Have not been making time for blogging, but the need to express some sort of tribute to a dear friend has brought me back here. Today, Conway Kuhlmann passed away at Indian River Medical Center in Vero Beach, FL. A very big loss.
Conway grew up in Washington, MO, and got to know my folks in the second half of the 1930s when he was working at a drugstore in St. Louis, MO. Mom and Dad - not yet dating - and a group of other youngsters at Giddings-Boyle Presbyterian Church would put out the weekly church bulletin and then go out for ice cream: at the drugstore around the corner where Conway worked. That's how he met his future wife, Betty Huff, and how he got involved with the group from Giddings-Boyle. He said the church group would relax there, laughing and joking, with maybe a racy tale (I cannot imagine that church-going group telling stories that anyone would bat an eyelid at today ...) and there would be this one cute blonde always saying, "I don't get it!" - and that was the girl he fell for.
Betty was in school with my mother's little sister, Freda, who would go off to Italy to pursue an opera career a decade later, after the war. So gradually Betty and Conway and my parents bonded as friends, and the friendship stayed strong all their lives. They took occasional vacations together, they visited each others' homes, like friends do. I remember staying with Betty and Conway in North Bellport, Long Island, the night before my folks and I sailed to Europe on the S.S. France in 1964. I vaguely remember an earlier visit to them in Indianapolis, and remember their family visiting ours at our lake house in Osage Beach, MO. Eventually Conway took early retirement from Eli Lilly, and he and Betty moved to Eleuthera where they lived the adventure of finishing a partly-built house, living without indoor plumbing for some time, catching their own dinner - or diving for it; taking their boat to go shopping on the next island; living it up on their private bay. I never went there, but my folks visited many times. I saw the beautiful shell frames and mirrors and other items Betty made so painstakingly, and saw the watercolors my mother painted of their home and their area. Circumstances changed after some years, and they moved to Florida, where Conway worked again, this time as a pharmacist in Okeechobee. They'd visit my folks in retirement in Hilton Head and my folks would visit in FL or on trips together.
Betty's heart problems caused them to relocate to Vero Beach for her medical care in 1999. When she passed away, Conway could not stay in the house he'd shared with the love of his life. My parents bought the house in October 2002 and moved to Vero, and Conway moved to a condo. (Now my parents' poor health has them living with me, and putting this Vero Beach home on the market.) In Vero, we enjoyed many good times with Conway over the next seven years, and helped each other with many things. it was a given that we'd have holiday dinners together - especially since I love to cook for friends - although, with Conway's strong involvement with his church community, we might not have the holiday dinner just on the day. He was also a very dedicated volunteer to Habitat for Humanity. For years, he went to work with them early every weekday, building houses, using the skills he had from his own home finishing and learning more all the time. He put those skills to use for me, too, in two visits to Heaven Scent, where he helped rescreen the porch and do some drywall. He made great numbers of friends everywhere he got involved, as he was so very likeable and unselfish. Conway was always gracious and compassionate, positive and appreciative in his outlook, helpful and kind. He could be quite upset with things he thought were wrong or unjust, but never foisted a bad mood off on anyone; he seemed always to keep his self-control and perspective, and to be determined to remain optimistic. That made him great company in any situation, an easy and enjoyable companion. He was a great fan of Thomas Friedman, read his columns and books, and talked about the issues raised in them. In other tastes he seemed so simply innocent and pure: always a fan of Lawrence Welk, for instance. He was absolutely devoted to Betty, and in his eight years as a widower, despite the many attentions from neighbors and church friends, never could consider getting interested in another woman again. He was a great friend, and we will always miss him.