March 22 • 04:32 AM

Teacher, mentor, musician, friend, extraordinary

May 23, 2018
He comes in the employee entrance and pokes his head around my office door.

"Tom's not in?" he asks.

"No. He had to go take some photos downtown," I say. "He should be back shortly."

"Oh," the tall-ish man responds. "Do you mind if I come in for a minute?"

"Not at all," I say, and he takes a seat.

"Oh," he says again, making his way back up to standing. "Is it okay if I sit down?"

"Of course!" I grin. "Make yourself comfortable!"

He sits down again and unbuttons his army green colored coat.

"You wanted to talk to me about something?" he inquires.

I'm momentarily stumped.

"You mentioned something about a conversation salon?" he says, his voice rising at the end indicating he's asking a question.

"Oh! Yes! My friends and I have started this thing in Imlay City, mostly just to bring people from around the area together once a month to put down the devices and just do some old fashioned talking," I say. "We thought it'd be fun, and a good way to get to know the people around us."

"Oh," he says.

"And I thought it might be something you'd enjoy," I say.

"Oh," he says again.

There's silence.

"It's nothing political or anything like that," I say. "We're hoping it will just be a nice way to interact with others."

"Oh," he repeats. "When do you meet..."

This is how Don Davenport becomes a beloved part of the Imlay Conversation Salon.

The first time he attends, he brings his laptop and sits at an unoccupied table. He orders a bourbon and opens the computer and begins surfing the web. I move to join him at the table and so it goes.

Three years later, he's a valued and vocal participant. He surprises us with his stories of teaching in Managua, Nicaragua. Wows us with his autographs of renowned math geniuses and brings my jaw to the floor with his stunning collections of instruments and art. He teaches me about the difference between bourbon and whisky. And he's the only other person I know (aside from my aunt) who's read the book 'Bread Alone.'

Brilliant. Quirky. Modest. Shy. Caring. Compassionate. Good humored. Intellectual. Down-to-Earth. Inquisitive. Remarkable. Extraordinary. Different. This is the Don Davenport I know.

Conversely, it seems there is nothing Don Davenport doesn't know. There is an incandescence about him that's hard to describe; a rare individual who's ignited by trying new things and inspired by helping others in all sorts of ways. Whether it's understanding a brutally difficult mathematical concept or sharing the fine art of collecting wild yeast for bread, Don's the man. The teacher. The mentor. The helper. 'The Donald.'

This one-of-a-kind gentleman whom I slowly got to know through the years took his last breath on this planet last Wednesday, May 16, and leaves a hole in the community that's a mile wide.

He was an inspiration and friend to many, and a caring helper to all. Whether you knew him well or not, Don made an effort to assist whenever and however needed—from offering rides to doctor's appointments to donating Kindles to the library so everyone could learn to use one.

A musician with an artist's heart, Michigan Radio fans could count on his day sponsorships, where the announcer would call out 'Today's sponsor is Don Davenport, who gives a big shout-out to community bands everywhere.'

A lifelong learner and dedicated bicyclist, Don said 'yes' when others would say 'no,' and believed in showing compassion and caring for all in the human race. He stood firm in his beliefs, and wasn't afraid of speaking them—through conversations where he was in the minority, or with the letters to the editor he'd drop on my desk.

His bread-baking skills were unparalleled, and he inspired me (and countless others through his library talks) to dare to dial up the oven to 500 degrees and give his secret recipe a


I am stunned that he is gone. The community—the planet—was made better by his time here. He is sorely missed and will always be fondly remembered by this unexpected and unsolicited fan, and hundreds of others he's touched and influenced as a teacher, mentor and friend.

I hope the angels are serenading him with classical music, and that the smell of warm, fresh bread is in the air, always.

Email Catherine at

Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.
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