Lura Merrill Lovell
An Enduring Love Story
After World War II ended, Lura Merrill was the belle of the ball. Servicemen were back on the Iowa State University campus and Big Band music set the stage for lots of dancing in strapless gowns and long white gloves.
“There were 10 men to every woman on campus in 1947. You could have three or four dates in one day,” Lu recalled. She was tall, striking and popular. “We went to these wonderful dances at the Student Union where Glenn Miller’s band came, and Stan Kenton and Tommy Dorsey.”
She met David Lovell the first week of her freshman year when she went out with one of his fraternity brothers. They often double dated. “He was smart, witty and just fun to be around.”
Then in the fall of her sophomore year, Lu’s date stood her up. A fraternity brother suggested she go with Dave. Neither thought this was a good idea. She was too tall for him.
But they did go out dancing at a roadhouse with another couple. Later that autumn night, “he kissed me and I mean the world stopped for me. It was wonderful – and he felt the same.”
Those were carefree times. He was an Irish Catholic Navy seaman back from the war and going to school on the G.I. Bill. She was no longer helping out as a wartime hospital aide changing bed pans and scrubbing floors. They danced, played bridge and fell in love.
Dave completed his chemical engineering degree and Lu graduated the following year with a home economics specialty in child development. She converted to Catholicism before they married in April of 1951.
Babies soon followed. First Steve, then Ann. They would move nine times in nine years as Dave’s job took them from one chemical facility to another in the South, the Midwest and the East Coast.
Baby Born with Brain Damage
Their life changed in 1957 when Rob was born with organic brain damage. It would be years before his condition was finally diagnosed as a combination of Asperger’s Syndrome, schizophrenia and epilepsy.
“We knew he had problems right off the bat,” Lu recalled. “That was difficult because we didn’t know how to help him. There wasn’t much information about kids like Rob, so we had to make it up. I had a child development degree and was a stay-at-home mom so that was my job – to do the best I could for him.”
Lu learned to navigate the maze of neurology, psychology, psychiatry and “special education.” She joined the Association of Retarded Children. She started a preschool for the mentally disabled at church.
Then their lives changed again. After working close to 20 years for the same company, progressing from plant chemist to engineering troubleshooter to vice president, David lost his job.
“He was building a plant down in Florida. We sold our house in Westfield, New Jersey and bought a house in Tampa, Florida. We came back home to get ready to move – and there was a letter in the mailbox firing him – which was really rotten. I’m sure it was because within a month he would have been fully vested,” Lu said in an interview recorded in 2010. “I was really angry and Dave wasn’t.”
David simply declared, “I’ll never work for anybody else again. I’ll only work for myself.” In 1967 he founded the Coulton Chemical Company in Toledo, Ohio to retreat spent sulfuric acid. By then they had four children, including Sara, born in 1959.
Mental Health Advocate
In Toledo Lura became a tireless advocate for Rob and others dealing with lifelong mental illness.
- In 1976 she served on the board of directors for the Zucker Center, an agency serving children with emotional and development problems.
- In 1979 she joined the Lucas County Mental Health Board, serving as chair of the allocations committee, distributing federal, state and county funds to 17 mental health agencies. During her two-year tenure as chair, she secured a multi-million dollar grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
- In 1980 Lura and two other mothers of adult sons with severe and persistent mental illness formed the Toledo Alliance for the Mentally Ill, where she would serve for the next decade. “We were three women looking like we had an army of 100 – and it worked.”
- Lu also became a founding board member of the Ohio Alliance for the Mentally Ill and a supporting member of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
David and Lura shared many passions throughout their life, including family, education, the arts, their religion – and golf. Their travels to the Southwest led to building a second home in Tucson in 1989.
“Being married to a wonderful man is the best of all blessings,” Lu often said.
By 1993, they were preparing to sell the two companies David had grown “for more money than we ever thought we would have,” Lura said. They planned to share the bounty by establishing their own family foundation.
Then David was diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer that May and died at age 66 in July. Lura was devastated – but decided to carry out their dream. She led the David and Lura Lovell Foundation for nearly 20 years until shortly before she died in the fall of 2013. From the start, their daughter Ann helped guide the family foundation.
Foundation Fueled by Personal Passions
The Lovell Foundation was designed to support causes that Dave and Lu cared about at a deep personal level. Their priorities included:
- Mental health – based on the lifelong challenges that Rob and others like him continue to face.
- Integrative medicine – which helped David with guided imagery and meditation that gave him peace in the last few weeks of his life.
- Cultural and spiritual enrichment – because they both believed that feeding the soul was essential.
- Philanthropic education – growing from their foresight to promote philanthropy through education to better serve the needs of their communities.
Lura hand-picked a board of advisors – close personal friends who shared her passion and vision. “I picked people I knew, liked, admired and trusted – and who had a sense of humor. That’s very important. I picked smart people I’d known long enough to know how responsible and dependable they are – and generous with their time and resources. There’s been a loyalty among all of us – to each other and to the mission of the foundation.”
Early on this close-knit group decided it was essential to cultivate relationships with the people and nonprofits they would fund – locally and nationally. They did far more than write checks. Their hands-on philanthropic leadership became the hallmark of the Lovell Foundation.
In 2002 Lura and Ann were instrumental in establishing and funding the 15-year Bravewell Collaborative – a pioneering national collaboration of philanthropists and physicians working together to advance integrative medicine as the most effective medical care.