Friday, December 20, 2013

COLUMN: Lonergan

This is supposed to be the time of year when I sit back and take stock of what I'm thankful for. I lead a blessed and fortunate life that generates a long list of annual thanks -- but in 2013, the thing in life I'm most thankful for is that our friend Kevin is still around to share it.

I'm working on this column sitting at the Rozz-Tox coffeehouse in downtown Rock Island. I just stepped outside for a break and noticed a piece of graffiti scribbled on the wall. It reads, "If you can see the beauty in anything, you may be an artist." Kevin Lonergan is one such artist -- and he makes beauty through graffiti.

Kevin's parents knew he was talented at an early age. His mother, Maren, likes to tell a story about something that happened when he was 3 years old.

"Kevin called me to his bedroom," she explains. "He said that he had drawn a picture of himself. I thought it would be on the wall, but to my surprise, he had me crawl under his bed to see a well-drawn little boy, full size, colored onto the plywood support. He said, 'Look, Momma, I drawed me sleeping in my bed.' We called them the Sistine bunk beds because he had to have laid on his back for hours to draw that."

When Kev was in fifth grade, he shocked his parents by bringing home a failing grade in art class.

"When we asked him about it," his mom says, "his explanation was that his teacher was doing 'crafts,' not 'art.' He considered himself an artist, so he stormed out of class. He would rather fail than do something beneath him."

In seventh grade, young Kevin was caught by his mom eschewing homework in favor of drawing sketches. She took away his pencils and paper.

"As I was leaving the room thinking I had the upper hand, he turned to me and said, 'Mom, you can take all my pencils and paper, but you can't take my art because it's in my mind.' I think that was when I realized that Kevin's art was his passion and more important than anything else in his life."

That passion for art turned Kevin Lonergan into one of the Quad-Cities' leading mural and graffiti artists at an incredibly young age. He did murals at the Pig Pen and on the side of Pizza Chef at Five Points. You've seen them at the John Deere Pavilion and along the Bix race route. One of them sits on display at the Figge Art Museum right now. At the same time, he started designing skateboards for amateurs and pros alike.

I first encountered Kevin back in the late lamented rave days of the 1990s. I came into the scene as a transplanted Augie grad eager to bring all-night dance parties to the Quad-Cities. Graffiti art and underground dance music go hand in hand, and it wasn't long before Kevin became a major player in the scene with his Davenport retail shop, D.F.T. In those hallowed halls, you could buy everything from custom clothes to skateboards to thumping house records. If you wanted to be a part of rave culture in the Midwest, D.F.T. was a mandatory destination.

After the parties died down and we all had to grow up and get real jobs, I lost touch with Kevin. While I was earnestly filling out a job application at a top-notch Quad-Cities newspaper of some renown, Kevin got himself a merit scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago. Eventually, he and his wife, Jenny, settled down near the Lake of the Ozarks, and he opened his own airbrushing shop, where he designs T-shirts, murals, car hoods, motorcycle helmets, skateboards and gallery art.

But as you may have guessed, this story doesn't have a happy ending ... yet. This past Halloween, just days after his 41st birthday, Kevin suffered a major stroke. The right side of his body has been fully impaired, including the hand he's used for years to bring art into the world. The speech center of his brain also has been assaulted, resulting in aphasia so severe that he can't come up with words on his own.

Kevin's currently at the Rusk Rehabilitation Center in Columbia, Mo., where he's receiving the full gamut of physical, speech and occupational therapy. Signs already are good. Since arriving, he's regained some feeling in his right hand and some motor control of his right ankle. He's now able to form some words, and doctors are optimistic that his young age and determination will aid in his recovery. But there are no guarantees and no timetable.

His family has been documenting Kevin's road to recovery through Facebook posts and YouTube videos. This week, they were able to capture and share Kevin speaking his own name for the first time in weeks. All it takes is one quick look at the video to see the mischievous gleam in his eyes. It's a look that clearly says the world hasn't heard the last of Kevin Lonergan.

But it's going to take time, patience and a whole lot of money. Kevin was the provider for his family, and his shop is now shuttered. For now, donations are the only source of income for Kevin, his wife, and their 13-year-old daughter. But a special thing's been happening -- a thing called the Quad-Cities.

Kevin hasn't lived here since 2001, but from the moment his fundraising site went up on the Internet, the majority of the donations have come from right here in River City. That's a testament to Q-C spirit and what we do for folks who've made an impact here. The site's already raised $12,000, which the family hopes to use to buy a custom-equipped van -- but they need a lot more. This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for your giving.

On Dec. 6 and 7, a two-day benefit will take place at RIBCO. On the 7th, there will be live music from Victim in Pain, Maxilla Blue, DJ Touchnice, and A Fifth of Country. The night before, there will be a reunion of DJs straight off a '90s rave flyer: Vincent McQueen, Chris Soppe, Tyson Howell, Josh Barnes, Devastating Dennis, Richie Heller, DJ Hi-Tech ... and if you come early enough, you might even catch a set from a certain newspaper columnist eager to relive his glory days. Get more details at

All proceeds from the door and silent auction will go straight to Kevin. You also can make donations and follow Kevin's road to recovery by going to

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