Donald Curtis

We gather this afternoon to mourn the loss but also to celebrate the life of Donald Walter Curtis.

At a time of grief we draw comfort from God’s Word.

Psalm 39:4,5,7,8,12 (NIV) Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Save me from all my transgressions; do not make me the scorn of fools.  Hear my prayer, O LORD,  listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping.  For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were.

I declare to you brothers that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, not does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I tell you a mystery” we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Will you pray with me?

Our Father, we bow before you this afternoon and acknowledge that you are the one who has numbered our days. As David wrote, “your eyes saw our unformed bodies. All the days ordained for us were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16)

Today we thank you for the days of Donald Curtis. We mourn this day because there are so many things we wish we had been able to say, or do, or share. Help us in this time of loss.

Help us also as we remember. Help us to remember Don’s life, his spirit and his service. But also draw our attention to you and the hope you hold out to everyone who believes. We ask these things in the name of Christ.  Amen.

Chief Hospital Corpsman Donald Walter Curtis, United States Navy, retired, of La Harpe, Illinois died June 26, 2001 at Great River Medical Center in West Burlington, IA.

Mr. Curtis was born April 1st 1938 in Iowa City, Iowa, the son of Walter and Janie Schriener Curtis.

He was raised in La Harpe and graduated from La Harpe High School in 1956. After graduation he joined the U.S. Navy where he served until he retired in November 1975. His Navy duty took him to various places throughout the world including two tours of duty in Viet Nam during the Viet Nam conflict. He and his family also spent three years in Japan.

Upon retirement as a Chief Petty Officer, Mr. Curtis lived in Independence, Iowa, working at a number of different jobs, until returning to the ocean he loved as a Staff officer in the Merchant Marines. He retired due to medical reasons in October of 2000 from Dyn Marine where he served onboard Oceanograpic Survey ships as the Medical Services Officer. For the last year Don worked for Jones Heating and Electrical here in La Harpe.

Mr. Curtis was a Past Master of Independence Lodge #87, Independence IA., a past Worthy Patron of Declaration Chapter #278, Order of the Eastern Star, Independence Iowa, and Past Commander of Bechter-Boise VFW Post 2440, Independence, IA.

Mr. Curtis is survived by his estranged wife: Rhonda M. Curtis of Troy, Iowa.

Two daughters: Terri Jo Weideman and her husband Karl of Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Arletta Schweitzer and her husband Randy of Independence, IA.

One son, Edward Wayne Curtis of Troy, IA.

Five Grandchildren: Jordan and Amy Driskell, Marissa Wells, Bryce Schweitzer and Alissa Curtis.

One sister: Arlene Foster of Bushnell

And his long time companion, Dorothy Dobson of La Harpe, IL.

He was preceded in death by: His parents, 1 sister: Virginia Boone,  2 brothers: Jack Curtis and William Curtis and 1 grand-daughter, Neko Hemmie.

Donald Curtis was raised in some hard times. When his father died, the family struggled greatly. Perhaps it was during that struggle that Don’s fight and determination was brought to life.

Donald Curtis was a Navy man through and through. He loved the opportunity to serve his country,  and loved the sea. As a hospital Corpsman he did just about anything medical that was needed until a wounded person could get to a hospital. He said once that “the HMC (Hospital Medical Corpsman) is as much a part of me as my name is.”

As part of the Navy, Donald was able to see and enjoy the world. He loved to collect coins from wherever he stopped so he could bring them home to the kids.

He was a man who loved his country and was extremely irritated by those who treated the country or the symbols of our country with disrespect.

If Donald had had his way (and he usually did) he would have died on a ship somewhere. In fact he was hoping to be able to christen a new merchant ship as a civilian.

In thinking about his death Don wrote the following words,

You wonder why he’s lying there

       Looking so peaceful and serene

Well, the reason is “ole Doc” just got

       His orders to Fiddlers Green!

Now Fiddlers Green

       As few people know

Is an Ancient Mythical Heaven

       Where all good sailors go.

He checked out the other day

       His orders in his hand

Duty completed

       On this fair land

Now he’ll meet his new skipper face to face

       With a hard handshake and a warm embrace.

Hey, they may even

       “Splice the main brace.”

Now all the people he’s met

       and places he’s seen

Will all come back to him again

       In Fiddlers Green.

                        [Donald Curtis]

During his years between serving in the Navy and serving in the Merchant Marines he became very active in the Masonic Lodge. He was proud to have served in several capacities.

Donald was a man of many talents. He had a quick wit and loved to tell jokes.  He had a phenomenal memory and was a good student. He liked to fish and go mushrooming. He enjoyed taking his metal detector wherever he went.

Don was an avid NASCAR fan and enjoyed Sprint Races. He had a car that his son drove. Like many, he was a Dale Earnhart fan. Every Sunday you knew that Don would be watching the races.

Don had many cherished friends. His closest friend was Maurice Pentecost from Independence IA. Don believed he was the greatest friend a man could have. “Doc” and “Tex” met at the VFW and had some great times together.

Don wrote poetry and encouraged his kids to “listen to the lyrics” of any song they heard. He felt the words are where the real value of songs was. He loved country music and wrote a number of lyrics for songs. One of his favorite songs was the Tommy Cash song, “The Ragged Old Flag”.

Mr. Curtis was an outspoken conservative Republican. He had strong feelings about most things and wasn’t afraid to share those feelings with you.  In fact, when Dorothy would disagree with him he would get more than a little perturbed.  There was a right way to behave and a right way to think . . . and that was Don’s way.

He demanded a great deal from himself and from his family. He could make his point with a few words or with a look. Sometimes this was good and other times it wasn’t.

I didn’t know Don, but I sense that one of his regrets in life was that he didn’t get to spend more time with his children. He loved them but often found it hard to express that love verbally. He was used to dealing with sailors, not civilians; soldiers, not children.

Don worked hard to find ways to express his love to his children. He would send his kids cards, e-mails, make phone calls and he gave them each a carefully selected book of poetry where on the inside he told them that the poems expressed what his words often were unable to do.

Let me give you an example. To his son, Edward he gave a book titled “For My Son” by George E. Young. Here’s one of the poems,

Sometimes it’s hard to write the words

That you, my son, should see.

Or say the things you need to hear,

Or be as I should be.

You grow so fast and learn so much

It’s hard for me each day,

To say or do just what is best

To help along the way.

Should I be silent or give advice?

Should I answer yes or no?

Should I have control – set many rules,

Or simply let you go?

One thing is certain . . .I’ll make mistakes,

And some’ll seem hard to mend.

But if nothing else is clear, my son,

Please know that I’m your friend.

Donald Curtis loved his family. There were things he wished he could have done differently . . . like most of us, but his love was never in doubt.

Arletta wrote the following words to her dad:

My Dearest Dad,

I can’t believe I am writing this to you. It is so much easier to pick up the phone, tell a few jokes and discuss the current political events.  By the way, I’ll keep you informed on how Bush is doing.

You and I have a special relationship. We could talk about anything and everything. If I didn’t like what you had to say, I told you. And vice versa.

Do you remember when I left for college? You came to my room at home and I was laying on my bed crying. You sat beside me and rubbed my back. I remember you said, “Not as easy as you thought, is it?” No dad, it wasn’t easy starting that next step in my life.

You and mom were always there for us kids. Like moms and dads are supposed to be.

 Dad, holidays are always hard for me. When we were growing up it just seemed right that the whole family was together for Christmas and Thanksgiving. When we grew up it wasn’t that way anymore. I really do miss that. But I would always call and we would talk and tell each other what our plans were for the day. I always told you I love you. Then I would hang up the phone and shake my head. I should have said, “I miss you.”

 No you will be with me every holiday and every year I will say, “I love you dad, and I miss you.”

 This is really hard for me dad, so for now I will say, “Talk to you later, I love you!

 It is time to take another step in my life. The one without my father at home to call every weekend. But don’t you ever forget that I am a part of you. And because of that I am a very strong and proud person. I will make it through this step because I know that you are in my heart and my head forever.

 I love you dad. I will talk to you later. 

 p.s. These calls won’t cost us anything.

When the Grandchildren came along he was able to enjoy them more fully. He took Jordan and Amy diamond hunting in Arkansas. The grandkids took a trip to California to spend time with Grandpa while he was stationed in California in the Merchant Marines, and Don loved to see his grandchildren.

During the last six years of his life, Don shared his life with Dorothy Dobson.  Let me share Dorothy’s words with you,

Don,

heard our song last night, “keeper of the stars.” Maybe you are right. Maybe the course of our lives is already set on the day we’re born

We both moved to La Harpe at an early age, went to the Sr. Prom together, shared those last days of High School, graduation and the summer of ’56. Then you joined the Navy and you were gone from La Harpe and my life.

You had a family, so did I. You traveled around the world. I stayed right here.

Then one day, some 30 years later my phone rang and a voice asked, “Do you know who this is?”

I’m so glad to have shared these last six years with you. You were my soul mate.

I’m still amazed ata how much alike we were in our ideas, beliefs, likes and dislikes even though our lives followed such different paths.

I’m really going to miss your companionship, you sense of humor, your sharp wit and especially your cooking!

David was consoling me and said, “Grandma, when you come to visit, Don will too, cause you have him in your heart.

You made the plans for this last day with us and we’ve followed them the best we could. I hope you are pleased.

Tuesday in our last moments together you were saying that “sometimes you’d like to have a cherry tree and a black rose.” Today you do!

Whenever I see a beautiful red bird I’ll think of you. You’ll always be my “cardinal”.

Have a safe voyage!

I’ll see you later.    Love, Dorothy

Donald Curtis only lived 63 years but he lived more than most of us will ever live. He saw the world, he lived his dreams, he made mistakes, he had his victories, he had regrets, but all in all he enjoyed the journey.

SONG

In the Bible we read these words from Solomon,

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot

a time to kill and a time to heal

a time to tear down and a time to build

a time to weep and a time to laugh

a time to mourn and a time to dance

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them

a time to embrace and a time to refrain

a time to search and a time to give up

a time to keep and a time to throw away

a time to tear and a time to mend

a time to be silent and a time to speak

a time to love and a time to hate

a time for war and a time for peace. [Ecc. 3:1-8]

The death of Donald Curtis this week reminded us that life is unpredictable. One minute we are enjoying life, the next minute we could be gone.

In the Psalms we read, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

It is the knowledge that our days are limited that makes each day precious. We are called to live each moment to please God, and then we can trust the future without fear.

The New York Times once printed a story of a Swiss man who on his eightieth birthday by taking stock of his life with the aid of an unusually detailed diary. He figured that he had spent 26 years, 312 days and 18 hours sleeping; 21 years, 85 days working; 5 years, 346 days being angry; 302 days waiting for people with whom he had appointments; 5 years 346 days eating; 228 days shaving; 26 days scolding the children; 12 days, 16 hours lighting cigars or cigarettes and 1 day, 22 hours laughing.

How sad that it seems that so little of life was actually enjoyed. What is omitted from this list is just as instructive.  There is nothing about worship, reading, meditation, serving. We would be tempted to ask the man, “Eighty years on earth, for what?”

Donald Curtis understood that his days were numbered. He knew that his father died young.  And He knew that his heart was in bad shape.  He told Dorothy that one day he would die suddenly. He was right (of course!) This knowledge helped Don realize that life is precious. He served his country, he sang his songs, he traveled, he did the things he wanted to do.

Someone has written,

We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial.

We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives

Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.

This is a day to treasure family. You can let this death divide you or draw you together. You can be consumed by regret or you can be spurred on to make necessary changes. You can drift apart or you can move toward each other. Life is too precious to waste. Family is to precious to walk away from.

This is a day to ponder the eternal. What is life all about? Where are we headed? If there is no life beyond the grave, then what is the purpose of our living? Is it really all meaningless?  I don’t think so.

If there is life beyond the grave, how do we get there?  Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father, except through me.” (John 14:6).  He also said, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live even though he die; he who believes in me will never die.” {John 11:25,26]

The Bible tells us that there is only one way to life beyond the grave. We must place our trust in the Jesus who lived, died, and rose again.

The Bible speaks plainly. We are all sinners. We have all lost our way. No one can be good enough to earn Heaven. Every one of us needs the help that God provides.  Jesus died for our failures. Jesus died to pay for our rebellion and foolishness.  Jesus died so you and I could be forgiven.

The Bible says that eternal life is granted to anyone who believes that Jesus died for them and is willing to place all their hope on that fact. There is no one too bad to qualify for God’s gift.  There is no one too stained be cleansed by His sacrifice. There is only one sin that can keep you out of Heaven: the sin of stubborn unbelief.

I am in no position to make statements about Don’s  relationship with God. He was a private man with strong feelings. I don’t know if he made his peace with the Savior. We will leave him to the God who always does what is right.

But I can encourage you today. I encourage you to take stock of your life. Today, I encourage you to realign your priorities. Laugh more, pray more, trust more.  Receive the salvation and new life that Jesus offers. Life is short and unpredictable. We were reminded of that fact this week. Let’s heed the warning. Let’s turn our hearts toward heaven so when our time comes . . . we’ll be ready.

This is a sad time . . . .for a number of reasons. But this can also be a profitable time. I encourage you to use this time to,

  • Reevaluate what is really important in life.
  • To consider the ultimate issues of life and death
  • To move toward God rather than running away from Him.
  • To draw close to family rather than pushing them away.
  • To celebrate the blessings rather than replaying the hurts.

The Savior calls to you today. He calls to you in your pain to turn to Him. He can help. He can heal. He can rebuild. But He won’t do so, unless you let Him.

SOLO

Will you pray with me,

Father, I thank you for the life of Donald Curtis.  Thank you for the way he has touched the lives of the people in this room.

We also thank you for the promise of eternal life. Thank you for Jesus and the sacrifice He made so we could know life beyond the grave.  Help us to trust you.

Lord, I ask that you would help these who mourn. Fill the void in their life with your presence. Grant them special memories that will carry them through the lonely times. Grant them a new resolve that they might live their days with a new focus and perspective. Draw them together as a family.

Lord, we pray that you would welcome Don into your presence. Grant Him the mercy that only you can extend.

Now keep us until that day when we hope to be gathered together again, in your house. I ask in the name of Christ.  Amen.