In Memory

Donald LaBelle

Donald LaBelle

Died 12-17-1998 in San Francisco,CA.

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11/16/11 10:27 AM #1    

Hans (Johannes) Opschoor

 Tulips for Donald Samuel LaBelle.

In July 1961, shortly after my arrival in Grand Forks and just before our senior year started, I met Don LaBelle, and had several lengthy discussions with him. I met so many of our year in those days, but Dan was special. He did not talk about football, soccer, pop music, beer and cigarettes and other such concerns of the appr. 17-year olds we then were, but wanted to hear about culture and philosophy in Europe and the US, and discuss with me his views on these matters and on international relations. In the year to come we every once in a while continued talking about these things, and also about Don's dreams, experiences, hopes and ambitions. Don was a rather special person: very sensitive, very thoughtful, and - as became apparent - very alone. 

He gave me a present: Will Durant's "The Story of Philosophy" (I still have it). On the inside cover he wrote: " a token of international good will and personal charity." And he added something that, I think, represents his personal view of life: "As Life is Action and Passion, it is required that he should share the passion and action of his time, at the peril of being judged not to have lived" (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, 1884). I believe (now more than then) that Don felt cut off from possibilities of really sharing the actions of his time and from expressing in words and deeds the full range of passions he had, fearful of a lack of recognition and maybe even outright rejection. Rightly or not, he felt a little isolated from the dynamics of Main Street (so to speak). My advantage over several other from our year was that every once in a while when he raised as issue, I'd say something in return that seemed to make sense to him. At least my European roots enabled me to not look totally blank when he came up with a reference to Spinoza or Nietsche. He was desperately in search of affinity and reciprocity - at least in what is called a Platonean way. I was able to give him a little bit of these, occasionally, but generally was too busy getting involved in the hectics of the Senior Year at Grand Forks Central High and of being a Foreign Exchange Student operating in the entire state of North Dakota. So I let him down too, no doubt.  

I do not know how he departed from this world. All I can do is hope that he wasn't too lonely when it happened, and that it did not happen as his personal response to the perils from his own Wendell Holmes quote. And I can offer these reflections, as a bunch of tulips from The Hague, in memory of the promise he held and so desperately wanted to realise; "as a token of international good will and personal charity".  

06/25/21 11:32 AM #2    

Thomas Johnson

A very nice comment and tribute to Don, Hans.  He was a friend of mine, too...a sweet and lonely soul who once reached out to me by sharing how he felt about and identified with J.D. Salinger's book,"The Catcher in the Rye."  I read that book and others, too, ("Franny and Zoey" and "Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenter") but I'm afraid I let him down because I couldn't relate to any of them. And that produced an awkwardness between us that never was resolved.  

Thank you so much for your kind words of remembrance, please know that I've returned to your post several times since you wrote it to remember Don and the talks we had.  I remember my concern for him at the time and regret that I was not a better friend.


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