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Columbia Missourian

Peace advocate loved family, enjoyed fishing

By Lakshna Mehta
July 19, 2013 | 9:49 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Charles Luther Atkins died at home Tuesday, July 16, 2013, with his family beside him. More than 150 people celebrated his life at a party last Saturday. He was 85.

Atkins was born in McKenzie, Tenn., on May 26, 1928, to James Euel Atkins and Lucy Lurlyn (Baker) Atkins. He graduated from Poplar Bluff High School in 1946. He competed in basketball, football and track and was captain of the basketball and football teams.

“He was going over his life,” his wife of 33 years, Ellen Atkins, said. “He talked about his elementary school teacher. He called out my name every once in a while, even though I was close to him. We were hugging and kissing, till the end.”

Atkins died of metastatic colon cancer, barely a month after diagnosis. Ellen Atkins said he had been “ill with many things over the years, but never terminal.”

Adored by his stepdaughter, Beth Perra, and loved by his sons, Doug and David Atkins, Charlie Atkins spent a lot of time with family, especially his grandchildren.

His wife said that he taught his grandchildren how to fish and went on fishing trips in Alaska with his sons.

“He was a fisherman through and through. He got his love for fishing from his father. Charlie would take anyone fishing or go with anyone,” Ellen Atkins said. “The first five years of our marriage we went to Montana to fish for trout in the Madison River. I had never fished before. I loved him so much, I loved fishing!”

Described by his wife as a very soft-spoken man, Atkins was a strong advocate for peace. He was the president of the Columbia chapter of Veterans for Peace, and two years ago, the chapter became the Charles Atkins Chapter of Veterans for Peace.

“He was a wonderful activist and role model for the peace community,” Mary Manderino, a member of the Columbia chapter, said. “He educated people about the real costs of war in a very quiet way.”

Atkins served in the Korean War as a first lieutenant in the Army. After being wounded by shrapnel on the front lines, he spent six months aboard a Dutch hospital ship before being shipped home to Poplar Bluff in 1953. He received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star for valor.

He spent his first year as a college undergraduate at Westminster College in Fulton. Following his parents’ death on Christmas Day 1947, he transferred his undergraduate studies to MU on an Army ROTC scholarship. He graduated with a degree in business.

After his return and recovery from the wars, Mr. Atkins worked at Stovall’s clothing store, which was owned by his family.

In 1963, he returned to MU to get his master’s degree in community development. In 1979, he co-founded and financially supported the peace studies program at MU.

Because he enjoyed living in Columbia and sensed a good business opportunity in the city, he opened a Stovall’s store in 1967 but renamed it Roth’s Department Store.

“It was cheaper to buy a sign that said ‘Roth’ instead of ‘Stovall’,” Ellen Atkins said with a laugh.

Atkins went on to open three more stores, one each in Jefferson City, Osage Beach and Sedalia. The chain had seven stores in all.

A very independent man who wanted to do everything for himself, Mr. Atkins indulged in a lot of do-it-yourself projects.

“One time he built a screen out of cardboard on a hand-truck to show slides, instead of buying a projector,” Ellen Atkins said. “He also repaired everything he could with duct tape. It was a running joke in the family.”

He loved fishing; she loved swimming. She read fiction; he read nonfiction. But despite these differences, Mr. and Mrs. Atkins always held hands when they read.

“His favorite was a pamphlet written by Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, called 'War is a Racket,'” Ellen Atkins said. “He would buy copies of it and give them to people who were interested in peace.”

They also traveled extensively, visiting countries like Myanmar, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and Thailand. His traveling created a love for international cuisine, influencing him to go to international restaurants whenever he ate out.

“He was the best thing that happened to me,” Ellen Atkins said. “He would always tell me I was beautiful and I always told him he was the handsomest man I had ever met.”

Mr. Atkins is survived by his wife, Ellen Atkins; two sons, David Atkins, and Doug Atkins, and his wife, Paula; stepdaughter Beth Perra; stepson Brian Sweeney, and his wife, Vera; twenty grandchildren, Amy Atkins, Tyler Atkins-Mose, and his wife, Koda, Holly Strawn, and her husband, Troy, Lindsay Ayala, and her husband, Addam, Abe Atkins, Cary Atkins, Jay Atkins, Kristyn Atkins, Jeff Atkins, Lauren Meesey, and her husband, Ryan, Chase Atkins, Conor Perra, Jacques Perra, Ginger Perra, Alison Sweeney, John Sweeney and Megan Sweeney; and one great-grandchild, Braeden Ayala.

A daughter, Buffy Atkins, died earlier.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the following locations: Charles Atkins Veterans for Peace Chapter, C/O Dick Parker, 215 W. Sexton Road, 65203; Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia, 2615 Shepard Blvd., 65201; and Boone Hospital Home Care and Hospice, 601 Business Loop 70 W., Suite 260, 65201.

A memorial will be held at a later date.