Reverend David W. Havens: An Agent of Change (Part 8)

This is the conclusion to the a multi-part series on the life of Reverend David W. Havens, the former minister of Hollister's First Christian Church.

On Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, Reverend David W. Havens, the former minister of Hollister’s First Christian Church, turned 79 years old. Coincidentally, it also marked a new era in United States’ diplomacy toward Cuba. The relationship had unraveled following Fidel Castro’s descent from the islands’s mountains. Toting machine guns and a blueprint for a communist paradise, Castro and his followers believed they were liberating their compatriots from the throes of a capitalist system built and maintained by American imperialism.

In 1959, Rev. Havens left seminary and travelled to the island-nation, where he posed as a free-lance photographer. This self-professed agent of change wanted to see first hand the aftermath of revolution. 

Needless to say, acts of unbridled violence framed many of the black and white photos he took with a friend’s borrowed 35 mm Leica camera. Out of money and film, Rev. Havens returned home. For the next half century, Rev. Havens watched as Cuba withered under Castro’s false promises and the weight of a U.S. embargo. 

When asked about the changed of course in U.S.-Cuba relations, Rev. Havens expressed a sentiment held by many Americans. He stated, “I’m thrilled. It’s long over due. I’m ready to head to Cuba today.” (1) For a man whose miles logged on land, sea, and air would probably outnumber two lifetimes, it easy to believe him, except a broken ankle suffered during a recent tennis match has put a dent in his travel plans—at least temporarily.

Prone to restiveness, the reverend will need to spend several weeks in postoperative idleness. Perhaps he’ll pass the time reading The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography, a fascinating work by Miriam Pawel about the life of the late union leader.

If he refrains from reading Pawel’s book, it will hardly be surprising. For he once admitted that since leaving Chavez’s farmworker organization in 1967, he had never read one word written about Chavez or the United Farm Workers. As Rev. Havens explained, “I wanted to keep my memories clear…” and “didn’t want to be influenced by other people’s perceptions” of that time. (2)

The road to Delano began in Indiana in 1935. The son of Christian missionaries from the Disciples of Christ, David Ward Havens seemed destined for a life in the ministry. But his would be a serpentine route. 

Following the premature death of his father, David moved from Indiana with his mother Sue to Kentucky, where racism and segregation permeated every facet of life. The young boy attended an all-white school, but he also counted as friends the African-American boys who he played sports with after school. As innings of baseball were played, young David was mystified by the irreconcilable teaching of justice lauded in the social gospel of Jesus Christ and the temporal injustice of the South.

After high school, David attended college in West Virginia, where carousing and womanizing became his favorite pastimes. Under his mother’s protests and fearing participating in the Korean War, David buckled down and completed his education. But with degree in hand, he still lacked a singular focus. Running out of options, David returned to Kentucky and entered seminary.

Instructors at the Lexington Theological Seminary were hard pressed to make David a picture-perfect seminarian. A byproduct of dyslexia, his learning style was unorthodox. He was often disheveled. And perhaps event more troublesome was his involvement in sit-ins that occurred during the dawn of the civil-rights movement.

On the verge of dropping out, David decided to take a hiatus from seminary, packing up and heading to Cuba.

Returning to Kentucky, David completed his training and was ordained, Reverend David W. Havens. 

Married and without a ministry, Rev. Havens scoured the country for a post. The search eventually led him and his first wife Suzanne to Hollister’s First Christian Church. The couple arrived in 1961 to a congregation that wholeheartedly supported their young, inexperienced minister in his endeavors. To this day, Rev. Havens remains indebted to those of his Hollister ministry for trusting and encouraging him.

Personal milestones also marked Rev. Havens’ stay in Hollister. He became father to two daughters, who were both delivered by late Dr. Bob Quinn. It wasn’t long after that the reverend and doctor developed an enduring friendship over medical appointments, games of bridge, fishing excursions, and the historic march in Selma, Alabama. 

In 1963, Rev. Havens and his family left Hollister for Visalia, where the young minister joined the California Migrant Ministry (CMM). Selected by the CMM’s director Chris Hartmire, Rev. Havens represented the organization’s new, radical dimension of ministers dedicated to fighting the stifling poverty suffocating the lives of Central Valley’s farmworker communities.

Rev. Havens went to work, but quickly discovered that combating the entrenched socio-economic plight of farmworkers required the unfettered participation of the farmworkers, too. But mobilizing those most affected by his work would be challenging. California agribusiness stood as a Goliath, wielding the wealth of growers and shielded by law enforcement and the justice system. Surely, the reverend thought, there existed a way to disarm the opposition. 

To his surprise there was. It was called community organizing. Understanding its ins and outs took Rev. Havens and his fellow CMM minister Jim Drake to Chicago where they learned from its creator, Saul Alinsky.

The lessons learned during those weeks with Alinsky have remained with Rev. Havens through the years. Approaching eighty, he still regards himself as an organizer, not a leader. This is an important distinction for an agent of change, according to Rev. Havens. Describing the attributes of an organizer, he stated: 

“one who understands the need to involve people and that the only way you’re going to change a situation is to really build the power and that means involving lots of folks and to get them motivated and caring about the issue…it’s like a good teacher..if you’re willing to put up with all the problems of the institutions and the systems but you care enough about children that you know the importance of turning on some…kids and sticking with it enough to really get them going…you’re not out there because you want to lead them in something but you’re out there because you want to stimulate them and you want them to experience change.”(3)

Armed with Alinky’s arsenal of community organizing strategies, the ministers returned to Visalia and complied a series of small victories with the help of farmworkers. Penetrating the thick tule fog, a shift of power began drifting throughout California’s Central Valley. Nowhere was this more true than in Delano. 

In 1962, Cesar Chavez arrived and founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). Like Rev. Havens, Chavez was an Alinsky graduate, honing his skills with the Community Service Organization for a decade. To gain support for his cause, Chavez sought allies, including members of the CMM. Hartmire obliged, sending both reverends Havens and Drake to assist Chavez in 1965.

During his two years with Chavez, Rev. Havens organized picket lines, marched, chauffeured the late Senator Robert Kennedy to a senatorial hearing, and became a hallowed fixture in NFWA history following his arrest for reading, “Definition of a Strikebreaker”—a piece that for years has been mistakenly credited with the late, American author Jack London. When told that London didn’t write the piece, Rev. Havens was speechless. His silence gave way to a hearty laugh followed by words of incredulity: “I’ll be darn!…I’ll be…I’ll be…” (4)

Rev. Havens’ departure from the farmworkers’ organization in 1967 stemmed from Chavez’s wavering from Alinky’s model and the misguided influence of others. 

Not content with remaining as an organizer, Chavez wanted to lead, too. But according to Alinsky, one couldn’t both organize and lead. The lines were definitive, but Chavez crossed them anyway, weakening his ability to do either and inviting a gamut of opinions that failed to address farmworkers’ issues.

Rev. Havens looked on with foreboding. Year laters, Rev. Havens commented, “it was really a shame…I wish he [Chavez] would have played just the organizer."(5)

After his time with Chavez, Rev. Havens worked as an organizer in Florida, and later, as a member of the anti-Vietnam War coalition, joined Eugene McCarthy’s unsuccessful bid for president.

Following Suzanne's dream of becoming a lawyer, Rev. Havens moved his family to Massachusetts, where his wife attended law school. He became a stay at-home father and did some consulting on the side. The family settled in Maine for a short time. Here, Rev. Havens worked for the governor’s office. Finally, the family moved to Wisconsin. Marital problems began surfacing, as Rev. Havens constructed his family’s home. He and Sue separated and a divorce followed.

Rev. Havens didn’t remain a bachelor for long. He met his second wife Lani while working on a project for the state of Wisconsin a few years later. The two fell in love and married.

Wanting a change of pace and leveraging their professional expertise and skills, the couple soon found themselves trekking across East Africa in 1982 as members of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK). For half a year, the reverend and Lani videotaped the council’s triumphs in preparation for the organization’s continental showcase. 

A few years later, the couple parlayed their tenure with the NCCK into a an two-year assignment with Church World Service (CWS), evaluating its programs throughout Africa.

Their time with CWS presented Rev. Havens and Lani with opportunities to enact social change through various organizations, including Trickle-Up, the United Nations, and Peace Corps.

In 2001, the couple set out to circumnavigate the globe. But instead of unfurling their sails in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Rev. Havens and Lani decided to retire to Florida where family and friends were a little closer and life a lot less precarious. 

Once settled in Jensen Beach the couple’s appetite for political activism and social change could not be satiated lounging below the panhandle sun. Hungry for a cause the couple fell in with the state’s environmentalists and later served as campaign organizers for Barack Obama’s 2008 election.

As members of Treasure Coast Fair Food and allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Rev. Haves and Lani now spend their days dedicated to improving the lives of farmworkers—a cause that became part of Rev. Havens’ ministry with Hollister’s First Christian Church and that he dedicated his service to as a member of Chavez’s farmworkers’ union.

For years, Lani attempted to understand her husband’s penchant for wearing unmatched socks. At first, she believed it was an act of carelessness committed by a man unconcerned about a fashion faux pas. 

However over time, Lani realized that wearing a brown sock on one foot and a blue sock on the other “had been a clear non-verbal protest” against social functions or obligations he [Rev. Havens) didn’t really want to attend or be part of.” (6) 

Other articles of clothing and other subtle forms of behavior were part of Rev. Havens’ protestations, too. He often wore his shirt stained with diesel oil for special occasions. When offered a plate, he preferred “eating a sandwich out of hand.” (7) Lani long believed that these quirks of habit were a byproduct of years fighting for the oppressed and the disenfranchised. To Lani, her husband’s quest for social justice became such a force that it permeated every aspect of his life, from the drawers where he kept his socks and shirts to the way he ate his food. 

But one day while Rev. Havens and Lani were having breakfast with the reverend’s mother, Sue, at her Indiana home, Lani realized that Rev. Havens’ “unmatched sock syndrome” was rooted in something more profound. 

That morning it played itself out in the picturesque kitchen complete with a “highly polished mahogany table” where the three sat down to eat and accentuated by antique porcelain, carefully folded cloth napkins, and three small bowls that sat carefully arranged atop a counter with a neat assortment of cereal boxes. (8)

Rev. Havens had wanted to start his morning off with a mug of coffee, but his petite mother intercepted him, ordered him to the table, and insisted that he first drink a glass of orange juice.

The dutiful son complied, but his distaste for the order, precision, and etiquette that defined every square inch of Sue’s kitchen that morning was palpable.

Rev. Havens then reached for the various cereal boxes, pouring each into a bowl that was too small that it was swallowed by an avalanche of his variant tastes. The former missionary was shocked at the sight, offering to get her son a bigger bowl. No sooner than she spoke when Rev. Havens said, “No, Mom. This is the way I like it.” (9)

Towards the end of breakfast, Sue began asking her son what he would like for lunch. She proposed a menu of a “lettuce tomato salad and an open face cheese sandwich.” (10)

Rev. Havens again became irritable stating, “Mom…I don’t want any lunch. Not a light one…No lunch!" (11)

At that moment Lani had an epiphany. Her husband, it seemed, was like many others of his generation—individuals who rose up in defiance of “the nature of dining room tables and their sovereign rulers” of the 1950s, igniting a “social revolution” and spurring in the reverend a desire to become an agent of change. (12)

The impetus for social change is often difficult to identify, though historical events can sometimes provide context. For example, the Napoleonic Wars shaped the social upheavals brought about by the wave of nationalism that swept across Europe in the late 1800s, demarcating borders defined by nationality, language, and self-determination.

According to Lani, the best way to anticipate and understand these “earthshaking social shifts” is “to observe today’s dining room tables more closely.” (13)

In other words, the next time one’s invited over to a friend’s house for dinner the entire scene should be studied as one would a masterpiece, paying attention to the shapes, hues, and texture. 

What’s being served? How’s the tableware and silverware arranged? Who’s at the head of the table? What’s the look on nine year old Johnny’s face when his mother tells him to eat more broccoli?

One shouldn’t be discouraged if an analysis doesn’t quickly bear fruit, for as Lani explains, “it takes about twenty years for the shift from the table to be perceptible.”(14) 

Perhaps Johnny’s distaste for his mother’s broccoli and her relentless entreaties will fuel in her young son a desire for “unmatched socks”—a whispering muse whose song grows louder with time and perhaps will lead him, as it has Rev. Havens, to a calling as an agent of change.  

To read Part 1 in this series, click here.

To read Part 2 in this series, click here.

To read Part 3 in this series, click here.

To read Part 4 in this series, click here.

To read Part 5 in this series, click here.

To read Part 6 in this series, click here.

To read Part 7 in this series, click here.

Notes
1. Reverend David W. Havens, e-mail message to author, December 18, 2014.
2. Reverend David W. Havens, phone interview by author, Hollister, CA, March 23, 2014.
3. Reverend David W. Havens, phone interview by author, Hollister, CA, April 21, 2014.
4. Reverend David W. Havens, phone interview by author, Hollister, CA, April 6, 2014.
5. Reverend David W. Havens, phone interview by author, Hollister, CA, April 21, 2014.
6. Lani Havens. “The Reason for Unmatched Socks.” Jensen Beach, Florida.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank Pérez

I’m a lifelong resident of San Benito County. I reside in Hollister with my wife, Brenda. For over two decades, I've been a faculty member at San Benito High School, where I teach world history, Mexican-American history, and Ethnic Studies. I've been reporting for BenitoLink since 2015. My passion is delving deeper into the nuances of the local, historical record, while including lesser-known stories of our past. My hope is that county residents will have a greater appreciation for the diversity and complexity of San Benito County, realizing that its uniqueness depends upon our responsibility as its stewards.