Patrick Kuhl: Don Lougeay is always up to something

News-DemocratJune 8, 2014 

Don Lougeay, of Belleville, with a plant he calls Stinky. The plant produces a beautiful flower. It also produces a strong "nauseating" smell.

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Don Lougeay wants you to meet Stinky.

"It's beautiful," Don said of the 30-inch-tall red bloom with a "purple sword" rising from the center. "But it stinks like rotting meat. It's nauseating."

Commonly called the Dragon Flower or Voodoo Lily, the Dracunculus vulgaris is a tough plant to love close up. But to Don, it's an old friend.

"I have no idea how the heck it got into my garden," said Don, who will turn 89 in July. "It's a volunteer. Must have been in with some tulips or other bulbs."

Now it grows like crazy in the partial shade under his kitchen window. He had seven blooms this year, one per curly-leafed plant.

Don had to get a photo quickly because the smelly blooms last only a week to 10 days.

"Each bulb is the size of a turkey egg. It's the first bulb out of the ground in spring. When the bloom unfolds, a big purple sword shoots up 18 or 20 inches high."

Why does it smell so bad?

"It draws flies. The flies that go in don't come out. It uses them to feed the bulb."

Once the blooms are spent, the plant foliage withers like other bulbs. Don has to wait a year to see how many come up in 2015.

"The rotten smell stays pretty close to the bloom," Don said. So the neighbors don't complain. "But when it blooms, it's a talker."

And so is Don.

"I've always had a vegetable garden, and I have four flower gardens that I piddle around in."

He has 16 tomato plants, four peppers, sweet Texas onions and Vidalia onions and cucumbers "in not much space."

"Lord, love a duck, last year I canned 27 pints of tomatoes.

"I got some hog wire fence for the cucumbers to climb. They hang down and grow straight and don't take up much space."

He dices the green and red peppers on a cookie sheet. Then freeze-dries them.

"When I make hamburger, I grab a handful and throw them in. Tasty."

Gardening is just the tip of the iceberg for Don.

He's an accomplished wood carver, who organized the local Holzschniter's club, and taught his craft for 10 years to workers at Granite City Steel. He still teaches a class Monday nights at First United Presbyterian Church.

"I started out working in cabinet shops, but when they came out with pre-fab cabinets, you couldn't sell custom-made."

So he went to work as a carpenter for McKendree College, then as a maintenance guy for St. Teresa School.

"They had seven drinking fountains in that school and only two worked. I got them working again and moved on to other things."

He retired at 65. But never stopped working.

"That first year of retirement, it drove me crazy trying to figure out how the hell I ever found the time to go to work."

Don still repairs furniture and restores antiques. He also does lathe work for Liese Lumber Co.

"I make balustades for staircases in these older homes. You can buy them on the Internet, but not just one or two. I'll make one or two."

Don is also a caregiver for Doris, his wife of 68 years, who has been ill. Don does all the cleaning, cooking, laundry, "you name it."

Don, who has broken both hips, and Doris both use walkers to get around the house.

"Sometimes you need a damn traffic cop in here."

They have a son, Daniel, who lives in Fairview Heights.

They live in the same house on East D Street that Don and his father-in-law built about 40 years ago.

"Nobody else has had his hands on this house."

Don likes to read history books and historical novels. He also cuts his own firewood to keep the fireplace in their front room burning from late October through March or April.

"I can't split all the wood myself anymore, though. I have some friends that come by and help."

Don is always on the move.

"I stay pretty damn busy. I'm afraid if I don't stay busy, I'll die. I don't have time to die."

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