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The Library Springfield-Greene County Library District Springfield, Missouri
Local History

Harry D. Durst

 Harry Durst when he was a second lieutenant of Company K.Harry Durst
magazine May 30, 1951, pages 12 and 13 and front cover.

"On Wednesday the members of the local 'camp' of the Spanish-American War veterans, approximately 70 men, will make their fifty-second annual pilgrimage to the National Cemetery for Memorial Day services.  Camp membership includes veterans from other Southwest Missouri towns.

"Only twelve of the men were in the three companies which left Springfield on the morning of April 27, 1898.  Harry Kirkpatrick, Charles Sansone, Will Price, John Dacy, Henry Wood, Fred Banks, Bud Jones, Roy Lawson, Jess Gilliland, Al Austin and Elijah Van Zandt were among the enlisted men and the only commissioned officer left is Harry D. Durst.

"Harry David Durst was the second lieutenant of Company K, having held the same rating in the National Guard before he went into the regular army.  Now 81, Mr. Durst thinks that he is the oldest living Springfield veteran and that he may be the oldest resident of Springfield who was born in the town. He was born in 1869.  His birth place was on four acres of land owned by his grandfather, Capt. Alfred M. Julian, which extended from Boonville to Robberson, then called Pearl Alley. His father, David Henry Durst, was an iron moulder [sic] who had run away from his home in Baltimore and after a couple of years in Springfield, won the hand of Annie Elizabeth Julian, daughter of one of the village's leading attorneys.  Son Harry quit school in the eighth grade and started to work, first selling newspapers, then working as a Western Union messenger and finally taking up his father's trade as an iron moulder.  He might have continued at this trade if he had not been such an ardent Democrat.

"On the day that he reached 21 his father, a firm Republican, demanded to know how he was going to vote and when he found that young Harry was siding with Grandfather Julian, a Confederate captain, he refused to harbor him any longer.  The rebel moved in with his grandfather and soon started studying law.  The old man was an exacting task-master and insisted that Harry not only memorize all of Blackstone, Greenleaf and Tiedeman but that he should be able to explain them logically.  In 1892 he took his bar examination along with his boyhood friend, John Schmook, who had been to college and law school and the two emerged with the same high grade. He practiced law in Springfield until he went into the army and after the treaty was made with Spain, in 1899, he and his company's first lieutenant, C.W. Benedict, went into business together in the Indian Territory.  In what is now Catoosa, Okla., the two young men set up the Durst and Benedict Dry Goods company, with Durst practicing law on the side.  Thus established, he came back to Springfield and married Eva Dickerson whose father, Jerome, was one of Springfield's wealthiest citizens.  After 3 years and the birth of their first son, Robert, Eva convinced her husband that life in I.T. was too rugged for her and the child and they returned to Springfield.  Here he resumed his law practice which was successful but uneventful until 1932, when he was elected mayor.  He was reelected in 1936, his second term ending in 1940.

Harry Durst as he look in 1951 superimposed on a photograph taken when he was in Company K."As mayor, Mr. Durst succeeded in getting large federal appropriations for the widening and paving of College Street and for the improvement of the city's sewer system.  He was a conscentious official, working early and late at his public duties.

"The Durst's had two sons and a daughter.  Eldest son, Robert, is a colonel in the regular army, stationed in the Pentagon.  The daughter, Dorothy, is married to George Horton, a Springfield contractor.  The other son, Harry David, is head of the art department at the University of Arkansas.

"Mr. Durst still practices law, going daily to the office he shares with Roscoe Patterson in the Landers Building.  He has lived in bachelor quarters in the Donovan Hotel for the past nine years.  His wife died in 1934.  He is in excellent health and his sight and hearing are very good.  He walks with a cane, he says the flu settled in his knees a couple of years ago but is still agile enough to walk the eight or ten blocks to his office and back every day. [In the 1952 Springfield City Directory the Donovan Hotel was located at 420 1/2 S. Jefferson].  He has no secret for good health after 80, "I came from sturdy stock on both sides of my family," he says, 'but I don't take care of myself'.  He thinks that he does too much work because he has never had a hobby and has made law a pastime as well as a profession.  He chews tobacco and takes a drink before lunch and dinner.  He likes to read but to conserve his eyesight now spends many of his evenings listening to the radio.  He also likes to visit and is a witty and entertaining conversationalist.  His pet theory is that most illnesses will go away if treated with the proper contempt; he calls it 'the power of mind over matter.'"

Mr. Durst died in Fayetteville Ark. September 1959.  For another biography see Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri by Fairbanks and Tuck.

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