Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Life Well Lived

Howard "Deac" Hunter
September 21, 1922 to March 2, 2014
Let me just put it in writing: I love my friend Deac.  I was going to write "I loved Deac", but that just isn't true.  Just because he's passed on doesn't mean I love him any less.

Howard "Deac" Hunter was a truly great man, one of those delightful, and truly good, guys who come along all too infrequently in life. In fact, he was such a great guy, such a good friend, and so full of youthful energy, I tended to forget he was old enough to be my father.

I first met Deac not long after I moved to Whittier, California, nearly 25 years ago.  I had called to inquire about tickets to the Whittier Community Theatre. On this occasion it was Deac's beautiful wife Nora who answered my call.  By the time I hung up the phone I had been invited to join the WCT and was well on my way to performing in my first show (Blithe Spirit) with these good people.

My friend Deac passed away on Sunday, March 2nd at the age of 91 at his home in Whittier, California, surrounded by his family.  To say he will be missed is a gross understatement.  He leaves a huge gap that will be impossible to fill.

The lovely service was held at the Hillside Chapel at Rose Hills
It's no coincidence that I met the Hunters through the Community Theatre.  Deac loved acting, he loved singing, he loved telling stories and entertaining. He was a mainstay of the theatre for more than 50  years.  

On Monday the 17th, his very talented theatrical family put together a lovely service as a memorial to their extraordinary husband, father, uncle, and grandfather.

Howard David Hunter, Jr.was born on September 21, 1922 in Colorado Springs to Aletha and Howard "Pop" Hunter. He was raised during the depression years in Ralston, Nebraska with his brothers and sisters, Ida Mae, Bob, Walter and AJ.  

During World War II he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a bomber pilot, flying 35 missions over Germany. I didn't realize that his nickname Deac came from this time of his life.  Howard, a man of integrity and honor, even at the tender age of 22, kept the other young soldiers in line and out of trouble, earning the nickname The Deacon.  He wore the title with pride for the rest of his life.

Upon returning from the war, he enrolled at Pomona College on an unofficial football and poker scholarship. It was there he met his future wife, the lovely and talented Nora Brink. They were married in 1948 and last summer celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. They moved to Whittier in 1951, where they lived for over sixty years, raising four children.

Nora was truly his partner in life, keeping up with his demanding work, interests and hobbies.  She shared his passion for family, and for the theatre and would work tirelessly backstage season after season.

It was a beautiful day up at Rose Hills for the service
Deac's early career out of college was spent helping build the new family business, Hunter Tools. He sold Magic Tip Screwdrivers and Smitty Wrenches out of his car trunk at first and later from the block-long plant in Santa Fe Springs.

In the mid 1950s, he began teaching at Stevenson Junior High School in Los Angeles. Soon he created his own drama program for the school and went on to teach drama for the next 26 years at both Stevenson and John Burroughs Junior High. When he retired, the school district changed the name of the theater at Stevenson to "Hunter Hall."
In 1961, he followed his brother Bob and brother-in-law Jack Heller into the Whittier Community Theater. There he directed me in "You Can't Take It With You" some years ago. He was always fun to work with. He was also a kind and patient director.

Over the next 50 years he served as president, board member, perennial director, legendary actor, and the voice on the answering machine for the WCT. He continued to act into his late 80s, performing in the yearly Victorian Feast to benefit the Whittier Historical Society.

I was once at a Belles Lettres book club meeting at the Whittier Historical Museum and to my delight, there was Deac, in full costume, ready to perform for some Historical Museum function that evening.  He greeted me then, as always, with a bright smile and a cheerful "Hi, Marianne!"

What many people don't know about Deac is that he was a founder and first president of the Hunter Foundation which provides vocational scholarships to Whittier Union High School District graduates.

At the podium for the Hunter Foundation awards
Deac loved being with his family most of all. 

He looked forward to long cross country road trips with his family every summer and hosting a family reunion every Thanksgiving. 

Rather humorously, he is remembered for loving to play poker, bridge, and golf. 

Deac used golf as a thinly veiled excuse to spend time with his children and grandchildren. He played his last round of golf with them at the age of 91.  They tell me he still had the best golf swing of them all, even at that age.

The chapel holds 185 people, and it was packed
These mourners are enjoying one of the delightful videos the family had prepared to honor Deac

He is survived by his wife Nora, his children, Susan (Michael) Eiden, Scott (Paula), Kathryn (David), and Clark. His grandchildren are Emily Eiden (Trevor) Murphy, Alex Hunter, Andrew Eiden, and Nora June Hunter. He has one great-granddaughter, Ava Hunter, and a second great-granddaughter (Murphy) due in July.

A handsome young Deac in the 1960s
Ironically, the last time I had a good conversation with Deac was at a funeral last year.  He expressed to me at that time that he knew it would be his turn to pass soon.  I told him by the time you are of a certain age, so many friends and loved ones are on that "other side of the veil" that dying can't possibly be a bad thing.  After all, they will all be there to greet you!

I still hold firm to that conviction.  I figure there was a loving crowd to greet Deac at the pearly gates on March 2nd - and they probably threw him a big Welcome Home party.

Since he's been on the other side for a few weeks now, I'm fairly sure he's already organized a theatre troupe and is having a great time directing and acting in his favorite shows.

I also strongly suspect that one of the first things he heard as he passed were the words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant..."

Much of this was taken from Deac's formal obituary
 which appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune
 on March 12, 2014. 
 I've added my own thoughts and memories.

1 comment:

Jeannette Rook said...

I am a genealogist. I am the one who found all of the children in the Story Caddie Woodlawn.

However I have excellent genealogy on Howard Deac Hunter and it starts with his family book

Full text of "The family of David Cross, born 1745, died 1801"

Pg 72

However when down loading the book PDF its page 134/72

Howard is mentioned in this book it is his Heritiage Sincerely Jeannette K. Rook PS I have been communicating with his daughter Susan C. HUnter Eiden