It’s easy to see why people called him “Hippie Dave.”

Even in his 60s, David Nolan wore tie-dyed T-shirts, long gray hair and a peace symbol hanging from his neck.

Friends would see him tooling around St. Paul in the vintage VW minibus that he’d driven for decades, decorated with Grateful Dead stickers.

Nolan, a one-time Marine, was part of the generation that “dropped out” in the late 1960s. But he was one of the few, friends say, who never dropped back in.

“He never stopped being a hippie,” said Allison Eklund, his trustee and a family friend.

Nolan, 66, died July 16 of complications of heart disease and lung cancer at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.

Nolan was “a person who just goes around making friends, spreading love and living the true hippie ethos,” said Eklund, a Roseville attorney. “He brought out the inner hippie in everybody. He made friends from across the spectrum of humanity. And you just don’t see that anymore.”

In 2009, he was profiled in a short documentary film called “The Stories of Hippie Dave,” which was made for a Minnesota History Center exhibition about the year 1968. “He did kind of embody the things that happened in that era,” said Lucas Langworthy, a Twin Cities filmmaker who made the documentary.

Born in St. Paul in 1946, Nolan seemed like he was headed for a conventional life. The only child of a nurse and a government worker, he joined the Marines in 1966, during the Vietnam War, but soon regretted it.

“I realized that I had been duped by politicians and John Wayne and everybody else,” he says in the documentary. “I didn’t want to go and kill nobody.”

A knee injury in basic training kept him out of Vietnam, Eklund said, and by the time he was discharged in 1968, he was caught up in the anti-establishment culture of the times.

Never married, he floated from friend to friend, living in extra rooms or people’s basements, supporting himself by painting houses.

“Of course, my parents … wanted me to buy a house in the suburbs and get a job with a nice corporation or something and have 2.2 kids,” he said in the 10-minute documentary. But that didn’t appeal to him.

In the film, he recalls a time when a potential employer refused to give him a job application unless he cut his long hair. So he filed suit. “I saw a lot of women who had longer hair than I,” he explained. Three years later, a lawyer called to say he’d won the case, and a check for three years’ wages. “I said, ‘I don’t want the money,’ ” he said. “I did it for the principle.”

Friends say he surrounded himself with music and art, even as he lived simply, and managed to travel the world, finding like-minded souls who would open up their homes to him.

“The only word that comes to mind would be charismatic,” said Kris Kayser, of Pine River, another longtime friend. Friends of all ages turned out for his memorial celebration July 29 at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, where his VW bus was draped with garlands.

In the film, which was shown at the memorial, Nolan recalled a conversation with his own father on his death bed. “He says, ‘I worked all my life, I finally get to a point where I’m getting close to retirement and then my health fails.’ ” That, Nolan said, made a lasting impression. “He worked all his life, and I’ve had fun all my life.”

To watch the documentary “The Stories of Hippie Dave,” go to www.startribune.com/a2425.

 

maura.lerner@startribune.com