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A Life: George William Gove, 1925 — 2013; ‘He Was Super Proud of Being a Veteran and Being an American’

  • In Jan. 2012 George Gove, of West Lebanon, holds his rooster Luke in a coop Gove built. (Family photograph)

    In Jan. 2012 George Gove, of West Lebanon, holds his rooster Luke in a coop Gove built. (Family photograph)

  • George Gove, of West Lebanon, stands with the large pumpkin he grew in October 2012. (Family photograph)

    George Gove, of West Lebanon, stands with the large pumpkin he grew in October 2012. (Family photograph)

  • In Jan. 2012 George Gove, of West Lebanon, holds his rooster Luke in a coop Gove built. (Family photograph)
  • George Gove, of West Lebanon, stands with the large pumpkin he grew in October 2012. (Family photograph)

West Lebanon — George Gove was a typical hardworking World War II veteran who could build or fix anything. But he also had a very precise way of doing tasks and was known to stop by his neighbors’ houses, check on their various projects and let them know what they were doing wrong.

“He was like the neighborhood project supervisor,” said his long-time neighbor in West Lebanon, Ray Book.

When the electric company was working on a pole on Gove’s street, he could usually be spotted overseeing their work. And Book remembers when he was working on a split-rail fence Gove had stopped by to make sure the holes were straight.

But Gove’s critiques and suggestions were always welcome. For the last 20 years, he made it a habit of stopping at West Lebanon Feed and Supply several times a week and made sure to tell owner Curt Jacques that he was buying the wrong products.

“He’d find an excuse to get out of the house and come down and make sure we were doing the things we were supposed to,” Jacques said.

Gove also loved to talk about his chickens, which he called “the girls,” and if a customer asked Jacques or another store employee for advice on how to take care of their birds, Gove would pipe in before an employee had a chance to reply and talk with great authority about raising chickens.

“Some people would never be able to do that,” Jacques said. “A shop owner would probably tell them to take the door, but we expected it and we appreciated it and George could get away with it.”

Gove, 87, died in March after battling pancreatic cancer for nine months. When Gove was first diagnosed, he grew a 181-pound pumpkin to keep his mind off his failing health. Even in the last few weeks of his life, he passed out pumpkin seeds to family and friends and made a point to tell people exactly how to plant the seeds and take care of the growing pumpkins.

Gove could get away with telling others how to do their jobs because he had the experience and common sense to back it up. An Army engineer in World War II, he built bridges in France and Germany. Working as an engineer was a good fit for him because he could build just about anything.

Gove built his own chicken coop, which recently won an award for “most functional” coop. The chicken coop was like a condo, his son Jim Gove said. The coop was insulated and had storm windows. The inside had lights and it was heated in the winter.

He also built an addition to the family’s West Lebanon home and constructed goat barns for his daughter, Tina Gove Kebalka.

When he built the addition to the family house, which included an expanded kitchen, bathroom and porch, he didn’t ask someone else to draw blueprints for him. He just sat down at the kitchen table with a pencil, piece of paper and ruler and drew his plans.

Gove met his wife of 61 years when he was 18 and the then-Jean Brewster was 13. They barely knew each other when Gove left for World War II, but Jean added Gove to her long list of pen pals. Jean wrote to dozens of people, even friends of her father who she never met.

“You wrote to all these people,” she said. “And this guy got to writing more serious letters. And then he came home and we shook hands in the kitchen.”

Gove proposed to Jean numerous times before she finally accepted, however, she claims she never said yes, but just took the ring.

Gove was born in 1925 in Wilmot, N.H., but the young couple chose to buy land in West Lebanon, where they would live for 59 years.

Married in 1952, the couple had six children, Brewster, Andrew, Anthony, Jim, Tina and Trudy.

Gove made a 30-year career for himself at Granite State Electric, where he worked as a hydroelectric power plant operator for a decade before spending two more decades as a meter reader. Gove loved to talk, and was known for getting to know his customers and making chit chat with home owners as he read their meters. When he retired, he had to bring a cooler with him to work during his final week because his customers thanked him with steaks and pies.

Although many of Gove’s friends described him as friendly, he was also grumpy and if he didn’t like you, he made it known. His favorite word was no, and if his children asked something of Gove, the answer was always, “No,” or, “Go ask your mother.”

When his children were younger, he often had little patience. If the family was sitting at the kitchen table for dinner and somebody spilled milk or if the kids were talking too much, he’d get mad, his children recalled.

“People would say, ‘Your dad is so nice.’ And we would say, ‘Who?’ ” said his daughter, Tina.

But as Gove grew older, he became more patient and he was his grandchildren’s favorite reader because he would read slowly and never skip pages. He also used to love hunting, but later in life, he hunted less because he couldn’t bring himself to kill a deer, his daughter Trudy Gove said.

During his 59 years living in West Lebanon, he volunteered on the West Lebanon Fire Department and he was a member of the Lebanon American Legion Post No. 22.

Gove was proud of being a veteran and was one of about a dozen men who traveled to Washington, D.C., in 2004 for the dedication of the National World War II Memorial, said Les St. Pierre, a member of the Legion who helped organize the trip.

“The youngest one was 76. You’d swear they were in high school,” St. Pierre said. “Those guys were totally whacked out. And when they came back, they were the same way.”

He was also a member of the Legion’s Honor Guard and played the automated bugle at funerals. And each Christmas, he helped St. Pierre prepare and deliver Christmas baskets to veterans and local families. The baskets were full of all the makings of a Christmas feast, including a turkey and potatoes.

Gove also rode in Lebanon’s Memorial Day parade each year.

“He was super proud of being a veteran and being an American,” St. Pierre said. “That’s one thing that never went away from him.”

Gove was also known for making jams and jellies, and donuts every Saturday morning. He also had a special biscuit recipe that has only been shared with two family members. A few years ago, Gove attended a chicken and biscuit dinner at his church and was disgusted that the church was using a commercial mix. So the following year, Gove took it upon himself to make 63 batches of biscuits in his own kitchen for the dinner.

At 87 years old, Gove was strong and healthy, and it came as a shock when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last June. When the doctors told him he had cancer, Gove turned to his wife and said, “Why me? I never drank, I never smoked,” in which his wife, Jean, sputtered back, “I guess you better start.”

“A year and a half ago, if you had asked me how long he was going to live, I would say he would live to be 100,” his son Jim Gove said. “He looked great. He looked young. It’s frustrating because he watched what he did and yet he comes down with this cancer.”

About a month prior to being diagnosed with cancer, Gove had planted three pumpkin seeds in a tin can, but only one of the seeds sprouted. He soon moved the pumpkin to his garden and babied it. He stuck a tube into the stem and fed it goats milk out of a plastic bottle. During the day, he placed an umbrella over the pumpkin to shade it from the sun, and at night, he would cover the pumpkin with a blanket.

“The whole nine months, we focused on the pumpkin,” Tina said. “People wanted to come and see him. He could take people to the garden and show them the pumpkin. It gave him something else to talk about other than ‘How are you feeling’ and ‘Sorry that you’re sick.’ ”

Tina Gove Kebalka wrote a story entitled Pumpkin Therapy, and it ran in the Valley News with a photo of Gove next to his pumpkin. Since Gove’s death, the story has run in other publications, including a cancer journal.

Jean Gove told their five children that she thought the pumpkin was the only thing getting Gove up in the morning. Each day as Gove grew weaker, he would still wake up and see how much his pumpkin had grown.

Last fall, when the pumpkin reached 181 pounds, Gove took it to a pumpkin festival in Goffstown, N.H. His wife joked that if there had been an award for the smallest pumpkin, he would have won.

During those last nine months of chemotherapy, Tina Gove Kebalka asked her father if he’d like to craft his obituary. Gove loved to read the obituaries, and that was the first part of the paper that Gove would read ever since he and his wife married. Sometimes he would wonder out loud who would be the pallbearers. His family joked that he would have made an excellent funeral director because he always made a point to go to the funeral of anyone he knew.

But when it came to his own obituary, he wanted nothing to do with it. So his daughter, Tina, wrote a 1,238-word obituary for her father, and when he was buried, that day’s paper was placed in his casket.

Since Gove’s death, his family has passed out pumpkin seeds to family and friends and asked them to plant a pumpkin in his honor. More than 100 people will be planting pumpkins this summer.

Gove’s son, Jim, and his family have already planted their pumpkins in Georgia, and the stems have begun to sprout.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.