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Larry Dewell survived the farm crisis, but couldn't fight off COVID-19


Jim Meenan  |  Quad-City Times
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After a few difficult falls last year, Larry Dewell moved into a senior center in Clarence, just a block from the home he shared with his wife, Arnola, who everyone calls “Nonie.”

When the pandemic closed the center to visitors, Nonie kept up her routine, walking the block to stand sentry outside his window. After a 61-year marriage, going without any sort of daily interaction seemed unconscionable.   

“The last eight months, they haven't been able to see each other…," said his daughter Vicki Hamdorf. "They had never been apart before that eight months.”

After contracting pneumonia and then COVID-19, Larry, 83, died of complications from the disease on Nov. 5 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, the same institution where he was born.

Born in 1937, Larry lived his entire life around Clarence, a small town on the edge of the Lincoln Highway.

During a 70-year farming career, Larry watched techniques evolve from horses pulling plows to drivable tractors to computer-enabled combines as he worked his brother’s, his dad’s and his own farm, all about a half a mile from each other.

"He loved farming because he loved working with his dad and his brother,” Vicki said. “He loved being outdoors and the animals. He loved hard work, too. He was the hardest working man I knew."

Working on the farm also meant more time with his wife, a constant companion; his four kids, with whom he raised calves; and his 14 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren, who he cheered on at countless 4-H events.

Theirs certainly was a life of pastoral pleasantry, Vicki said, riding three-wheelers between farms in the sun and snowmobiles when the weather turned cold.  

"We all worked together, so we spent lots of time together, bailing hay, working with cattle and harvesting," Vicki said.

During the farm crisis of the 1980s, Larry took on another job at the co-op grain elevator, where he kept working until he was 75.

A quadruple bypass began to slow him down at that age, but he still worked part-time during busy seasons for a while. 

While he was in the hospital, Vicki and relatives organized a Zoom call with 27 of his family members, a thrill that broke up the hard days.

“The doctor at the hospital said that’s all he talked about was that he had Zoomed with his family," Vicki said.

Nearing his final days, and after a consultation with doctors, Larry was moved to hospice, where his wife could spend time with him.

"We were trying to figure out a way for Mom and Dad to see each other," Vicki said. "That was our worst nightmare, that something was going to happen to him before they got to see each other."

Indeed, in his final days, Nonie finally got to step through that window — holding the hand that had held hers for more than 60 years.

This story is part of the Iowa Mourns series, a collection of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at ccrowder@dmreg.com.

Iowans lost to COVID-19

The following are deaths from COVID-19 were added in the past week to our list of more than 400 Iowans who have died from the disease, found at DesMoinesRegister.com/IowaMourns.

Ruthmarie Beisner, 87, Readlyn. Sang German songs for her family during the winter holidays.

Diana Bixenman, 74, Le Mars. Instilled a great appreciation and love for cards and golf in her family.

Charles Callahan, 77, Bettendorf. Worked for UPS for 33 years in New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Kansas, and Nebraska.

Cynthia Carey, 63, Council Bluffs. Worked for the Physicians Mutual Insurance Company for 22 years.

Dorothy Clausen, 93, Lake View. Was a member of the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary for over fifty years in Soldier and Wall Lake.

Rebecca Copple, 86, Iowa City. Lived with her husband in Japan for two years and visited Turkey, Mexico, China, and many places in Europe.

Cherie Dandurand, 53, Moville. Loved teaching about the history of ancient Egypt and Europe in the Middle Ages to her middle school students.

Harry Delmar Donald, 87, Bennett. Served his community as a volunteer fireman and treasurer for the Bennett Fire Department for over four decades.

Roberta Jean Gardner, 100, Des Moines. Loved caring for her flower and vegetable gardens with her green thumb.

Darlene Catherine Goddard, 95, Iowa City. Worked in the Oral B Laboratories until 1987.

Helen Louise Harrison, 98, Muscatine. Worked at Kelly Field supporting B-17 bomber production in San Antonio during World War 2.

Mark Henry, 64, Davenport. Took mission trips to Zimbabwe, Moldova and the Phillipines.

David Hindal, 64, West Des Moines. Played trumpet and french horn in the ISU Alumni Band, DSM Community Band, DSM Community Orchestra, WDSM Community Bands, Waukee Community Band, and pit orchestra for Urbandale Community Theatre.

Doug King, 69, Mason City. "The most loving, fun, outgoing dad and grandpa (Bompa) we could ever ask for."

Betty Sonner Kooker, 78, Altoona. Volunteered with prison ministries, teaching bible studies, and at Sunshine Open Bible.

Nelda Lindhorst, 88, Council Bluffs. Worked as a Medical Transcriptionist for Mercy Hospital.

Patricia Loter, 87, Keokuk. Worked at Sheafer Pen in Fort Madison, then Seither & Cherry and Hubinger Landscaping in Keokuk.

Christine McGowan, 70, Washington. Treasured her four guide dogs over the years.

William Mclaughlin, 89, West Des Moines. Started his own engineering, urban planning and construction business in 1971.

Phil Menke, 72, Algona. He enjoyed doing the finish carpentry in new homes. He truly cherished the friendships he made with  many of his clients.

Gabriella Michelle Price-MacCormick, 24, Cedar Rapids. Competed in Track and Field, Bowling and Basketball skills in Iowa Special Olympics.

Judy Thenhaus, 81, Cedar Rapids. Spent her early life as a stay-at-home mother with her children, then became a 'house mom' at St. Luke's Hospital.

Catherine Waldmann-Murphy, 66, Council Bluffs. Served in the Air Force for our years after high school.

Joseph Wilhelm, 82, Davenport. Enjoyed deer and moose hunting, and target shooting.