Check out poker-faced Gene Culver, pocket comb securely in place, ready to rock somebody’s world. If you were playing for real money and you saw this across the table from you… well, probably best to just hand him your wallet and be done with it.

Friday June 30th was a week since Dad passed away peacefully in his sleep. We had a memorial for him at a golf course near here – something he would have loved since he really did not like churches and he really did love golf. I’m copying below the eulogy from the three kids of Gene M. Culver. There’s a more formal obituary here too, but this one was meant to be fun and to celebrate his life. As we heard today from Dad’s buddy Mike, “Let’s not weep because he’s gone, let’s be glad because he was here.”

All the ways Dad failed us

I’m here today to talk about all the ways our dad, Gene Culver, failed us. There’s no shortage of material, let me tell you.

Dad was always involved with us and took us to events and activities when we were kids.

Like being the coach for Kyle’s basketball team (back before Kyle’s prodigious growth spurt). Like when he and Mom put me in clogging classes while they square danced. Like Knights of Columbus parades and A&W rootbeer floats and board games, fourth of July picnics on the Civic Center lawn, building things with Kyle and letting Kyna pretend to draw blood from his arm or listen to his heart through her Fisher Price stethoscope. Enrolling me in a summer day camp where he was a volunteer – the Progressive Youth Center, which subjected even more kids, especially troubled kids, to Dad’s ways!

Oh my god. The list goes on and on.

Even as we got older, he got involved in everything we were interested in. We couldn’t shake him off! We liked skiing, so he started skiing at 57 and then made it a point to travel to Colorado at least twice a ski season for family vacations, and guilting us into dropping whatever else we might have planned. When I studied Russian, he studied Russian. When I switched to Spanish, Dad switched to Spanish! He wanted to hang out with us no matter what was going on – when we were sick, just had surgery, felt bad, or were angry at the world. Right there behind every ring of the phone – DAD!

Look at this map: it’s all the places his kids and grandkid went. He defaced a perfectly good map for that!

One summer I drove to Jackson Hole and got a job but was living out of my car, and didn’t find a way to call him. The longer it got, the more trouble I knew I was going to be in, so I just kept on not calling. One day as I looked for an apartment in the Jackson Hole newspaper classifieds – remember those? – I saw a big black ad with bold white all-caps typeface: it read, “KERI CULVER, CALL YOUR FATHER NOW!” See what I mean?


Seen in the Jackson HOle Wyoming newspaper classifieds, summer, 1987

And then there was the never-ending onslaught of fun things going on. When we might have liked to just sit back and watch TV, oh no, Dad had other ideas. Cards and games, ping pong, boat rides, road trips, hiking and hunting and fishing and ball games and hockey games and… this went on our whole lives, people. Even when we thought he was finally winding down, he discovers WORDLE. For pity’s sake. We couldn’t catch a break. Even going blind didn’t stop him!

It wasn’t just our interests he was interested in. He could’ve invented the phrase “Grow where you’re planted.” He made a commitment to the St. Louis area when he became an entrepreneur here, and the rest of his life showed it. Involvement in local politics and charities, the St. Louis Jazz Society, restaurants and events and all manner of nonsense, waiting for us every time we came here and keeping him entertained the whole year through. He knew the entire metropolitan area, what with driving around and insuring people against calamity, then holding their hands through it when it did up and happen. It’s not for nothing that his client list included generations of the same families. Once you were insured by Gene Culver, you stayed insured by Gene Culver.

And he was so competitive. The man would trash-talk a donut. He invented languages to trash talk. He had thirty or forty stock trash-talk phrases, eight or ten trash-talk gestures, and a rotating cast of seasonal trash-talking he would bring out for special celebrations. Every card game, every putt on every green, every bet placed on every innocuous Derby race – they were all fodder for his endless competitive goading. Was it fun? Sure. Was it overkill? Probably. Can I imagine Dad without thinking of how he would elbow a card into his hand and then look over the cards at me like he had just drawn the Ace of Everything? No, I cannot.

He and Ethelyn tried to teach me bridge one time. That was an education. Each one individually was a shark – together they were a juggernaut. After that episode I signed up for a support group: ACCS – adult children of card sharks.

We are the nerdy ones in every group because of him. We’re polite, respectful, compassionate, gracious and presentable. We’re fairly well-read, quick to pick up on the interests of someone we’re speaking with, able to make jokes that don’t hurt or offend people, and able to fit into just about any social situation. We know what’s going on in the world and don’t just take what other people say as gospel. UGH! Dad was exactly like that! His favorite tv channel was CSPAN for pete’s sake! He led by example and also enforced his wishes about what kind of people we’d grow up to be.

As much as he wanted us to be excellent, he was also not afraid of mediocrity. He was intellectually curious about so many things, never expecting to master them. He kept on and on and on doing them, no matter if he didn’t get any accolades at all! Making French toast. Telling jokes. Singing. In going through his papers we found pages of drawings of Missouri trees, a file folder full of notes and analysis around the Kennedy assassination, blurry and strange photographs where he was testing light and f-stop, and then there was the carpentry. I don’t know how many of you have seen Dad’s productions from the wood shop – spinning cut-outs to show off a treasured coin, a wooden hinge to fit something tightly into a corner, strange shapes and drawers and fillers and tiny little cabinet doors. He helped me make a closet rack:

And have you seen these maps? National Geographic was not going to call anytime soon, you know what I’m saying? But he thought the best way to learn was by doing, and he wanted to learn, so… Dad didn’t mind that he wasn’t an expert. He plugged away at all of that and more. And look how we took his example: a son who can live in the wild with nothing but a pocket knife, wire an Olive Garden, and make arrowhead necklaces; a daughter who traipses the world treating strange diseases, making ambassadors blush, vaccinating stray cats and making baskets; and another daughter – the word nerd – who thinks she can write a funny eulogy!

None of the three of us is ever going to be rich and reckless, I’ll tell you that for free. Dad told us and showed us that money matters, so long as it serves your purposes, but that people and experiences matter more. Fun matters more. Being true to yourself matters more. What was he thinking? Where’s our massive inheritance? It’s like he was trying to give ruthless careerism and blind greed have a bad name.

Oh no, we weren’t allowed to be that way. Instead, he insisted we be conscientious about our work. He wanted to be a business owner, and he made it happen. Where did that leave us? Then we all had to follow our dreams, too! What a pain! I bet if I ask my sister and brother today, they’d say “I just wanted to coast!” I know that’s how I felt. But instead, it was always a trial – figure out what you want, or at least what you don’t want, then strive for the good stuff and avoid the bad. How dare he??? As if he didn’t know how much work that would entail!

And did he make the most of what he had? Oh yeah. His wasn’t the flashiest salary but the man was frugal, especially with us. As generous as he could be with his buddies and their families, he was saving every penny, investing wisely, making hard choices that ultimately made it possible for him to have a comfortable retirement and never want for anything. What an example. Now we have to try to meet that standard – have you ever heard of anything so selfish in all your lives?

He did have one lecture, about brothers and sisters. He harped on it, trying to get us to stop fighting when we were kids. He always said how important siblings would be in our lives, no matter what happened, yadda yadda yadda. He absolutely insisted on all of us getting together at the same time, in the same place, as many times as he could pull it off. Honestly, you folks know us – you know how widely dispersed we’ve been – and what you may not know is that I have always been the family travel agent. Kyna was winging in from some US Embassy health unit somewhere, Kyle from the top of a mountain in Alaska, and me from whatever African or Latin American country I’d been temporarily assigned to. Talk about a recurring nightmare! Dad, I said, isn’t it better to have more visits over the course of the year, with us coming one or two at a time? No, said the big sentimentalist. Let’s see if we can make it work, he said. And by “we”, he meant “you, Keri.” Now look at us. Almost nothing in common – the medico, the mechanic, and the meanderer – and yet we are as thick as three thieves. And I still have to arrange all the flights and hotels.

Our grandma, Hilda Moffatt Culver, wrote this more concise speech to Dad in his autograph book (how cute, right? Having your mom sign your book.) Here’s what she wrote

See that? It started even before him! We were genetically doomed before we even knew it.

My beloved step-sister Patty put it beautifully and concisely this week: What an outstanding person in every way. And now we have to live up to that standard and example – we have to be good to people, have fun, live our lives fully and without reservation, prioritize family, use our brains and our hearts in equal measure, and never let a silly fact like “Oh, I’m sleeping in my car and there’s no such thing as cell phones yet” keep us from staying in touch. It won’t be easy. It might not always be fun – though I have to admit it usually is. But it’s the Culver way.