MURPHYSBORO — David A. “Purp” Lavender passed away Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, at his home in Murphysboro. He was a loving and enthusiastic husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
Purp was born Jan. 21, 1942, in Cairo to Eloise (Motsinger) and William Lavender, who were originally from the Marion area. When he was a few months old, his family moved to Murphysboro, where his father took a job in an auto parts business. He had two older brothers, Larry and Kinny.
He attended school in Murphysboro and graduated from Murphysboro Township High School in 1960. Purp participated in football, basketball and baseball during his junior high and high school years. He was a member of the 1958 MTHS football team that was inducted into Murphysboro Athletic Hall of Fame. He was the catcher for the 1959 state champion American Legion baseball team. He attended Murphysboro Red Devil athletic events from a very young age until a few years ago. Most of those years were spent traveling to watch the football, basketball, baseball and track teams and the cheerleaders. He loved to watch not only his children participate in these, but all of the kids he knew from Murphysboro and the surrounding communities.
Later in his life, Purp became the Athletic Booster Club president for Murphysboro High School. He helped to begin the tradition of “Meet the Team.” He spearheaded the fundraising efforts for everything from contacts for a player to new uniforms and trophies for some “Special Friends of Murphysboro Athletics.”
After graduating from high school, he attended Springfield Barber College in Springfield. He thought that after working for his father in the auto parts business and his brother in the full-service filling station, talking and cutting hair would be an easier and more profitable career. He worked in a few small towns in the Springfield area and then came back to work as a barber in Murphysboro. He retired after 50 years as a barber, ending his career at Gibbs’ Barbershop.
Purp was an avid Cardinal fan with a spirited rivalry with all Cub fans, particularly with his youngest daughter, Robin, and his son-in-law, Craig. He was always up for challenging a call made by an umpire or referee. He was not known for being a quiet sports spectator.
After a whirlwind courtship, he married Karen Wheeler in 1965. He had been drafted in 1963 and trained at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Fort Benning, Georgia. While he was home getting married, his outfit became the First Air Cavalry. Three weeks after their marriage, he left for Vietnam, changing their plans for his last six months in the service. Instead of going for weekends in Florida, he boarded a troop carrier and cruised through the Panama Canal and on to Vietnam.
He was wounded in combat and flown to Japan for surgery. He missed the early December date to finish his military tour, but arrived home on Christmas Eve as a surprise to his family.
The story of his time in Vietnam is told in the books, “We Were Soldiers” and “We Were Soldiers Once and Young.” He and his brothers-in-arms made tapes and wrote out their stories to help the authors blend them all into the book, which was made into a movie. He met the screenwriter and some of the actors on his trips to Washington, D.C.
In the words of his family, "We were privileged to be at the premiere of the movie with the authors of the book, Hal Moore and Joe Galloway. His Army reunions of the A Co. 1/5, continue with frequent phone calls. They are his 'brothers' and extended family."
Purp dealt with PTSD by becoming a positive movement in the community for veterans. It enabled him to talk to all of the families from Jackson County who had a son killed in Vietnam. This helped Purp obtain pictures of these men and take them to be put on permanent display at the New Mexico DAV Vietnam Memorial in Angel Fire, New Mexico. He later took a family who had lost a son in Vietnam out to visit the memorial.
He marched in multiple veteran parades from Los Angeles to Chicago to Washington, D.C. Purp started and participated in multiple veterans’ events in the Southern Illinois area and surrounding states. Most of these events included his family and his favorite music.
Upon returning to Murphysboro to work, he became a member of the American Legion, VFW and DAV, and he was a very active member in Jaycees. They completed many community service projects. He has been the speaker for Memorial Day and Veterans Day services and ceremonies and ROTC groups from St. Louis to Sikeston and across Illinois. He and Karen read names from the Vietnam Memorial Wall during the 10th anniversary celebration in Washington, D.C. Purp has presented lessons and films to school groups of all ages and never turned down a student’s request to interview him for a report. He was always up for an interview for a reporter about legislation affecting the veteran and voiced support on Veterans Day. He spearheaded the placement on the courthouse lawn a Vietnam honor roll of those who served from Jackson County.
Purp helped form and served as an active board member of the Patriots Bravo Company, which organized to raise money and promote the Moving Wall Vietnam Veteran Memorial to bring it to Murphysboro during the Apple Festival. Thousands of people came to visit the memorial. Hundreds of children came and were escorted and told the story of the wall. Now, the Patriots concentrate on making sure that American flags are properly displayed. He oversaw the flag pole installations and flag sales which support their community efforts and scholarship funds.
He was chosen the “Hometown Hero” for a local TV station for his help and support in bringing the Moving Wall to Murphysboro. He also assisted Sikeston and Mount Vernon in their efforts to secure and establish a similar program. Purp served on Illinois Vietnam Memorial committee. He raised money and awareness for the memorial, which is located in Springfield. He was honored as the first “Illinois Veteran of the Month” and was presented his award by Tammy Duckworth, now a U.S. Representative from Illinois.
Purp was the past commander of Disabled American Veteran Association, member of the Military order of the Purple Heart, past board member and service officer of the American Legion, a board member of First Cav Association, participant in the combined color guard for military funerals, member of the original BBQ Cook-off Championship in Murphysboro, member of the Apple Festival Stand Committee, and education surrogate for disabled students from the Tri-County Cooperative and a long-time board member of S.T.A.R.T. He served on Murphysboro Park District Board for several years.
Purp is survived by his wife of 50 years, Karen; his daughters, Dana, Sarah and Robin, and their families; as well as his brothers, Larry and Phyllis Lavender of Arvada, Colorado, and Kin and Peg Lavender of Webster Groves, Missouri.
He was preceded in death by his parents.
Karen became a Murphysboro High School special education teacher, cheerleading coach and class sponsor. Purp helped with all of these, including driving the cheerleader van and helping with Karen’s students in the community. They were also landlords, who often rented to S.T.A.R.T. clients and treated them like family.
Dana Lavender Stites is a middle school special education teacher in Paris, Illinois, who worked for a short while for S.T.A.R.T. as a caseworker before beginning her teaching career. She has a 24-year-old daughter, Shelby, who lived with Grandma and Grandpa while attending SIU to get her degree in elementary education. She also has a 13-year-old son, Carstan, who was born on Grandpa Purp’s 60th birthday.
Sarah Lavender Brashear is the owner of One Hot Cookie in Murphysboro. She is married to Craig Brashear and has two stepsons, Cody Brashear, 23, and LCpl Casey Brashear (U.S. Marine Corps), 22. They have a 6-year-old son, Cooper, who would often “take care of Grandpa” for an hour or two. Cody is the father to Purp’s great-grandson, Mason Brashear, 1.
Robin Lavender Mach is an early childhood special educator in Pacific, Missouri. She is married to Bob Mach and they have three sons; Jordan is 14, Jayden is 12, and Joey is 9.
Mason Schingle, son of Dan and Diane Schingle, was an honorary grandson to Purp.
Services will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22, in First Baptist Church in Murphyboro. Burial will be in Pleasant Grove Memorial Park Cemetery with military rites by American Legion Paul Stout Post 127. Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday at the church.
A Celebration of Life will follow the services at Murphysboro American Legion.
Memorials may be made to Patriots Bravo Co., 333 N. 9th , Murphysboro, IL 62966 for a special flag project for clients of S.T.A.R.T.
Crawshaw Funeral Home in Murphysboro is in charge of arrangements.
To send a condolence or find additional information, visit the memorial tribute at www.crawshawfuneralhome.com.