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‘I am just a country lawyer’

Morris man, 100, served during WWII, practiced law, served as a district judge

By Katie Erdman

Keith Davison, 100, still lives in his own home in Morris. The retired veteran, lawyer and judge, recently gained state and national attention after he built a pool in his backyard for all his neighbors to enjoy. Photo by Katie Erdman

“I am just a country lawyer.” That is how Judge Keith Davison of Morris describes himself. But his story is much more than that modest description. Some other ways to describe him include soldier, engineer, pilot, musician, judge, father, neighborhood friend, and centenarian.

Judge Davison turned 100 years old in May. He is still living in his home in Morris, where he moved with his wife and three children several years ago. However, a good portion of his life was actually spent as a “country lawyer” in Wheaton, Minn.

Early years

Davison was born in Wahpeton, North Dakota, and spent the majority of his growing years in Tintah, Minn., where his mother taught home economics and nutrition. She brought her children with her to attend classes for several years. Davison attended Tintah grade school and sixth grade in Wheaton. He then attended two years of school in Morris, three years in St. Cloud, and eventually graduated from a school in Minneapolis.

Davison was nine years old when he was caught in one of the dust storms of the 1930s. He was on a pony herding 100 head of cattle back home when the storm hit. At first he thought it was a rain storm, but instead was heavy dirt blowing so thick that he could not see. Davison put his head down next to the pony’s neck and let him take the lead. When they crossed railroad tracks, he knew they were close to home. The next thing he recognized was the door to the barn on the farm.

It was a terrible time with dirt everywhere. His mom would stuff rags in every crack and crevice to keep the dirt out of the house. The ditches were full of dirt similar to snow banks and tumbleweeds rolled along the land, stopping at fences and being covered with dirt. Lake Traverse had no water but was damp in the center where he remembers a friend building a hunting shack.

Davison was in the first grade when the stock market crashed. He said everyone was broke and looking for work. His father borrowed money from the federal government to keep the livestock alive and then went to work for the government to pay back the loan. He remained in that position after paying the money back and it turned into a good job but caused the family to move on different occasions.

The war years

Davison was in college at the University of Minnesota and living in Minneapolis when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened on Dec. 7, 1941. He knew immediately that he wanted to go to war, and signed up for the Air Force and then the Navy. He was denied both times because of nearsightedness. However, the U.S. Army did not mind the eyesight problem and took him as a soldier. He entered World War II at Fort Snelling. He had a relative whose job it was to place the soldiers and he asked him where he wanted to serve. His first response was Florida but that was not accepted and his second choice was the state of Washington.

Keith Davison as a soldier in the U.S. Army. He joined the Army shortly after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Contributed photo

He spent two days in the infantry in Washington and then went into field artillery. He learned to fire a six-inch Howitzer and became a cannoneer. He was one of two soldiers from his regiment selected to go to the University of Arkansas to become an electrical engineer.

Those years were difficult as he was placed in a second-year engineering course without taking the first year. He studied hard and passed the course in one year and then the course was closed. He was sent to a coding school where he learned morse code - both reading and typing.

His first overseas tour of duty was the jungles in New Guinea. He was assigned the job of being a replacement for the high-speed radio operator. However, most of his time was spent pulling guard duty. One of his guard duties involved watching over a shipment of Army jeeps placed on the beach in New Guinea. The United States controlled the beaches but the enemy was thick in the forest behind.

One day while guarding the jeeps, he decided to follow through on a suggestion for soldiers to look into further schooling after service. He sent a letter to the University of Minnesota about future jobs. He wrote on the back of a bulletin distributed to the soldiers and mailed the letter. To his surprise, three months later he got a letter back stating that he was accepted into the law program at the University of Minnesota. He never intended to be a lawyer but why not. He really wanted to go into the FBI and a law degree was needed for that.

During that time he met his wife Evelyn who was employed by the Minneapolis school district as an audiometer, testing the hearing of children. They met on a blind date set up by a classmate and they found that they had many things in common. The couple was married for 66 years and had three children. She had never lived outside of the Minneapolis area but was able to find employment nearly anywhere.

Country lawyer

When he returned to the states he started courses at the University and graduated from law school. He then decided to go back home to Traverse County and set up a practice. The law firm was very successful and he practiced law in Wheaton for 21 years. Davison stated that he made many wonderful friends, and many were also clients.

Somewhere along the way people began to suggest that he become a judge. The judge’s pay was not comparable to what he was making as a lawyer so he put off the decision. Eventually he was appointed by the Governor to serve as a county and then district judge. He moved his family to Morris where he was active in Kiwanis and the Lions Club. He also continued to follow some of his dreams like playing in a band.

Keith Davison during his military days. Davison served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Contributed photo

Davison’s love of music actually started in high school but followed him through his life. He said that this love was just one of many coincidental things that made sense later in life. He was playing the tuba in the band at St. Cloud Tech when there was an opportunity to play a gold Sousaphone. Students had to qualify for the first chair so he practiced hard and eventually was able to play the coveted instrument. This led to him to eventually having the opportunity to play in several “big bands” in dance halls around the state. Even at the age of 100, he continues to play in the Morris Community Band.

Flying was another love for Davison. While going to school in Arkansas he would observe fly-arounds at the base and realized that he wanted to learn to fly. That was accomplished when he took lessons as a young lawyer and eventually got his license. When he turned 90, his wife encouraged him to hang up his piloting wings and just ride along. He is currently the chairman of the Morris Municipal Airport Commission. He is a voice for the pilots and their needs at the airport.

The pool

One of his biggest claims to fame came about after losing his wife of 66 years. “The house was very quiet so I decided to do something,” he explained. “I built a swimming pool in the backyard and invited the neighborhood children and adults to come and swim.” He had a few rules they needed to follow but basically he just wanted everyone to have fun.

The word got out and soon all of the major television networks were at his door wanting to do interviews. He even appeared on the Rachel Ray Show through a video call. She awarded him a trip to the Caribbean for his generosity to others. He continues to invite the children to his pool each summer.

Looking back

When thinking back on his life, Davison has just a little bit of advice. He stated that when examining all the things that happened through the years, he could see how small things that occurred fit into the big picture of his life. He added that he was fortunate to have wonderful people in his life who inspired him in many ways.

These random experiences taught him that he is not in charge. God had a plan for his life and every small thing becomes a part of that plan. In the end, he stated that he is just a country lawyer and very lucky in so many ways.

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