Here’s another sample of the poignant letters Donald Kaul received following his farewell column and my tribute to him. We’ve gotten more than 100 emails and at least a dozen snail-mailed letters and cards so far. Keep them coming and continue posting to the comment sections below Don’s column and my commentary. As I explained in an earlier post, please re-send any emails you thought were delivered to OtherWords@ips-dc.org prior to Tuesday July 24. Due to a snafu, they were lost.
—Emily Schwartz Greco, the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. Send (or re-send) your letters to Donald Kaul via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also snail-mail them to OtherWords, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.
Your insight, wit, commentary, analysis, story-telling, embellishment, etc. have delighted me since elementary school. You are one hell of a story teller, and always with a twist that makes your readers think. For better or worse, your writing made a big impact on my life. I learned to think and to question and to not be a dumb sheep in life. I became a Democrat partly because of you. Thank you for opening my eyes and inspiring my ability to feel for the less fortunate and to call bullshit on the indifferent. Thanks for making me laugh and making me cry. Thanks for making me mad and indignant enough to get involved in good causes…I would wave my good health wand all around you if it would help. Good luck and God Bless You, Donald Kaul.
—Cara Murphy, West Des Moines, Iowa
Donald Kaul (right) at the annual bike tour of Iowa he helped found in 1973 (Des Moines Register).
Please — after you recuperate from your heart glitch — continue to occasionally entertain us with your wit and humor. I have been amused for years with your columns and enjoyed the humor of Mike Royko, Rob Borsellino, and Clay Thompson from the Arizona Republic. It is nice to be able to pick up the newspaper and smile about SOMETHING that I’ve read! Columns such as these are a good antidote to all the reality around us. I hope your recovery goes well, and hope we haven’t heard the end of you yet!
—Deanna Rhiner, Fort Dodge, Iowa
I’ve enjoyed your writing for many years. Don’t quit now. We need your insights and opinions.
Take care of your health first. Then, please, please, please come back to doing what the public forum needs most – and, generally lacks – a voice yelling “the emperor isn’t wearing any clothing!” and then explaining in measured tones the reason for the outcry.
—Cynthia Boyer Blakeslee
Thank you for all the insight you’ve contributed to the Des Moines Register. I suppose there are a lot of other things to do at age 77 but your wisdom and insight is greatly appreciated. First, I wish you and your family the best as you recover from your health issues. Next, you are the reason I read the newspaper even in the Internet age. God bless you for questioning things and wondering where our nation is headed. I am scared to death, too…I wish you could write forever and perhaps, some way, some how, you can. Keep the faith. God bless.
— Chip Giles, Des Moines IA
I have read and enjoyed your political columns for many years. You have a special ability to find and analyze kernels of truth that many others miss. Your humor and well-placed sarcasm are also effectively used to help make your point. I share your frustration with the current sad state of our hyper-polarized political discourse. Here in southwest Missouri, we are “blessed” with an abundance of “Bible-thumping know-nothings fueled by money from modern robber barons,” as you so aptly put it. I certainly understand your decision to suspend writing your column indefinitely. Selfishly, however, I hope the day will come when you decide to resume writing, at least on an occasional basis. You have much to say, and you say it so well. Thanks again and best of luck.
—Roger W. Leonard, Republic, Missouri
I have a few email “friends” who occasionally send me right-wing garbage. I sometimes respond by sending them a link to one of your columns…Thank you for all these years of interesting, informative and good humored reading.
—Judy Guy, Springfield, Missouri
Just read your latest column and I’m so sorry you had the cardiac event, however, happy that you survived it and haven’t lost your feistyness. I always look forward to your column and frequently give you a big “yes” — almost always, really. I’m 79 years of age and certainly understand your desire to retire but, trust me, you will be sorely missed. What with all the idiotic Republican rhetoric, you are our one bright, intelligent read. I live in Salida, Colorado, a mountain town of about 5,000 souls — many who don’t agree with my beliefs — translated that would be Republicans. Anyway, we just co-exist in relative peace. I wish you all the best and especially good health and peace.
—Norma Smith, Salida, Colorado
No question about it Donald, all Iowans are “heartbroken” regarding the news of your recent bout with your heart…With your way with words and the scores of folks like me who have enjoyed your columns over the years, get back too it ASAP!
—John Langin, Johnson, IA
Darn oxygen. You’d think a molecule like that (O2), which makes up 21 percent of the atmosphere, would cooperate a little when it comes to nourishing your heart muscle. But, alas, there are lots of reasons that little molecule couldn’t get to those nice heart muscle cells. I imagine you’ve become a bit of an expert in that process by now. Most people react after the fact and, you’re probably like the rest of us, researching that process. I would urge you to go one step further with the oxygen molecule. Now that it’s nourishing your heart muscle, which is dutifully pumping your blood, follow the next oxygen molecule as it exits your aorta and hangs a left up those nice carotid arteries leading to your brain. Now it’s time for those great neurons of the brain to receive their gift of life. The neuron lives and your thoughts flow with the reading of these words. Isn’t oxygen great? Keep your words flowing so my neurons keep requiring that oxygen molecule, and I keep thinking. Because, when it comes right down to it, no words: no thinking. And, then, what’s the point? Happy oxygen pumping and neuron firing! Continue to heal quickly!
—Clark Harris, Branson, Missouri, Clark Harris [email@example.com]
Since Molly Ivins left us, you have been the only link to reason in this crazy world.
—Dr. Larry L. Shaw
Please do not desert us in this wasteland, Mr. Kaul. I’ve been reading your column since I was fifteen years old (yes, I was a girls basketball player) and I hold you responsible for my deep-rooted cynicism. You’re the light shining in the darkness. Do not unscrew your lightbulb now. Take some time for R&R&R (rest, recovery, etc.) and give us some more of what you’ve got. Love and best wishes.
—Eileen Nelson, a faithful Iowa reader
I am a long time reader/admirer of your columns and am so sorry you’ve hit a bump in the road that brings the columns to an end. As a fellow heart attack survivor (talk about denial…I drove myself to the hospital!) I know there’s a lot of life left after the attack. My cardiac rehab involved riding a stationary bike….you can handle that. It’s my hope you will soon feel well enough you’ll want to resume writing. You have had the gift over the years to express what I was thinking and feeling but was unable to express nearly as coherently or cleverly. I own your books, have a collection of yellowing clippings of your columns and really still hope for more.
Your words in today’s Winston-Salem Journal made me declare aloud, “Yes, he has earned his freedom from our frightening national political scene.” You have been a “friend” for most of my life; I began reading your column in the Des Moines Register when I was a freshman at Simpson College in Indianola. Fortunately, you have appeared in newspapers wherever I have lived. I will miss both your wisecracks and your wisdom. But, you know, when I recently retired, walking away from my role as Human Resources Director of an organization of over 2,000 employees, I compared it to what I imagine experiencing weightlessness feels like. You deserve that also! Let your burden down!
—Carol Gearhart, Pfafftown North Carolina
I’m 76 and have retired three times. Likewise, I’ve returned to the newsroom thrice. For my story, just patch in your brilliant column. My attack came on gradually but ended up with a December 12, 2011 open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve with bovine skin and a double bypass in the bargain. The recovery was brutal. Long story short: I’m back in the newsroom, which includes banging out a weekly column (for 46 years), upon which western civilization depends. Now I’ve never lied to you before, right? My fervent advice is: Go back to work, forthwith! Your kind of writing and blunt truth is needed now more than ever. I believe the Republic is hurting. Finally, what in the world could you do that would be more profound. Just existing in good health is not a viable option. Thank you for your great piece on the attack and warning to other poor wretches such as we.
—Bob “Hawk” Ellis
I read your column regularly (in the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader). I don’t always agree with you…in fact, you and I are often on opposite sides of political issues…but I find your column interesting and provocative, and at times very helpful to me as I try to think through just where I stand on various matters; it “makes me think,” in other words.
I guess I qualify as one of those “…Bible-thumping know-nothings” (Republicans!) you write about, in some ways, but I also agree with you 100 percent that this is not the America I grew up in, nor is it the America I long to pass on to my children… Please know that I value your work as a columnist who speaks his mind, and, being in my 70s also, I understand somewhat what you are dealing with. I hope and pray that your good health can be restored, and if you do decide to begin writing your column again, I’ll be here (Lord willing) to again benefit from reading it. God bless you, and hang in there!
—Mabe Davidson, Branson area of Southwest Missouri
I was saddened to read of your recent heart attack. I hope this finds you in good spirits, recovering on schedule and preparing your next column. I’m happy to continue to read you in the Des Moines Register, a tradition reaching back to the 1960s, when my family would discuss your writings around our dinner table. Nowadays, if you see a family gathered around a meal table with their heads down, you can be assured that — rather than sharing a moment of silent reflection — they’re checking their mobile devices for whatever form of electronic ephemera is the current rage. Your work is a beacon of sanity in a crazy world — I’m reminded of what Jonathan Swift said about how a man of genius never failing to rally a confederacy of dunces. Best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery!
—Michael K. Bryant
I have been reading your columns since I was a kid growing up in Iowa. Maturing from being a follower in a super conservative family to becoming a sound and active liberal adult, I have evolved while enjoying your take on life. Your ability to zero in on the issues of the day, cutting through all the accompanying BS, has been a joy to read. While saddened at the turn of events with your health, I know from personal experience that modern cardiac medicine really can put you back together until you are about 100 percent. So, from this corner of beautiful northeast Iowa, know that a fan is thinking and praying for your excellent recovery and (hopefully) a return to doing some writing.
—Jane Kemp, Decorah, IA
We hope you can rest, recuperate, stick to your vegan diet (!), and come back with pencil sharpened! We do need your voice in these fearful times. And thank you for alerting us to The China Study. It is changing our lives.
—Winifred and Ellis Standing Earlham, Iowa
We will miss him so much. My husband and I live in northeast Missouri and drive 12 miles every Sunday to buy the Des Moines Sunday Register, mainly because of the Donald Kaul articles. I sometimes can get it online from the website of the Burlington, Iowa Hawkeye newspaper. We hope Donald is able to resume writing his columns in the near future.
I have so enjoyed the return of your columns to the Des Moines Register. I’m a big fan from your original time in that paper. Please, please consider continuing your column when you feel up to it. You know you’re going to keep up on current affairs anyway so you might as well tell us what you’re thinking. We need you! Best wishes either way,
—Art Horgen, Knoxville, Iowa
The political atmosphere in the USA is enough to give a thinking, caring person, like you, a heart attack. Your health now is primary. Take care, and thanks for all your thought-provoking columns.
—Barb Sorlie, Ankeny, Iowa
If you decide for sure not to write any more columns, I will sorely miss reading them. Politically, we are usually on the same page, me being a liberal Democrat without much patience for Republicans —although some of them are friends of mine, I have to say. You can’t avoid Republicans when you live in Lewisville, North Carolina…Democrats have few voices willing to speak out with as much conviction as you do, but you’ve done your share and then some. If you want to smell the roses until you’re a hundred, you’ve certainly earned the right! I just want to tell you that I’m sorry for your health troubles, and that I’ll miss your columns more than I can say. Thank you for writing them.
—Terri Kirby Erickson, Lewisville, North Carolina
Indeed Donald Kaul’s column in the Des Moines Register has been a wonderful blend of biting humor and penetrating insights into our life and times pushing us all to look more carefully at the distressing tenor of our political and social life today. He has indeed been a breath of fresh air as our political climate has become more combative on the state and national levels. His insights on his own life and our life together have been entertaining, insightful and challenging and we hope that he will contribute more writing as he is interested and able. Thanks, Donald, for sharing from all of your heart.
—Nancy and Dale Hanaman, Rippey, Iowa
It has been 16 years since I had my triple bypass and I am doing great at 85, cussin’ Republicans and eating juicy tomatoes from my own garden. I was saddened, as I am sure you were, by the death of William Raspberry. I know you must have appreciated his work as I did, but I recommend that you do not join him, at least right away. If you crank up the sharp pencil again I promise I will find a way to get hold of your work. Best wishes! Pax et bonum.
I am, I think, a Christian in the arena waiting for the sound of thundering lions paws here…Don, You have no idea how important you are to all of us, We can only pray that reasonable people like you will be able to derail what I think is sure to come, that our country will, if it hasn’t already, become a country of lords and serfs. What a beautiful country and what a great shame. I for one am fighting to my last breath to try to in my own small way save what I love so dearly, and I know that there are lots of us out there!
—Chuck Maloney, Springfield, Missouri
Sorry to hear that problems with your bleeding heart may deprive us of the laughs provided from your left-wing nut perspective. Along with the laughs provided from the right-wing nut perspective of Ann Coulter, sometimes the opinion section is funnier than the comic section. If you ever need to take a quick nap, I suggest you try reading a column from the boring George Will…Enjoy your retirement.
—John Ross, Gulfport, Mississippi
Say it ain’t so! You absolutely MUST continue writing (aka truth-telling). Your columns have always said exactly what’s been on my mind; however, you always said it better and with more flair than I could have…Please, I beg of you to reconsider and share your valuable insights as part of the largely silent majority. Yes, I agree that educated thought and civility is in decline in this country. But if your voice is silenced, the ignorant, small-minded and mean-spirited bigots WIN (even if they are in the radical right minority). If you stop writing, yours won’t be the only heart that is broken.
—VaLinda Parsons, Ames, Iowa
I am extremely saddened to read that you are considering not returning at all. While I can completely understand after reading today’s column, I can still regret the loss of one more voice of reason in this era of scary people like Rush Limbaugh. With so many moderate, reasonable politicians getting out because of what you described, I keep wondering who is going to be left to speak for those of us who have no forum. My memory is not as good as it used to be but I’m sure you recognize the poem I’m referring to: Who will be left to speak for me? My husband and I live in southwest Missouri — not exactly a hotbed of liberal thinking! Sometimes, we feel as if we’re the sole liberals left in this county!…Good luck in your “last years” and remember that you gave many of us a great deal of enjoyment with your learned, enlightening words.
—Lana Roach, firstname.lastname@example.org, Missouri
This is a moan of anguish! As a Richmond, Virginia native, I (and my wife, Lake), had to rely on the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Richmond News Leader for all political philosophy for almost 50 years before moving away. Your reasonable approach to the D.C. situation has been a breath of spring. It has been available to us through the Biloxi Sun Herald. We look forward to your views and would be greatly disappointed to see you retire.
—Tom Andrews, Mississippi
While I have no clear idea how I plan to spend the waning years of my life, as you seem to be deciding how to spend yours, one thing is certain. In my view, the world is a less colorful, informed, and intelligent place without your public voice in it. Thank you for letting me listen.
Trump is nobody. YOU are THE DONALD. Please don’t stop writing columns. I am 77 and I was retired for 10 years. It was awful. Don’t lose the momentum.
—Dan Felshin, Springfield, Missouri
I live in a small remote one-newspaper town. Our editor writes that President Obama couldn’t possibly do anything right. Guest opinions are usually from The Heritage Foundation, Rush Limbaugh, or Sean Hannity. Your columns are a breath of fresh air and you gave a sense of humor which “conservatives” do not seem to have. Your column published in The Mountain Mail on July 25th was right on. I do hope you will continue to write and appear in our local paper. Also, for your information I am not a radical left winger, but a 92-year-old long-time registered (but disgusted) Republican.
—George Blake, Salida, Colorado
Your wit and humor have been a welcome diversion from the dreary and overly dramatic dribble which too often passes for commentary these days…Our readers — at least those who were open-minded enough to read your columns to their conclusion — have benefitted from your writings, whether they know it or not. I know I have.
—J Swygart, Opinion Page Editor, Decatur Daily Democrat, Decatur, Indiana
I hope you will find the means to continue writing; your weekly editorial columns have always been a bright spot in this part of the Bible Belt.
—David B., Aurora, Missouri
Even though I am a Republican — yet one disgusted at my party — I will miss your insightful words should you decide to permanently discontinue your column. Yet I could not blame you. I hope you fully recover from your recent heart attack. And I thank you for the much-needed reminder to many to not ignore the warning signs.
—Dan Engler, Springfield, Missouri
Thanks for summing up the state of the nation so succinctly. I agree totally — and thanks for citing Yeats, that’s it exactly. Best wishes for a speedy recovery and many happy years doing whatever you most like to do.
—Virginia Graziani, Redway, California
I want to thank you for almost 40 years of columns I enjoyed reading most of the time…I was sorry to read of your recent heart attack (and surprised — you’re a biker and a vegan, after all!) in this morning’s paper, and wish you a speedy recovery. Go ahead and have a great retirement, if that’s what you decide to do. There’s always Cal Thomas! Aacckkkkk.
—Lori Carroll, Muscatine, Iowa
Well, Donald, I’m sure gonna miss you. Sorry to hear of your heart problems. Hey, at 77, that’s not so bad…could have been worse. I don’t blame you for wanting to retire. I’m retired, and I strongly recommend it. It’s a wonderful life…everyday is Saturday! I was always excited to see your column in the Lake Charles (Louisiana) American Press. I will miss your humor and your spin on the ridiculousness of the political landscape. Enjoy your freedom and take care of yourself.
—Patty Cope, a fan from Cajun Country
I don’t blame you for retiring, but I will miss your voice of reason. In these times we really need people like you to illuminate the darkness. I hope there is someone who can take your place.
I have always enjoyed your columns, even though I disagree with you most of the time. I am an Independent leaning toward Republican, while you are definitely a Democrat. I do try to vote for a person rather than a party although sometimes I feel like marking “none of the above.” But I have always enjoyed your take on things (although you and I will always have to disagree on Obama). You have made me laugh, made me mad, and made me think, which is what great columnists do, and there are all too few of you. I will miss your columns.
—Sharon Gates, Nixa, Missouri
You are hands down my favorite columnist. The combination of insight, humor, and sometimes even compassion are unmatched by any other columnist. If you decide to quit, no one will be able to replace you.