Columbia artist remembered for activism, compassion

Saturday, October 18, 2008 | 4:57 p.m. CDT; updated 12:23 a.m. CDT, Sunday, October 19, 2008

A life story about Don Choate ran in the Missourian and is posted online. This story is written as an appreciation of Mr. Choate.

If you go

What: A retrospective exhibition of Don Choate's art

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday

Where: Artrageous Friday at Alleyway Arts Studio, 1107 E. Broadway


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COLUMBIA — Art, activism, idealism and optimism are four tools Don Choate used to carve his life into a sculpture of sincerity, simplicity and service.

"What was so wonderful about him was he was always a simple person," said Mr. Choate's daughter Lenore Danziger. "He was always looking out for the simple man, and he lived a simple life."

During his 16 years working at the Central Missouri Food Bank, Mr. Choate enjoyed talking with clients and hearing their stories. He believed that in addition to food, they needed a person to listen to them. His compassion for shoppers earned him recognition throughout the community.

Danziger recalls an experience at the supermarket that paints a picture of how he touched others' lives.

While waiting in line to check out, a woman in front of Mr. Choate and Danziger turned to greet the two. She said she remembered him from the food bank and expressed her embarrassment at getting food at the pantry. The woman thanked Mr. Choate for his support during a difficult time in her life and explainedshe had found a job. She then insisted on purchasing his groceries for him.

Mr. Choate died at his home Thursday, Oct. 9, 2008, from complications of pneumonia. He was 88. In 1998, Choate developed prostate cancer and went through surgery. He had surgery again about a year later to remove a bone spur from his lower back, and in 2001, he had a tumor removed from his colon. About a week before his death, Mr. Choate was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He was born May 24, 1920, in Grand Rapids, Mich., to Kate Alden and Fred Choate. He attended the University of Michigan, where he studied architecture and design. After graduation, he moved to New York City. There, he met his wife, Jane Pitman; they raised three children, Lenore, David and Rebecca, before divorcing in 1968.

During World War II, Mr. Choate worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant designing decals for planes because he was not accepted when he tried to enlist. He thought he would be qualified for the job because of his educational background. After the war, he worked as a greeting card designer at Norcross in New York City before leaving to be a freelance designer.

Mr. Choate was well known for his woodworking skills, which were inspired by the furniture store his father owned. Because he often did not wear a mask while working, he developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which makes breathing difficult. Examples of his woodwork can be found throughout Columbia, including the doors of the Oxenhandler law office on Eighth Street.

Another artistic passion of Mr. Choate's was sketching portraits. While working at the food bank, he often drew colored pencil pictures of clients and volunteers. He liked to capture personality by using unique perspectives. Mr. Choate also loved to create music. As a young man, he sang in the church choir in Greenville, Mich., and performed at local events.

Danziger said her father was politically active.

"He's one of the old-school activists," she said. "He's been working for peace for many years."

Mr. Choate was jailed once for three days for trespassing following a demonstration with the Crawdad Alliance to protest the construction of a nuclear plant. He also designed the logo for Missourians for a Bilateral Freeze. He did what he could, in his own way, to take action when things bothered him. He was passionate about the condition of the environment and raising broader awareness.

Mr. Choate was also an active member of his neighborhood. As a member of the North Columbia Neighborhood Association, he worked to make the area more conducive to artists. He was also the block captain for neighborhood CrimeStoppers.

Following his retirement from the food bank in 2003, Mr. Choate continued to sketch portraits of faces he found interesting. He also made abstract oil paintings, recorded a jazz album and penned his autobiography. He went to the gym at University Hospital three times a week and painted up until the month he died.

Choate is survived by his ex-wife, Jane Brooks; two daughters, Lenore Danziger and Rebecca Choate, both of Columbia; one son, David Choate of Columbia; four grandchildren, Jason Choate, Sophia Danziger, Altante Guajardo and Alban Guajardo; and two great-grandchildren, Carey Choate and Andrew Choate.

A retrospective exhibition of Choate's work will be featured Friday as part of Artrageous Friday at Alleyway Arts Studio, 1107 E. Broadway. The studio is located in the alley behind Willie's on Broadway. The exhibit will be on display for 10 days; visitors can either stop by or call 489-0469 for an appointment.

The Alleyway Arts Studio will have a memorial for Mr. Choate from 2 to 5 p.m. Nov. 2.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Central Missouri Food Bank, 2101 Vandiver Drive, Columbia, MO 65202. Online condolences may be posted at

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