“No matter where someone comes from or how different their background, when one is friendly enough and unafraid of reaching out to others, great friendships can be formed,” Ken Livingston wrote in his recently published book, called “The Last One Writes the Book.”
Livingston was the mayor of Denison from 2002 to 2006.
“The tragedy of this group was that it came too late in life for many of them but the good news is that it happened at all.”
The group in question was Livingston’s senior league golf group, which included Livingston and his friends Ronnie Henningsen, Chuck Pollak and Jerry Behrens.
When one of the others wasn’t available, Wally Brummer would fill in.
The group played golf regularly on Mondays at Majestic Hills Golf Club, which he said, “for years was the best kept secret in western Iowa.”
In the book, Livingston recounts the bittersweet tale of the friendship among the aging friends and how he came to be the one to tell their story.
Henningsen was the first to go, in 2015 at age 68, after suffering terribly from headaches that kept him from sleeping.
“Ronnie would be a hard person to dislike,” Livingston wrote. “He had a contagious personality right from the start.”
Brummer took his place in the golf group.
“Wally shot about like the rest of us, which made it easy for us to adjust to him playing golf with us,” Livingston wrote. “Plus, Wally was quite the cut up as well and always helped keep things enjoyable.”
Brummer almost never wore a belt when golfing.
Livingston said he used to make bets on whether Brummer’s shorts would fall down when he swung his golf club. They never did, but Brummer caught them just in time on several occasions.
Brummer was the next to go, dying of complications following hernia surgery in 2017 at age 70.
Chuck Pollak died at age 78, just a short time after Brummer.
Pollak had introduced Livingston to most of the golfers he played with.
“He was always fun to play with and thankfully we had a lot of good, fun games,” Livingston wrote.
Pollak had a tendency to get too far ahead of the group and was once hit in the head by a drive by Henningsen.
“That kept him from getting too far ahead of the group for quite a while,” Livingston noted.
Jerry Behrens had a good sense of humor and often said, “I shoot in the low to upper 70s. When it’s colder than that, I just go straight to the bar and skip golf that day.”
One day in the 2017 golf season, after completing five holes, Behrens picked up his ball and said, “I can’t go on anymore.”
He had been diagnosed with lung cancer about six months before.
“Ken, you know the last one writes the book,” Behrens said on an occasion when Livingston visited him in the hospital.
Livingston objected and told him he wasn’t a writer.
“I said, ‘You have to be kidding. That’s not up my alley,’” Livingston said.
Behrens repeated the statement and reminded him of it several times afterward.
He died in February 2018 at age 73. His last words to Livingston were, “Don’t forget, the last one writes the book.”
Livingston followed through and the result is “The Last One Writes the Book.”
The 419-page book tells stories of the golf group, many of whom also played cards together regularly.
Livingston has included a short biography of each of his golf group members and chapters about many other individuals in Denison.
“I expanded the book to cover a fairly large number of prominent people in Denison that I have been close to,” he said.
The last half of the book is an autobiography.
He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1939.
Livingston’s father was a “South Dakota Farm boy” who had to quit school after 3rd grade when his father died.
He tells his family’s story and heritage and of many anecdotes of his own experiences growing up.
When he was in 5th grade, the nuns of the academy he attended in Nebraska City, Nebraska, asked his parents to consider having him skip 6th grade because of his good grades and his “maturity and deportment.”
“I told Mom they were probably just trying to get rid of me sooner,” Livingston wrote.
He recounts his days in the Army, his marriage and his career.
He also tells of “all the shenanigans I pulled back in my drinking days.”
Livingston recounts a joke about a teacher showed how a worm can live in water, but will curl up and die in whiskey; the lesson, one student announced, is that you won’t get worms if you drink whiskey.
“It sounds kind of like the type of theory I practiced all those years I drank,” Livingston wrote. “At least I was never bothered by worms.”
He recounts his struggles with alcohol and how he eventually put it behind him.
The book was put together by bluespace creative, of Denison, and will be available from BookBaby BookShop, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com by December 15.
It will also eventually be available as an e-book.
Livingston said he tried to handle with compassion the stories of the happy times and the tragedies of his friends.
“I hope it is well received,” he said.