Laurence F. Jonson, 1928 – 2001 Print
Commentary/Politics - Editorials
Tuesday, 18 December 2001 18:00
My sadness appears to know no bounds in 2001. So many truly marvelous people have passed. None more so than Larry Jonson, our friend and mentor, who died in his home December 11, at the age of 73, after a long illness. My husband and I met Larry in 1994 when we moved our publishing office into his former art gallery on West Third Street, one of his many galleries in downtown Davenport. There was an instant connection born from our mutual love of those things artful and unique. Larry knew art. He breathed art. He inspired and nurtured dozens of artists, writers, and patrons throughout his career—many of whom still live and produce art in the Quad Cities today.

Larry did business, consulted, and was highly respected by many of the who’s who in the Quad Cities. For 30 years he was the curator for Deere & Company’s corporate art collection, establishing it as one of the premiere collections in the world. He managed numerous projects, including the restoration of Sacred Heart Cathedral, compliments of an endowment from VO Figge on behalf of his loving wife Betty. Larry created a delightful documentary of Deere CEO Bill Hewitt’s “Around the World in 80 Years” for Hewitt’s 80th birthday celebration. Concurrently, Larry’s expertise in art preservation and restoration earned him distinction in numerous national professional organizations.

Beyond the world of art, Davenport owes a debt of gratitude to Larry, who was the impetus and energy behind moving the old Number 9 School House from Brady Street out to the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds, saving a piece of our precious heritage from demolition.

These are just a few of the more impressive things credited to Larry Jonson, but they only scratch the surface. There are many other things that characterize this lovely man as “marvelous.” Larry truly hailed from the old school of proper etiquette and conduct. He abhorred bad manners and would not tolerate them in those close to him. But at the same time, he was full of humor and had a randy side to him that made him as easy and comfortable to be with as someone you’d known forever. I will always remember him in his ship captain’s hat. He looked so dignified and preppy, yet a little academic, even bohemian. For all his properness, he was full of fun and adventure, and wit that reflected his deep intelligence and wisdom about people.

Born in the Bronx in 1928, Larry grew up an orphan, surviving on his own. He made his way from absolute poverty to a place profoundly meaningful to him in terms of mankind’s most worthy efforts—art and culture. He regaled us with tales so powerful and fascinating; it was like listening to movie scripts rather than someone’s real life experiences. Larry was keenly articulate and he wove a tale like a seasoned narrator. If nothing else, Larry was thoroughly entertaining. He was a joy to be with. He was deeply thoughtful and considerate. He sent cards for every occasion, no matter what. Many times, he sent a note to just tell me he loved me and that he considered my friendship “a treasure.” The treasure is in that he thought so.

Larry had a certain zest for life that was inspiring. He was constantly creating exceptional projects. He loved connecting people who had commonalities or individual talents that collectively would prove worthwhile and exciting. He valued people. He cherished people, in fact. He liked doers. He enjoyed dropping names of the players he encountered. His walls are filled with signed photographs of the rich and famous, and better yet the unusual and remarkable. He had many friends and acquaintances, but no family, except his tireless caretaker Larry DeVolder, who was more like a son to Larry than a life-long friend. Without Larry DeVolder, Larry agreed his independence and ability to live as fully as his health would permit would have been severely compromised. Larry Devolder saw Larry through a lot of turbulence with loving compassion, and that is friendship that cannot be measured. Larry recognized his unceasing attention and care for the gift that it was. Larry was lucky to have other true friends such as this, like Loras Pauli and Susie Bell, who stood by him no matter what, and who were always dependable and helpful to him in countless ways. To my thinking, and to Larry’s, these people represent real family.

After a stint in the Marines, Larry married a beautiful girl, Barbara Dougherty, in 1954. She was the daughter of a Florida minister who married them on the national television show The Bride & Groom. The two were so poised and attractive; they looked more like practiced actress and actor than two young novices obviously in love. Barbara was stricken with cancer, and no treatments were available to relieve her suffering. Larry learned of BJ Palmer’s work, and upon BJ’s invitation, Larry brought Barbara to Davenport for chiropractic care. Palmer helped Barbara tremendously in terms of making her more comfortable through her illness. She died in 1962, breaking Larry’s heart with her passing. Larry stayed on, however, opening up galleries of distinction, especially relative to wildlife, duck prints, and riverboat lore. He hired Joanie McKinney, who worked for him for more than 30 years. Joanie died last year after a battle with cancer. Larry and her dear family cared for her for most of her illness, something terribly difficult for all of them, but they remained committed to her comfort.

Larry authored a compelling book on duck stamps, The Federal Duck Stamp Story, giving evidence to his supreme gift for research and presentation. He also particularly loved all things related to aviation and found friendship based on this mutual interest in Joe Kimmel, president of Republic Electric, whose aviation memorabilia is renowned. Larry would visibly light up when speaking of Joe’s “aviation stuff.”

Larry spoke fondly of most everyone. He was exceptionally tolerant of people’s weaknesses (although not of anyone’s poor manners), but he also placed high expectations on them. With Larry, it bespoke a certain respect he had for them if he endowed them at all with such. You could have a thousand character flaws that Larry would forgive if you at least did what you said you were going to do. He expected reliability. For him, there was honor in it. If you said you would show up every Tuesday and you only made it four times in all, it was on his ledger.

In the end, Larry left the planet as he wished—at home, with no funeral or visitation, but quietly. He was well aware of how much we love him and would miss him, and how many dear friends he had been blessed with. But he knew he was going to die, and he prepared as best he could for the next great adventure. The day before he passed, we talked at length on the phone about the after-life. I asked him if he thought about it much. He said, “Not really. I really have no idea what is on the other side. I just know that I am genuinely looking forward to finding out.” If heaven is anything like I imagine, then Larry will be thrilled upon his arrival. My guess is he would ache to come back and regale us with accounts of its wonder. Oh how I wish he would. Domine dirige nos! (Lord, direct us) to you Larry!