Tragic death brings fond memories – Empty Nest by Curt Swarm


We both worked for the Mt. Pleasant News in the advertising department. I was new and Les was the top dog in sales. I was jealous. We used to tease Les a lot, and he seemed to enjoy it. “Lester the Arrester doesn’t fester, but likes to pester.” A lot of words rhyme with Lester, and the four of us in advertising made up all sorts of jingles. Les just smiled. He was a happy person, which was probably why he was so good in sales. We assumed his name was Lester. It wasn’t until his obit came out that I realized his name wasn’t Lester, it was Leslie. Typical of Les, he didn’t corrected us. Lester the jester.
We went our separate ways. Les to the gypsum plant in Mediapolis, myself to insurance sales. I didn’t see Les again until there was a 5K race at Iowa Wesleyan College. He had his daughter, Amber, with him, and he told her to beat me. She did.
A few years passed and Ginnie and I joined the Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant. There was Les sitting in front of us, this time with his son, Jonathon. Les was the scripture reader for that day. When he sat down, I jested, “Tell it to’m straight, Les.” (Strait was his last name.) He just flashed his classic smile and pretended to shoot me with his fingers.
Les had been a deacon and then an elder with the church. He had been on the nominating committee that brought our current pastor, Trey Hegar, to the church. You done good, Les!
Les and his family moved away from Mt. Pleasant to live on his family farm in Keosauqua, in Van Buren County. He was still working at the gypsum plant in Mediapolis, which made for a long commute. But Les was a tall person, which would have made the trip shorter if he fell forward. (Sorry, Les, there just had to be one last joke.)
The awful news came like a dagger to my heart. Les had been killed in a lawnmower rollover accident. He was 47. Survivors include his wife, Holly, and three kids: Amber, Brandon and Jonathon, also his parents Doris and Marvin. Dear God, why do bad things happen to good people? I dunno. I have no answer.
The next day shivers ran up and down my spine when there was a Friend Request for me from Les Strait on Facebook. This wasn’t one of those auto-generated Friend Suggestions. It looked like it came straight (no pun intended) from Les. Was he trying to communicate with me? I thought about it all day and finally acknowledged the Friend Request to see if anything would happen. Nothing did. Pastor Trey tells me that God can work even through the internet. So I added Les and his family to my prayer list. Maybe that was the message he was trying to send.
An awful detail of the accident: Les had put the roll bar down on his zero-turn mower so he could mow under low-hanging branches. It makes me think more about the steep bank I mow, and how I once tipped my zero-turn mower over backwards. Fortunately, the mower was stopped by the engine cage. I was lucky, Les wasn’t.
I’m a little confused as to why there was no news report about his death, not in the local or state-wide news. Usually when someone gets killed in a farm accident, it makes the news.
The funeral in Keosauqua at the Methodist Church was packed to overflowing. As a representative of the Presbyterian Church in Mt. Pleasant that Les attended for years, in the absence of Pastor Trey, I was asked to speak—my last words to Les.
This time, along with the jokes, there were tears.
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at or visit his website at

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