‘To replace Curtis is not possible’: After a friend’s death, remembering a life rooted in love, laughter and ‘alleviating your sorrow’

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You knew when Curtis Stovall was in the house.

You’d smell the meals he’d labor over every Sunday: chicken, ribs, mashed potatoes with gravy. You’d see him playfully snapping his towel to get any stragglers out of his kitchen while he worked. Or, from his chair on the front porch, he’d counsel people who needed to get something off their shoulders.

But, perhaps most of all, you’d hear his laughter.

“The best way to describe him is as a joker; he always came up with something funny to say,” said Greg Autman, a friend of Stovall’s who knew him through the Lemonade Stand of Muskegon, an organization that offers support for individuals coping with a wide range of issues, including mental illness.

“He’d always invite me to his apartment; I’d go over and laugh with him,” said Rodney Williams, who too knew him through the Lemonade Stand. “I love chili, and he’d buy me Wolf chili and say, ‘I bought you some chili, Rodney; come over and get it.’”

At the Lemonade Stand, located at 1192 Jefferson St., on Monday evening, these stories of Stovall filled the space he once did: stories of his laughter, of friends playing dominoes and watching football with him, of his affinity for movies based on Marvel comic books, of his impeccable bowling skills, of his love for sci-fi and disdain for horror flicks. They are all stories rooted in what Stovall’s friends describe as his essence: kind, honest, funny—someone who would tell you your haircut is a disaster, but in a way that would make you keel over with laughter.

These are the stories that keep Stovall’s friends going these days; these are the stories they will continue to tell as they try to make sense of his murder. Stovall, 61, was stabbed to death inside his apartment at the Bayview Tower Apartments on Spring Street in Muskegon; police discovered him not breathing on the evening of Sunday, June 23. Police have so far arrested one woman in connection with the crime; she has been charged with lying to the police in a violent crime investigation.

“His death was so brutal; he didn’t deserve that,” said Samantha Henry, a fellow member of the Lemonade Stand. “He wasn’t a bad person; he would do anything he could for anyone.”

“Now, Curt will pop into your head, and your heart will ache,” Henry said.

For Judie Pratt, who knew Stovall for 32 years and is the president and founder of the Lemonade Stand, she’s hoping for some kind of resolution to the nightmare in which she and Stovall’s friends and family have been living.

“It sure would be nice to have answers,” Pratt said.

But, for now, there are few answers. And where Stovall once sat, his friends now lend a shoulder for those who loved him to cry on. Where he once sat, they remember his voice, their last bowling game together, the nights watching football, the times he’d rush to the phone to call a friend to tell him of a basketball game on television, the dune buggy rides at Silver Lake that Stovall had to be convinced to go on—and which he ultimately loved.

Curtis Stovall’s friends gather at The Lemonade Stand. Photo by Anna Gustafson

“Whenever we parted, he’d always say, ‘Thank you, Judie; I had fun,’” Pratt said. “Whatever we did, he’d have fun. If it was just a meeting like we had every Wednesday, it was, ‘I had a good time.’ If we were cleaning, it was, ‘I had fun.’ He had a very positive attitude.”

Born on Nov. 28, 1957, Stovall was raised in Alabama before moving with his family to Muskegon as a child. A graduate of the now closed Steele Middle School and Muskegon High School, he was a passionate fan of the Big Reds. He lived in Muskegon’s Jackson Hill neighborhood before moving to Muskegon Heights and ultimately to Bayview Tower Apartments. Stovall worked as a cook at Muskegon’s House of Chan; when he retired in 2011, he joined the Lemonade Stand.

Curtis Stovall. Photo courtesy of The Lemonade Stand

It was there, at the Lemonade Stand, that he’d spend countless hours trying to better others’ lives—doing everything from cleaning and cooking to lending an ear to those who needed to work through a difficult time.

“He had an ability to listen,” said Charles Fricke, a Lemonade Stand member. “He’d listen a lot. He was always about alleviating your sorrow…He never wrote you off. He’d never mock you; he always took you seriously.”

“He was very observant,” Pratt added. “If someone walked into the room with a new haircut, new shoes, he’d give you an honest compliment. They were honest, and he’d give them frequently.”

Now, in the wake of Stovall’s death, his friends are honoring their friend by continuing his work.

“For us as individuals, always think about what made Curtis special to you, take those attributes and what made you feel good, and use them for other people, whether it’s more compliments, whether it’s making people laugh, whether it’s making someone feel good,” Pratt told the group of Stovall’s friends gathered at the Lemonade Stand.

All of that isn’t to say there’s not a deep well of sadness and anger: Stovall, his friends emphasized, should still be here. This article should not exist. His laughter should still be ringing out from the Lemonade Stand’s front porch; the smells of his cooking should still be wafting from the kitchen.

“When he was gone, we realized what we had,” Fricke said. “To replace Curtis is not possible. I don’t think anyone has the patience he had and the comic character he had that would ease your pain.”

For those who would like to pay their respects to Curtis Stovall, the viewing will be held at Spring Street Baptist Church (912 Spring St. in Muskegon) on Tuesday, July 2 from 10am to 11:50am. His funeral will be held July 2 at 12pm at Spring Street Baptist Church. For more information and to leave a message for his family, please click here.

Story by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with her by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. Unless otherwise noted, photography is by Pat ApPaul, a documentary photographer from South Wales, United Kingdom who’s now based in Muskegon. Pat’s work can be found at www.PatApPaul.com, and he can be contacted by emailing Pat.ApPaul@gmail.com.

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