He lived in rural Diana, Texas; but he worked at Lowes Home Improvement Store in Longview for the past 20 years until he died June 5th due to a respiratory illness. He was only age 59. He wore his signature long gray beard. I've seen many customers specifically request him to load their heavy purchases into their pickup-trucks or trailers because he could literally "thread the needle" with such accurate precision and delicate care with his Forklift in the LOWES outside Lawn and Garden Center.
He was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, but lived in the Longview / Diana area since 1966. I would accompany him to places such as Books-a-Million, various post offices, banks, courthouse, and movie theaters: everybody knew him. To illustrate that this was not just mere co-incidence: He wanted me to attend Church with him ---any Church of my choice. Well, since I like history, I chose the historic Presbyterian Church in Jefferson, Texas. To my amazement: the pastor (a complete stranger to me) knew this man.
He was a good Christian gentleman who was highly supportive of Israel (as I am). Consequently, he and I attended Baptist Church services in Longview TX; and the Athey Church near Harleton, TX. We attended Episcopal services in Jefferson and in Dallas. We attended Latter-day Saint services in Longview. And, we prayed inside the Catholic Cathedral in the french-quarter of New Orleans. He was indeed a Bible scholar. I was a guest in his farmstead's guest room at Diana, Texas, for over four years. During that time, I learned of his dream of having a farm. He bought a pair of guinea-chicks at Horaney's Feed and Seed. Unfortunately a snake crawled up the sawhorse and got into the bird-cage swallowing the two chicks. I felt sorry and bought two replacement guinea chicks for him. They survived. He also wanted chickens, goose, and goats. And, I even bought a lamb. His pride and joy was his two beloved dogs "George" and "Whitey" who was a one-owner dog. Not even I could touch Whitey's fur. He had various goats which I cannot count offhand, but the two goats that gave him the most joy or the most consternation was an African male goat with a shaggy beard, named "Ogilvie" who had bluish eyes with slit pupils that enabled the goat to see better in the dark; and a female white Boer goat simply named "Nanny" who bore many offspring. We gave our excess chicken eggs to rescue-missions, to churches, to nursing homes,and to people in need. Plus, we ate a few eggs ourselves.
To return the favor this gentleman accompanied me on my various trips to Lindsborg, Kansas, where we saw Mikhail Gorbachev give a lecture; we went to a Ringo Starr concert in Grand Prairie, TX. We visited the graves of his grandparents at Cambridge, Nebraska and my grandparents at Phillipsburg, Kansas. Each cemetery was called "Fairview Cemetery".
We went to Branson, Missouri to a Yakov Smirnoff comedy concert and there were people there who knew this gentleman. We also paid respects at my parents graves in Wichita, Kansas and his parents graves in Longview, Texas. And, yet another eerie concidence: both cemeteries of our parents are called "Lakeview Cemetery".
One year, in 2007, I accompanied this man to his snow skiing condo at Snowbird, Utah. Yet again, there were people there who knew this man. I was simply amazed. I was able to return the favor by driving him to the Utah State Capitol and introducing him to a friend of mine, then-Governor Jon Huntsman. Little did I know that there was once a Huntsman Chemical Company branch formerly in Longview. At this juncture, I will partially reveal the man's first name because it is pertinent at this juncture: Jon. Both Jon from Longview and Gov. Jon Huntsman (same spelling of their first names) "hit it off" talking about memories of Longview Texas. In 2005, we took a trip to Colorado Springs where he met my mother's twin-sister, and then we enjoyed a fancy restaurant in Manitou Springs. We also took the cog-rail up Pike's Peak. I had driven up "the Peak" solo by car in 2001. However, "Mr. East Texas" out-did me: he scaled nearly every one of the Colorado Mountains that exceed 14,000 feet in Altitude. I give him credit: he was strong as an ox, when provoked mean as a bull; but usually as gentle as the lamb I bought for him.
"Mr. East Texas" was an avid reader and quite interested in The Old West law enforcement officers, the Texas Rangers. I personally introduced Jon to three Texas Rangers, including the late Glenn Elliott of Longview. He was once involved in the Master Gardeners program and the Native Plant Society of Texas. Jon and I built a lot of fence at his farm. The fence was so sturdy that I nicknamed it a "Maximum Security Chicken Prison". Jon considered that one the best accomplishments he ever did. I was only his helper. But, I can honestly say, that after one extremely long day of building fence in over 100 degree Texas heat, Jon and I went to a restaurant and drank every bit of iced-tea that they had in the place.
I would say, over the years, that Jon patronized as a loyal customer nearly every business in Diana, Harleton, Ore City, a great many businesses in Gilmer; several in Gladewater, and he enjoyed German food at Simpsonville. At almost every meal, Jon couldn't resist a dessert capped off by a piece of pie. When he met an elderly woman or elderly gentleman, Jon would enjoy regaling them with stories of his father, the late Dr. Don R. Marples, M.D., of Greggton, Texas whom Jon idolized very much. Several of those people had been his late father's Medical patients.
Jon was ten years older than me. He was born December 11, 1953; whereas I was born December 14, 1963. We both earned our CHL legal firearms licenses in Longview. We had an excellent instructor in Don Radcliffe of Longview. I might relate an humorous story that occurred BEFORE our C.H.L. training. When I was a guest at Jon's farmstead: he and I were watching some television show on television (possibly NCIS). For some unknown reason, Jon got out his pistol and was showing me how to load and unload the gun. Then, he almost did an "Elvis Presley stunt". Jon pointed his pistol at the TV which was still on and lit-up. He assured me that the pistol was unloaded and was going to prove it. I hollered "Oh no, Jon, don't point it at that TV set". He saw me imploring him, and he decided to point it downward a tad. he squeezed the trigger. You guessed it: it fired. A bullet chopped out a fragment of the leg of the stand holding up the television. It's a wonder that the whole TV's weight didn't cause it to fall forward. Jon then had to patch a hole in his floor. Needless to say, he took gun lessons shortly afterward and his instructor said he was quite proficient. So, Jon came along way ---and he never "impersonated Elvis" anymore !!!!
We enjoyed talking about former girlfriends, our separate schooldays experiences, and our mutual Patriotism for our beloved Nation. In all the years I knew Jon, I don't think we ever had a cross-word. We were so similar. He had my staunch respect..and he respected me. We stretched barbed-wire together and we learned a lot from each other. Our most recent trip together was to Dallas just this past April 23, 2013 to the Santa Anna/Sam Houston/Stephen F. Austin history exhibit....Jon was so happy...he had no coughing there at all. He loved the exhibits especially the Davy Crockett pistol. He and I joked about General Santa Anna's boot spurs being only slightly larger than my spurs that I got at a Kansas rodeo. Jon loved the History exhibit, he was bragging to it to his diner/cafe' cronies back in Longview. When Jon liked something: he let you know it. If he didn't like something: he let you know about it, too .
It was a shock when Jon phoned me instructing me to transport him to Good Shepherd Hospital for that respiratory illness, that suddenly flared-up again. We always thought he would pull-through. Jon was tough; but this disease overtook him and claimed his life.
I was initially reticent about writing this article, but I had so many Gilmer Mirror readers say that they wanted to know more about the man whom THEY considered a 'fixture in Diana and in Longview', I finally acceded to their numerous wishes and requests to write about the fascinating, complex,and multi-dimensional life of "the man so identifiable in East Texas". Many people knew certain fragments about Jon's life. But many people wanted to see "the total man". Jon loved Patriotic Hymns, Classical Music, while also loving authentic New Orleans jazz, traditional Spirituals, Blues, Country and a little rock music, too. Upshur County and Gregg County couldn't have asked for a better guy to grace our presence. That's why Jon was known far and wide --- he was larger than Life....yet he was quiet, shy, and even relished his privacy.
Who was this gentleman? He was my good friend and distant cousin Jon G. Marples (1953-2013). He will be missed by the community...and I am hopeful that more citizens will get to know more about him via this article. As I say, this is NOT an obituary. That has come and gone. But, I highly suspect that many people who knew Jon either by-sight or by-name will pause when they don't see his distinctive presence. Once they read this article: they will see sides of his personality that truly earned him the unofficial nickname of "Mr. East Texas". He wasn't a saint; he had mortal faults like all of us. But, when I paid my last respects to him at the funeral home: I softly told him in death what I always told him when he was alive: "If anybody gets to Heaven: you will, Jon". I also added usual my follow-up: "I pray that I get to Heaven; and if I do: You be sure to find me, ya' hear?" Jon Marples did a lot. He was a man with Vision, grit, and determination. The best way to Honor him is to emulate whatever virtues he had, that you see in yourself. Jon Marples was a one-of-a-kind.....and those kinds of people are a Blessing for all of East Texas.