Grandpa Loren: The Last Chapter

April 20, 2010

Grandpa Always Knew How to Make Me Laugh (1990)

After his wife’s death, Grandpa Loren went into a state of depression (as most elderly do when their life partner has passed). His blood pressure began spiraling out of control. He needed someone to make sure he was taking his blood sugar medicine because sometimes he would forget and end up in the hospital because of it. He spent a couple more years cooped up in his house in Minnesota until finally my dad convinced him to move out to Virginia and live with my family. He moved out to Virginia in 1997 and I still remember his first day with us like it was yesterday.

(From Left to Right) Me, Grandpa, Jared, Dad, Jackson, and Marshall in 1998

In Virginia, Grandpa found new life. He could no longer drive a car which was difficult for him because he couldn’t go out and visit people when he wanted. But the lack of transportation wasn’t going to stop Grandpa from talking to people, that’s just the person he was. Within the first few months, he knew more people in our neighborhood than my parents did and they had been living there for more than ten years! He knew everyone on our street and they knew him, and liked him very much. He would stop and talk to someone for hours. Everyday he’d make his rounds to check up on the community.

When his legs became too weak to walk the distance of our neighborhood, that still didn’t stop him! He bought a scooter and would drive that thing around the neighborhood every day. I remember him taking me for a ride on it a couple times. I loved it because it could go up to about forty miles an hour and Grandpa was not afraid to push it to the limit!

My Brothers and I with Grandpa and The Notorious Scooter

Grandpa would always be sitting in his comfy layout chair, cigar in mouth, either listening to old opera music or watching old movies. I remember I’d sit in Grandpa’s room to watch old western movies (his favorite) and sports games. We’d always bet against each other to make the games more competitive. I would root for the Chicago Bulls and he would root for whoever was playing against them. His favorite actor was John Wayne, probably because he was from Iowa. I’m pretty sure he had every John Wayne movie ever made and could tell you anything there was to know about good old John. Everything that happened throughout his day reminded him of a story in his past. He was always telling stories! Looking back I wish I would have paid better attention but I was young and naive.

Grandpa died on March 3, 2002 in our home in Virginia. I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was a Sunday. I remember my mom waking me up with tears in her eyes, “Grandpa’s gone sweetie.” She asked me to round up my little brothers so she could tell them as well. We all cried for hours. Dad was downstairs with the police, filling out paper work as they took away his body. I don’t remember ever seeing my dad cry before that day.

The night before, my basketball team had won it’s final playoff game to advance to the semi-finals. Grandpa was in attendance (as usual) and he was just as happy for me as I was. I remember him saying, “good job out there son, you made your old Grandpa proud!” I’ll never forget those words. My game was that afternoon but I didn’t want to play. I was only twelve years old and had never experienced the death of a close family member before. But my dad wanted me to play, saying it would be what grandpa wanted, so I did. I felt weird getting ready for that game, it was unlike any other feeling I have ever had in my entire life. I just wanted to grieve but knew I had to hold my composure. No one knew that my grandpa had just died. No one knew the whirlwind of emotions I was feeling inside, but I did, and Grandpa did. Right before the game started I remember feeling a tremendous presence of peace come over me. The feeling is unexplainable. Whatever it was, I believe it attributed to what happened to be the greatest basketball game I had ever played. I scored more points in that game than I ever had before. I was unstoppable, making every shot I attempted. We were greatly outmatched by the team we were playing but we were winning for most of the game. It came down to the buzzer. We were ahead by two points when one of the players from the other team threw up a prayer from half court that went in right as the buzzer sounded. It was a devastating loss for the team, but it really didn’t effect me that much, I had my mind on something greater than the game of basketball. Although we lost, I felt Grandpa with me on that day.

All in all, I look back on my time spent with Grandpa as a wonderful experience. He taught me many valuable lessons and gave me tremendous advice that I didn’t pick up on until years later. I wish he was still alive so that I could obtain more knowledge from him. I wish I valued the wisdom of the elderly as much as I do now. As a kid, I knew nothing. I thought I knew it all, but knew nothing. I was clueless and helpless. I am thankful that I even learned as much as I did from him, even if it was subconsciously. Grandpa and I butted heads a lot, but I realize now that it’s because we were so much alike. He, like I, was stubborn and always thought he was right. I can’t begin to count how many arguments we got into over silly little things like, how many home runs Babe Ruth hit or how far away the nearest grocery store was; it didn’t really matter whether or not we had the right answer as long as we won the argument. Now that I’m older, the similarities between he and I are becoming more and more apparent. He, like I, was a tremendously social character. He was friends with everyone, especially the ladies. He had the dream of making it big, but always kept family his number one priority. I truly believe that out of everyone in my family tree, I am most like my Grandpa Loren. It’s a shame I didn’t get to know him longer…

Grandma Darlyne

April 20, 2010

(Left to Right) Dad, Kathy, Grandpa, Grandma, and Joanna in 1983

After all the kids had grown up and moved to far off places, Grandpa and Grandma decided to buy a small travel trailer home. They took trips to California to visit Kathy and her family. They would also visit my mom and dad who were living in Alexandria, Virginia. They especially loved to visit Florida, and eventually bought a permanent home in Orlando.

Grandpa and Grandma in front of their home in Florida (1986)

In 1983 Grandma Darlyne became ill. The Florida doctors didn’t think it was anything serious but Grandpa felt compelled to go to Alexandria and see a doctor there. After seeing the doctors at the Mount Vernon Hospital (five minutes from where I grew up) it was discovered that Grandma Darlyne had colon cancer. She had surgery at Mount Vernon and stayed with my mom and dad while she recuperated. After they thought the cancer had gone into remission they went back to Florida, only for it to come back in 1986. It was then they decided to move to Minneapolis, Minnesota to be close to Joanna and Kathy. Grandpa did all he could to take care of Grandma while she was ill. My Aunt Joanna tells it best:

“He was very much at her side, very supportive and tried to help any way he could. During one of Mom’s stay in the hospital, I remember Dad coming up to her, and they began to dance a little 2-step together. Their movements were graceful and in perfect harmony. I was so surprised. I had never seen them dance before. They were definately reliving their early years together, right there in the hospital room. It’s probably the most precious memory I have of them.”

Grandma Darlyne passed away in November of 1988, less than a year before I was born.

Grandpa Becomes…A Grandpa

April 20, 2010

Here is a picture of Grandpa Loren holding his first grandchild, Ryan, born to Joanna and her husband Harlan.

Grandpa with Ryan (1974)

Grandpa's Miracle

April 20, 2010

In the latter half of the 1960s Grandpa had a rough stretch of health problems. First, he had a heart attack and suffered mental problems, which led to dependency upon additive medicine. In 1970, his legs just gave out on him. When doctors could not figure out what was wrong with him he was driven to Des Moines to go see a back specialist. The specialist discovered that Grandpa’s vertebrae had collapsed and was cutting into his spinal cord, leaving it hanging literally by a thread. The doctors told Grandpa that he needed surgery although it would be dangerous and there was a chance he wouldn’t live through it. Although his survival questionably, one thing seemed certain: Grandpa would never walk again.

Regardless, they decided to go through with the surgery. Grandpa was understandably anxious about it. The night before the surgery, the family visited him. He waited until only my dad and his brother Kenny were in the room and told my dad, “You have to promise me that you’ll take care of Momma.” My dad tried to encourage him by telling him he was going to be alright but Grandpa wouldn’t let him leave until he promised to say those words. Thankfully, Grandpa survived.

After the surgery he went through three or four months of physical therapy. Although doctors said he’d never walk again, Grandpa’s therapist refused to believe it. She was a God-fearing woman who believed that God, not the doctors, could make him walk again. Sure enough, after four months, Grandpa could walk. This miracle led to a positive change in Grandpa. He threw out his pain killers that he had relied on for so long and replaced them with God. His pain slowly went away. Over the years, his legs got stronger and stronger. When he first left the hospital he couldn’t walk without a cain in both hands. Eventually he could walk with only one, and finally he was walking without any assistance at all. Grandpa’s soul had been revived. He loved taking long walks for exercise and to meet new people. “He loved taking long walks for exercise and to meet people. He told me about 20 years ago that he has a goal that every day, he wanted to make at least one person smile,” my dad says.

Grandpa Has A Boy!

April 20, 2010

I think it’s every father’s dream to have a son.  Daughters are great, but there’s something special about a father-son bond that cannot be matched.  So was the case with Grandpa when his first son was finally born in November of 1954.  Now he was finally able to do some “guy” stuff.

Grandpa and Dad

One thing Grandpa loved doing with his kids was riding horses.  Horse riding was a passion of Grandpa’s for his entire life, so it was no surprise that he passed that love onto his children.  Kathy received her first horse when she was thirteen and when her horse eventually gave birth to a baby colt, Grandpa gave it to my dad who ended up hating it because it would bite and kick him all the time.  “I know Grandpa got frustrated with my fears from time to time,” says my dad. Grandpa taught his kids how to train or “break” horses, as it’s commonly referred to, and all three of them developed into good horse riders.

(From Left to Right) Grandpa, Kathy, and Ken (My Dad)

When it came to travel, Grandpa Loren took his family everywhere. My dad remembers taking fishing trips to Minnesota and camping trips to South Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska and even California. While out in the wilderness, He’d take my dad out to go hunting and fishing. He taught my dad how to “clean” the fish and game (squirrels, rabbits, pheasants, yuck!) in order to cook and eat them. Hunting and fishing weren’t the only manly things Grandpa and his son did together. They’d often throw around the football, Grandpa would teach my dad everything he knew about being an undersized player. “He taught me that quickness could overcome disadvantages like lack of size, as he learned playing lineman at only 138 pounds,” says my dad of Grandpa. “It paid off for me because even though I was only about 140 pounds when I was a Junior, I made first team as an offensive line guard.”

One major difference between Grandpa and my father was their interest in music. Everyone in the family – Grandpa, Grandma, Joanna and Kathy focused on and were very good at singing. Everyone, except for dad. Grandpa did an excellent job guiding Joanna and Kathy in their singing but had difficulty trying to keep my dad interested. “I thought I had to set myself apart, so I focused on sports (which was the wrong decision),” my dad jokes. It wasn’t until high school that my dad would start singing but it wasn’t the type of singing I’m sure old Grandpa was accustomed to. He sang for his band, “The Executioners!” I don’t know how Grandpa felt about that, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t know.

Grandpa and Dad with an Indian Chief (Boy, you can really tell it's the 60's with those buzz cuts can't you!)

When Grandpa suffered a collapsed vertebrae in his back in 1970, it was up to my dad to run the farm. He was only a high school kid yet he kept the farm running. His sisters were all grown up and had moved out by that time. Therefore the responsibility rested on his shoulders. Without even thinking twice about it, my dad woke up early before school to work on the farm and continued to work when he got home in the afternoon. What little time he had left was spent doing homework and maintaining his good grades. After three or four months in the hospital Grandpa returned to the farm. He was able to walk with two canes but could never farm again. His boy Kenny took over the farm operations from then on.

“I remember one very touching time when I was running for conditioning for track one spring. The track team would run a mile or two north of town on the highway and then run back. I was in the middle of my run, and Grandpa pulls up in his car. Out of the blue, for no special occassion, he had bought me a new watch and he gave it to me right there, and he thanked me for all the work I was doing for the family. He had tears in his eyes. i was a bit taken aback…certainly surprised by it. I thanked him and he drove off. I think I cried all the way running back to the school. He didn’t have to do that for me.” – My dad

Grandpa Loren The Family Man

April 20, 2010

Grandpa & Grandma outside their home in California (early 1940's)

Grandpa Loren married Darlyne Luhman on May 16, 1942 in Riverside, California.  Nine short months later they had their first daughter, Joanna.  Soon afterwards, Grandpa was drafted into the army to help fight in World War II.  By that time, the war was nearly over but Grandpa said, “They were scraping the bottom of the barrel.”  Because he was registered for the draft in Des Moines, he packed his bags and moved the family back to Iowa.  He was sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri for basic training but with a weak back, he didn’t last long.  He was honorably discharged after only serving ten months.

Rather than returning to the “glitz and glam” of California, Grandpa decided to help his father-in-law with his farm in Lohrville, Iowa.  It took some convincing but good old Papa Luhman did it; he convinced Grandpa to be a farmer.  This was no small task for a city slicker like my Grandpa.  I can’t even imagine what it was like for him to go from show business in California to farming in nowheresville, Iowa.  What a drastic turn of events!  Nevertheless, Grandpa pursued farming, even after his farming neighbors would poke fun at him from time to time.  On December 9, 1947 Darlyne gave birth to their second child Kathryn, expanding the family to four.

Farming was a modest living and quite frankly didn’t make Grandpa enough money to support his family.  He tried boring, part time jobs here and there.  He was everything from an assistant county tax assessor (fun), to car salesman, to finally teaching vocal music classes at the local high school.  Grandpa did anything and everything he could to support his growing family; which got even bigger in 1954 with the final addition being my dad, Kenneth, named after Grandpa’s older brother. Although his professional singing career was over, Grandpa was often asked to sing at weddings and funerals. He had been out of practice for a while and was reluctant to sing but his family eventually talked him into it.

The Family in 1960

Grandpa's Singing Career

April 20, 2010

After college, Grandpa started singing for WHO Radio in Des Moines under the name Juan Ricardo (probably because he looked spanish). It was during this time that Grandpa became well acquainted with Ronald Reagan, who was the sports announcer for the radio station at the time. Reagan loved to ride horses. Grandpa’s brother Russell managed a riding academy in Des Moines that Reagan belonged to and whenever he’d go out to ride he would ask Grandpa if he was available to ride with him. After a couple of years, Reagan landed a movie contract and left for California.

One day Grandpa was negotiating his future singing contract with the WHO manager when Reagan walked in “to brag about his Hollywood contract.” Grandpa asked Reagan, “Ron, what do you think about this contract?” Reagan looked over and said, “Loren, if you sign this contract, they will own you the rest of your life.” He never signed the contract.

Instead, Grandpa took the future president’s advice and headed to California to see if he could break into the music business. For money he started working at Lockheed Manufacture, building fighter planes for WWII. While in California, he did circulate in the music industry but became overwhelmed at the level of competition he was facing; something he probably wasn’t used to in Iowa. Eventually, he got noticed by a well known executive in the music business. He thought Grandpa had a lot of potential but unfortunately moved to Texas. He tried to convince Grandpa to move with him in order to manage his career but by that time Grandpa had his mind made up. “My sweetheart in Iowa has been waiting for me and she is coming to California and we’re getting married!”

Grandpa Loren in the newspaper once he started blowing up!

A newspaper article about Grandpa when he first hit started blowing up!

Grandpa Loren in College

April 20, 2010

Grandpa Loren decided to stay in his home city when picking a college, selecting Drake University in his home city of Des Moines, Iowa. He went to Drake because it had an excellent music program and majored in music education.  He became a member of the Phi Mu Alpha Fraternity of Music.  He was also acted and sang in opera at Drake, winning top male vocal in two operas.

It is there where he would meet his future wife, Darlyne Luhman in 1935. Evidence of this rests in the personal Christmas card he sent her that year. My Aunt Joanna recalls Grandpa telling her the story of how they first met. Apparently Grandpa Loren was getting ready to perform a solo for an upcoming performance but he needed a piano player to accompany him while he practiced. He was in the theatre and noticed a lovely little “gal” sitting on the piano so he walked up to her and said, “Honey, I need you to play this song for me while I sing.” As the story goes, Grandma Darlyne got offended because he called her “honey,” (let’s keep in mind that this is the 1930s) got up and left Grandpa just standing there.

Grandpa Loren took a break from college in the fall of 1936 to go into sales, but while he was away he sent Darlyne many letters.  Whenever they were apart he would write her, none more important than this one:

“Well Tootsie-Wootsie-Honey-Bunnie,(Ha-Ha) I must journey on.  I will be counting the minutes until I see you.  For the first time, I put on paper, I love you more than anything in the world.  Will you marry me?  Your Sweetheart, Loren.”  (August 26, 1937)

Grandpa Graduated from Drake in August of 1941.

Grandpa Loren Graduates High School (Class of '35)

April 19, 2010

Grandpa Loren’s mother, Carrie, was found to have cancer in 1935 and was sent to a Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She was not able to see her youngest son graduate from high school. Instead, she wrote him this touching letter:
“I looked forward to your graduation day as one of the proudest  days in my  life and I did so want to be with you so we could rejoice together, but it is just another one of our many disappointments and we will have to try and be brave together and rejoice together even though we’re so many miles apart.  You carry on, Dear, just as though I was there, for you know Mama is there in spirit, love and prayer, congratulating you with all her heart  and wishing you all the joy and success that is rightfully yours in reward for your work and clean life of which Mama is so proud”.
…She died a couple years later in August of 1940.

Grandpa Loren Poses After His Graduation Ceremony

Grandpa Loren Poses After His Graduation Ceremony

Grandpa Loren on his graduation day with brothers Kenny and Elwood

Grandpa Loren on his graduation day with brothers Kenny and Elwood

Grandpa Loren in High School

April 19, 2010

Grandpa attended Roosevelt High School in Des Moines Iowa from 1931 to 1935.  His favorite subjects in high school were music and drama and was active in his school’s musicals and plays, usually playing the lead role.  One year, he and his vocal quartet won for most “excellent” performance in Des Moines high school music contest.

Grandpa's Quartet

Outside of class, Grandpa played football on varsity. My uncle said he remembers Grandpa telling him how he made varsity. He only weighed 138 pounds but his coach put him in at tackle with the 2nd team to go up against the varsity defense. According to Grandpa, he got in and “put the starters to shame.”

Grandpa's High School Football Team (Bottom Row, 2nd Left)

It didn’t surprise me to find out he was on his school’s speech and debate team. Grandpa, even in his old age, could talk someone to death. He was an excellent speaker and good storyteller, but his problem was he didn’t know when to stop!

From an early age Grandpa had an amazing singing voice, which he began to prove in high school. He won numerous prizes for his vocal solos and one year he even won states. He says in his journal that after high school he wanted to “continue my music education [and] excel in vocal music.” ….Which is what Grandpa did.