August 16, 2021 in my 7th year of living in Costa Rica I receive an email through the CONTACT page of my website from Andy Anders who was one year behind Jerry in Camden High School. He writes to say what a positive influence Jerry was on him and his life. I will let his letter speak for itself and my response likewise, though I need a disclaimer: There was so much that I did not know about Jerry that anything I write about him is greatly deplete of all the stories of his life. Yet this letter is where I started trying to put together a page on my 3-years younger brother, Walter Jerry Doggett, as incomplete as I know it is.
Andy’s First Letter
CONTACT FORM ON MY WEBSITE:
Name: Andy Anders
Message: I was a friend of Jerry’s in high school band and have long regretted our loosing track of each other. His parents moved away, but he stayed to complete his senior year. It was not easy for him, and we never heard from him after he graduated and left. He was intensely interested in band and desired to be a band director. I often wondered if he fulfilled that dream. The band program was set up on a semi-military basis. Jerry was a captain and learned to run the instrument repair shop. It appears he had a good life in the north, and I wish we could have talked another time. I went ahead with music studies and taught low brass instruments at Arkansas Tech University for 40 years. Recently, the Arkansas Bandmasters Association recognized and honored the memory of Bonner Ruff, Jerry’s and my high school band director. I was delighted to be asked to participate in that video. Jerry would have liked it.
DISCLAIMER: My memory is getting worse by the year and Bonnie reminded me of 2 errors I made in the first or sent draft of this letter which I corrected here, but there could still be other inaccuracies. If so, I’m sorry!
What a pleasant surprise to hear from you! At 81 now, any contact from my past or even from Arkansas is a chance to recall memories and “the good ol’ days!”
I don’t know how much of my website you perused, but my writings about my family of origin are still slim and not much there on Jerry yet, but I will get more eventually! I spend more of my time photographing nature here in Costa Rica where I live in retirement and thus the website and especially my blog is mostly about Costa Rica. But I occasionally get motivated to write more of my family history and will continue to add to it little by little. And you just helped motivate me. 🙂
When Jerry graduated from high school, I had just moved from the University of Oklahoma to Ouachita Baptist College. I graduated from high school in Tulsa and because our parents had moved back to Arkansas I had become an “out of state student” and could not afford to stay there, transferring to Ouachita.
Jerry and I were not really close at that time, but I was of course very much aware of his love of music and had hoped he would do something in that field, but it did not happen. He tried a college in Shreveport, LA and at least one other school before he got into a bad marriage that included two sons with their mother and he had to work full time. They lived in Benton, Fort Smith, Little Rock and maybe other towns I think and after she had two boys by Jerry they were divorced. She moved to Alaska with all three boys and Jerry moved to Minnesota where he lived the rest of his life, and his son Steven eventually left Alaska and moved in with Jerry in Minnesota, completing high school and college there and is now a science-based business man living both in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Jerry always just “got by” with many different jobs, always trying to be an intellectual and wrote and submitted at least two novels to various publishers with none ever being published, a great disappointment to him. His favorite job was as editor of The Bemidji Pioneer weekly newspaper and especially writing editorials.
He came to our Mother’s 1988 funeral in Hot Springs and I don’t think I saw him again until 2003 when I went to assist him during a stem cell transplant.
But it was after Dad’s death in 1995 that I tried anyway to be closer to Jerry with visits to him. And then when he got cancer of the bone marrow, I went and helped him multiple times through a bone marrow transplant, other treatments and going to Bemidji with a U-haul to move him to Rochester for his final year or two near Mayo Clinic. He eventually had home hospice and I was the contact person. (We have a younger sister in KC whose health was not the best then and was limited to help much, though she spent one week with him when he was in the transplant house.) The hospice nurse called me in February 2008 to tell me he had less than a month to live and that it was time for me to come up.
I should have flown up from my home then in Nashville, but I wanted the independence of having my car, a little Tacoma pickup, and chose to drive up. I did fine through Illinois, but the second morning driving through southern Wisconsin I hit “black ice” and totaled my pickup in a ditch. I had no broken bones, just lacerations, bruises, etc. and eventually made it to Rochester in a rental car. I sat with Jerry in his little one bedroom efficiency the last three weeks of his life, feeding, bathing and caring for his bathroom needs to the end when one evening he passed on, 29 February 2008, a leap year day that would have pleased him! 🙂
His son Steve lived in the twin cities at the time and came down only once during those last three weeks and then after his death when he was in charge and I left. At Jerry’s request, we spread his ashes over the headwaters of the Mississippi River where he loved to canoe, but Steve did not get that scheduled until September. Bonnie (our sister with her husband Tom) and I joined Steve and his family for the spreading of the ashes. All I have on my site now are the photos of that spreading. Maybe later I’ll write about my feelings in that experience.
The only late photos of Jerry himself are from two trips to Minnesota in those final 2 years: 2007-2008 – Rochester, MN with Jerry. And earlier in a 2005 visit when he thought the end was near, he let me photograph him (he usually would not). They were made as he led me driving him on a tour of his canoe landings on the headwaters of the Mississippi River, one of which was where 3 years later we spread his ashes: Photos of Jerry This 2005 Trip Or if interested in that total trip and my photos along the “Great River Road” see the bigger gallery: 2005 May-June — Bemidji, Northern Minnesota & Great River Road.
I’m sorry that I have not yet created “Jerry’s Page” on my website, but you can be proud of the fact that your email has now motivated me to begin working on it! (It was started that day.)
Any questions you have or anything else you want to know, let me know. As a fellow musician with Jerry you may find it interesting that his passion later in life went from music to writing and that his greatest disappointment was never being published as a writer, other than his work on the little small-town newspaper. In 2005 when he thought he was about to die, he destroyed the two or more book transcripts so no one would see them since they were not published. That made me think that they were partly biographical in nature, but I really do not know.
Walter Jerry Doggett
Born August 24, 1943, Warren, Arkansas
Died February 29, 2008, Rochester, Minnesota
Thanks for writing and I hope I didn’t “overdo” my response with too much info!
Andy’s Response Back
16 August 2021
Thank you so much, Charlie. I had searched for some time for Jerry, discovering his obituary only recently. I never understood his desire to stay in Camden, even though, senior year was a bigger deal than now I think. Perhaps this reflected the relation with his father you speak of. He was industrious, single-minded, perhaps OCD about band. I did not have contact with him outside of band except for a couple of afternoons after school at his home on Washington street and later in his rooming house during his senior year. He did not seem happy, but it seemed to be from his senior year alone becoming increasingly difficult. I do not know if he made contact after graduation with Bonner Ruff, his band director, but bet he did. He admired the man, as did we all. If ever someone should have gone into band directing, it was Jerry. I am sorry his college experience did not work out, and that he had an unhappy marriage. It was most fortunate for him that you came through for him in his final days. Bravo to you.
Thank you again for sharing this information. We all have people that played a part, large or small, in our lives and development. Jerry was one in mine.
Your Costa Rica photos are gorgeous.
Camden Class of ’62, one year behind Jerry