your tools, cleaning up after yourself or others, or looking for ways to show others you love them, it’s worth taking the time to do it well.
- We learn the value of hard work. Don happily worked hard at everything he did, and he took pride in the work that he did. Because of this, work was a joy rather than drudgery.
- We learn the joy of sharing in the achievements of others. I think there was a reason Don always had a smile on his face as he watched others playing sports—because he had learned how to share in their joy as they did something they loved.
- Lastly, I think we learn that faith in Jesus is not merely a philosophical question, but it is a question of ultimate importance. It is a question that we must each answer for ourselves, and how we answer it will impact the way we live.
As we gather today, I hope that each of us can learn from the life of Don Stevens, because he has taught each of us plenty. And I’m confident that if we will learn those lessons, Don will be watching from the sidelines, cheering us on—just as he always did.
Will you pray with me?
Our Father, we come to you today with heavy hearts at the loss of a beloved family member and friend. We will miss Don’s wry smile and his caring demeanor. We will miss the love and care that he showed for so many around him. Many will miss being able to talk to him about the various sports teams that he followed.
Lord, I ask you to comfort this family as they grieve today. Bring to mind the many fond memories they have of Don, and comfort them with the truth that this life is not all there is. Surround them with your love as they grieve, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.