Tribute to David Kulp

by Henry Fast

It must be 53 years ago since I last met David Kulp; that would be in 1962. We were part of a group on tour of the Holy Lands including Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel, with Italy and Greece tacked on for good measure. We were all volunteers of the Pax program working in Europe under Mennonite Central Committee.

When I heard from another Pax man friend this past August that Dave had asked about me, I sent him a short note asking what he had done in the ensuing years and telling him a bit about my life. Dave then called me by phone, since because of his macular degeneration, he found it easier to talk than to type on the computer. We had a nice chat. He requested a copy of my book which I happily sent him and which was read to him by his wife, Ruth Ann.  (Where the Pavement Ends: (Mis)Adventures in International Rural Development, Henry Fast, 2013.)

Besides failing eyesight, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer on April 20th, 2015. After fighting the cancer with chemotherapy, Dave passed away on October 11, just one month ago at the age of 75. He had three sisters, two sons, one daughter and seven grandchildren, of whom one 12-year-old granddaughter died three years ago after surgery to correct chronic epilepsy. Dave and his wife resided in Pottstown, PA, about 60 kms. northwest of Philadelphia.

I didn’t get to know him that well having spent only a few weeks together in the same place along with other guys—firstly for two weeks at orientation in Akron, PA, then onboard the ship crossing the Atlantic, at the work unit in Salzburg, Austria for ten days before I left for Greece and, finally, on the Holy Land tour. I just remember him as a tall lanky guy who was always out-going and who loved to joke around. For some reason one little incident has stuck in my mind which I thought was rather funny. It was during orientation in Akron that also included several young ladies preparing for various kinds of volunteer assignments. It seems to me us guys were housed on the second floor of the dormitory. Dave was standing at the window looking out when he saw some of those women walking nearby. He opened wide his arms and exclaimed, “Here I am you lucky girls!” Of course, they couldn’t hear him and I doubt they even noticed him in the window, but there was Dave just being himself.

A couple of weeks ago, Dave’s sister Rachel contacted me saying that she had borrowed my book from her brother and now would like to buy one for herself. She, too, has macular degeneration. Both she and Dave’s wife Ruth Ann commented that Dave had been so impressed with my international work that, as a long-haul truck driver all his life, he now questioned whether he had done anything of value with his life. He said, “what did I do to make a difference in the world.”   His wife said she tried to assure him that, besides providing well for his family, he had impacted a host of friends in the community, in church and among his truck-driving colleagues. He loved attending reunions with his former Pax friends whenever possible.

I responded in an email saying that I was sorry that my book had caused Dave to question his own life’s work. Besides his positive affect on family and friends, I wrote that one legacy they could all be proud of (including his children & grandchildren) is that Dave declared himself as a conscientious objector and chose PAX as an alternative avenue of service to military conscription. I’m sure the houses and community infrastructure he helped build was much appreciated by the victims of war and that it was also a life-changing experience for him personally, as it was for all other Pax men.

I find it interesting that former Pax men still feel some kind of bond with each other all these years later. For example, a good number of Pax men from as far away as Ontario attended Dave’s memorial service. And at the end of August last, a few of us organized a one-day reunion of all Manitoba “Pax boys”, as we were affectionately known, to hear each other’s stories. Fifteen guys, now grey-haired or bald, and their spouses showed up for the event.

On this Remembrance Day, it is fitting that we remember and honour our war veterans. As a Pax man, I like to think of ourselves as peace veterans. MCC’s Remembrance Day button says, “to remember is to work for peace.”

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