Farewell to Kurt Detwiler, First Person to Ever Publish My Photographs in His Book “Coasting Along”
Today I say a sad goodbye inside my heart to Kurt Detwiler, an old friend I’d lost touch with, whom I learned passed away last night. Kurt was the first person to ever publish my photographs when I shot the cover photo and many interior accent photos for his 1997 book Coasting Along: A Bicycling Guide to the New Jersey Shore, Pine Barrens and Delaware Bay Region. I just learned of Kurt’s passing, amazingly, through someone who found me via As Seen by Janine’s Photo Blog and used my contact form to reach out to me, for which I am very grateful.
I learned the news of Kurt’s passing from a stranger, as did many of my mutual friends who knew Kurt, because, as I mentioned, we had lost touch. The news of his death hit me with no small amount of sadness, for many reasons, not the least of which is that he was my age (only 51), and also not the least of which is that the last time I saw Kurt was in 1997, when he took me out to dinner to thank me for my work on the photographs for this book. I’ve actually had no contact with him since then, nor have most of the mutual group of friends who knew Kurt, though like many of us, I’ve never given up on the idea that at some time Kurt would come back into the circle of our lives.
We all went to Gettysburg College together back in 1979-1983, give or take a year or two for some of us, depending on what year we graduated. Those friendships became lifetime friendships for a good solid group of us, but the one person we’d all lost touch with was Kurt. He had chosen, for reasons none of us still really understands, to distance himself since the late 1990’s or early 2000’s from everyone from that part of his life.
Oh there were “sightings” from some of our efforts to search Kurt out, such as the time a little over three years ago that someone found a newspaper article about Kurt being the first person in line for the opening of the Big Savage Tunnel in Maryland as it opened for the end of the winter season. There had also been a video posted of this event, showing Kurt riding his bike that day through the tunnel along the Great Allegheny Passage trail. That video was the last glimpse many of us ever had of Kurt. Here is the video link and also the newspaper story.
An actual “sighting” occurred, as I understand it, when another friend successfully hunted Kurt down and simply showed up to see Kurt a few years ago. Aside from that, we’ve all just been trying to make sense of why Kurt had chosen to walk away from all of our friendships. Had he become a hermit? Was he suffering from depression? Was he happy? Did he enjoy his life? These and many more questions haunt me and now I can never ask them…
I have always wanted to find Kurt again to tell him that he truly helped to launch my photography career by choosing me to take the cover photograph for his Coasting Along book. In addition to the cover, Kurt included quite a few of my New Jersey Shore area black and white scenic photographs as accent photos in the book’s interior. We had joked that the rides in his book were very often “Miles From Nowhere” but I just so happened to have photographs of some of those remote locations.
Others, such as the Cape May Lighthouse, I went and photographed specifically for Kurt’s book. The light house photo was taken in sub zero weather, with my son, Justin, shouting to anyone who would listen, “We’re going to die out here, my Mom’s trying to kill me!” Sure was glad Kurt chose to include that photo in the book, and that my son didn’t lose any extremities from frostbite! It is a memory Justin and I treasure again and again, including that I bribed him to remain out there on the Cape May beach with me that day, with a very questionable parenting technique, which was promising to take this 10 year old kid to see the “Bevis and Butthead” movie in the Cape May theater after the photo was successfully captured. Probably wasn’t age appropriate, but that entire day remains one of Justin’s and my most treasured memories, and it was all thanks to Kurt requesting a Cape May Light House photo.
It filled me with such pride to have so many of my photographs published for the first time ever in Kurt’s book.
[Note: I am credited as Janine A. Fisher in the book – although I was divorced, at that time I was still using my married name so my son and I would have the same last name. I resumed using my maiden name of Janine Fugere in 2002, when my son got older.]
All these years, despite having lost touch with Kurt, I have even hoped that there might be a possibility that someday, I’d shoot photographs for another of his books on bicycle touring through historic regions. Kurt, as both a wildly enthusiastic bicyclist and an avid history buff, combined the love of both into several books, which are still available on Amazon and many other sources.
In searching online to see what I could find on Kurt today, I found a photograph of him which, while I don’t know how old it is, nonetheless is the most recent photograph I have of Kurt. I am hoping the Cumberland Times will not mind my including this image from their newspaper, to help me hold a memory of my dear old friend…
I am grateful to Kurt’s friend, Jennifer, for taking the time to reach out to me and let me know that Kurt passed away on September 1, 2012. It is amazing to me that she found me, which I can only guess was possible because I have an image of Kurt’s book on my “Sales and Publications” page of this blog. However, strangely, that page had been unpublished for the past couple of months because I had hidden it until I could update it to add more recent sales and publications. Yet, somehow Jennifer found me anyhow. Even though I know it is too late f or him to see it, I republished that page today as a memoir to Kurt. I am hoping it may be possible that Kurt saw actually that post sometime before he died and knew what an important part of my life and my photography career he was. However Jennifer found me, I take great solace in the words she sent which said that Kurt was surrounded by loved ones and appeared to be in no discomfort at the end. She also shared a beautiful gift with me, which was to tell me these words:
“I know that he had not been in touch with you for awhile, but I also know that he valued your friendship and counted you as a person who had been important in his life. ”
Thank you Jennifer for making sure I knew that.
Thank you Kurt for making sure that there was someone who knew to tell me I’d been that important to you, too, as you’d been important to me. I still have my autographed copy of Coasting Along which I will always treasure, and I will always be grateful to you for helping to launch my photography career.
Fare Thee Well Kurt…. I wish you peace in “whatever comes after.”
As Seen by Janine: Eyes of the World Images
ADDENDUM NOT POSSIBLE TO INCLUDE IN COMMENTS:
I received this email from Kurt’s friend, Meg Romero, who wrote to share with me memories and photos, since there was no way for her to post the photos in the comments on my blog. She wished to share that Kurt, in fact, had a very close group of friends, and a richly creative life during the latter years of his life, despite that he’d gone missing from our lives.
Meg’s email gave us comfort to know he had some great quality of life, at least until his health declined into the dark place which caused alcohol to eventually take his life. All the same, Meg’s email also filled us with sadness that we were not a part of his life then. For whatever reason, fighting his demons, for Kurt, needed to include severing ALL ties to his past, including all of us who were Kurt’s “Gettysburg Family.”
We take solace in knowing, after the fact, that, nonetheless Kurt chose two of us from Gettysburg to name as “important people to notify once he died.” I was one of them, which has touched me so deeply…
Back to Meg’s email, these photos and her words MUST be shared!
Lovely to hear from you!
Kurt and I organized a “Dandy Bicycle Parade” for a few years: it was good fun, but…sheeze..too much work and too much $$ went into an event that lasted twelve minutes ! (we thought and thought about ways that we could S-L-O-W D-O-W-N the parade…but they are kids on bikes and they are NOT INTERESTED in slowing down! )
I HATED these black and white sunglasses: absolutely hated them…. BUT! He was very proud to have found them, and he thought they were a great match for his new bike…..so…. I kept my mouth shut!
He was so proud of his POLLOCK bike! I thought he had painted a pair of shoes also, but seeing this photo again I guess I made that part up. To hear him tell the story, he was a wild man putting all that paint on therem and I bet if I looked around his property I could still find some paint splatters!
I love the look on his face in this shot..this is the expression that I’m going to remember…
And finally: my husband and I hosted some pretty cool Halloween parties: lots of people and AMAZING costumes! I’d estimate that over the years, we probably had 400 or so costumes, and Edward Scissorhands is my all-time favorite. Not only was it a striking costume, I LOVED the thought of Kurt carefully sewing all those scissors onto a pair of gloves… and searching for the perfect pocket protector. He made a wonderful metal-y noise as he walked around…We all had fun that night!
As Jen was sorting through some things last week, she told me that she found the gloves in a box in his closet. Hmmm.
I may consider asking her for those….
And finally…”Holly and Edward” …. that’s me…pretending to have my Breakfast at Tiffany’s…
Ahhh. Good Times!
In Frostburg, Kurt was right smack in the middle of everything that he enjoyed: art, poetry, and of course, his #1 love: his bicycle.
It is really important to me that you know that Kurt was surrounded by incredible friends here… There is no question that he kept some walls up, but as far as I could tell, everyone respected his “space.” I have no doubt that he knew how much they loved him, how much they enjoyed and supported his writings, and how much we all appreciated his assistance with our bicycling techniques!
Thanks for getting in touch with me~
THANK YOU MEG FOR SHARING THESE JOYOUS PARTS OF KURT’S FINAL YEARS.
[ Side note from Janine: I so treasured learning of Kurt’s love of Jackson Pollock and Meg’s photo of him all “Pollocked Up” that I was deeply moved when one of the students where I teach created a birdhouse in Art class, splatter painted in Jackson Pollock Style. After my telling the student of Kurt, and why his bird house was so special to me, the student came on the last day of school and presented me with his Pollock Bird House as a gift. I keep it inside my home, as art, beside my copy of Kurt’s Coasting Along book.]
THANK YOU ALSO TO JENNIFER, WHOM FROM WHAT WE CAN TELL, WAS THE SOLE PERSON KURT ALLOWED NEAR HIM TOWARD THE BITTER END. WE ARE SO GRATEFUL TO YOU FOR FINDING ME AND OTHERS, SO WE LEARNED OF KURT’S PASSING. IT IS NOW OVER 2-1/2 YEARS SINCE KURT’S DEATH, AND HE IS STILL NOT FORGOTTEN, NOR COULD HE EVER BE….
READ THE COMMENTS FOR MORE SHARES FROM OTHER FRIENDS…
By Janine Fugere
As Seen by Janine: Eyes of the World Images