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Don Wayne Choate
by Margaret Choate
Don Wayne Choate was born September 12, 1940, in Mason City, Washington, to Jake and Virginia Choate. Don used to say that his mom was a John Wayne fan, and that’s why he was named Don Wayne. Don’t know if it was true, but it made a good story! During his lifetime, Don wore many hats.
Don’s dad, Jake, was a dam builder. Don was born while Jake was working on Grand Coulee Dam. The town of Mason City still exists, but it was moved when the dam opened. Don and I visited a few years back, and we were able to find Jake’s name listed among the workers. Since dams eventually get completed, the family moved from one dam site to another for several years.
Don remembered living at the Shasta Dam site. This was the place they lived when Don’s brother, Darrel, was born. Don sold his baby brother for a nickel to one of his parents’ friends—and then cried when his mom made him give the nickel back and reclaim his brother!
Eventually they moved to the Hungry Horse Dam site in Montana. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Hungry Horse is just a few miles west of Glacier National Park. It’s one of those places now that you miss if you blink, but at that time, it was a pretty busy place. Don talked about growing up there, and it sounded like a fun time.
Apparently, Jake & Virginia got tired of moving around. After Hungry Horse was completed, Jake took a job at the Anaconda Aluminum plant in Columbia Falls, operating their big crane and this was the place that Don called “home” for most of his school years. He played softball, football and skied. He also worked on stage sets for various plays.
Big Mountain Ski Area in Whitefish opened in 1947, and Don was there for their first season and for many years after that. Jake, Virginia or other friends would take the kids up for skiing. Don loved it, and skiing was his favorite sport over the years. If you’ve seen his hat, you know he collected lots of pins for his hat.
When he was growing up, Don had dyslexia. Fortunately, he had a wonderful friend and teacher, Wilma Nelson, who worked with him. Don never became a speed reader, but he did enjoy reading, especially after he retired.
When Don graduated from high school, he attended Rocky Mountain College in Billings and received his Bachelor of Science in Business in 1963. During his time at Rocky, he played college football. It was during this time that he became a life-long Green Bay Packers fan.
While he was at Rocky, Don enlisted in the Navy and went on active in June of 1963. He attended the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and graduated as a LTJG. During the next 5 ½ years, he served aboard the USS Providence. Don said he always got seasick for the first day or two of a cruise, but after that he was fine. As most of you know, this was during the time of the Vietnam War. I don’t remember all the ports that Don visited, but he was stationed in San Diego, San Francisco, and Japan. He visited the Philippines, Guam, Fiji and Australia with the Navy. Probably, his favorite assignment was scouting out places to ski for R&R in Australia—a tough job but someone had to do it! He would often talk about how great they were treated by the Australian Navy, and I think it’s probably the only foreign place that he would have liked to visit again.
While on his last tour of duty in Vietnam, Don was ashore calling in naval gunfire. Somehow, he got caught behind enemy lines, but he was hidden and fed by the local villagers. Finally, he was rescued about a month later and 40 pounds lighter! For a long time after that, he couldn’t eat rice; and if he did eat it, it had to be plain white rice! He returned to the states for medical attention and was discharged from active duty in February 1968. Since it was ski season, Don took off on an extended ski vacation to Colorado, where he skied all the big & little mountains he could find!
When he returned, he went to work at Libby, Montana, on the Lake Koocanusa Bridge as an oiler for the big rigs. Again, for those unfamiliar with the area, this was in northwest Montana. Lake Koocanusa gets its name from the Kootenai River, Canada and the USA. That little stint was enough to convince him that it was time to go back to school, and he enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Montana in Missoula. In November of that year, he met a young gal who had been dating a friend of his from Libby. It didn’t take long before that young gal began dating Don—and the rest is history! We were married in November 1969 and stayed in Missoula until September of the following year when we both finished up our course work.
Don had accepted a job with Chemeketa Community College in Salem as one of their planners. At that time Chemeketa consisted of one small campus, but they were growing. I don’t know how many campuses they have now, but it’s quite a few. After a couple of years there, Don took a job with the Educational Coordinating Council, also in Salem. The job was a state job but was federally funded. In 1973, the funding was eliminated so Don’s job was too. At that point, he decided he would like to get his Oregon teaching certificate, so he went to Western Oregon State College in Monmouth for the 1973-74 school year and got his teaching certificate. He did his student teaching at Ackerman Junior High in Canby. The Art teacher decided to take sabbatical leave, so Don was asked to fill in while she was gone.
During this time, we decided it was time to start a family and Tara was born in February 1975. Don was still filling in at Canby at that time. I was working for IRS but had taken a 3-month maternity leave. I went back to work in May of that year, and then Don found out that the sabbatical leave had turned into a resignation, so he was hired as a full-time teacher. At that time, Canby was still on year-round school. Most of the teachers were “track teachers” which meant they taught 9 weeks and then were off 3 weeks. However, the Art, P.E. and some other teachers weren’t assigned to a “track” so they taught continuously for 48 weeks of the year. That proved to be tiring, but Don did it for several years before Canby switched back to the “regular” system. To get back to the story, the day that Don found out he was hired full time, I turned in my resignation at IRS. We bought a house and moved to Oregon City in September 1975.
One of our friends remembered the Halloween parties Don used to throw for Tara and friends’ kids. One year he needed a haircut when Halloween rolled around, so I gave him a reverse Mohawk and carved his initials in his hair. He wore the ugliest shirt and tie he could find—and the kids loved it!
During all of this time, Don had remained in the Naval Reserves. He drilled in Salem one weekend a month. He was the Executive Officer and then Commanding Officer of that unit. About 1983, the Navy had assigned Don to a non-pay billet. In July 1985, he decided he would retire from the Naval Reserves as a Commander after 22 years of service. He had mixed emotions about it because he enjoyed that weekend every month, but receiving no pay gets old too. Anyway, he always talked fondly of the Navy.
Don was a fisherman. He loved all kinds of fishing, although his favorite was fly fishing. He started fishing when he was a boy, and he never outgrew it. He liked stream fishing, lake fishing and ocean fishing. If there was no water available, he’d find a bucket or tie flies! In 1990, Don left for Alaska the day after the last day of school, and he fished his way up. He had his blue Mazda pickup that he stayed in, and he loved every minute of the 2-month trip. I think he probably lived on fish and fried potatoes for that trip. We went up together a few years later. We took a small-ship cruise into Glacier Bay and then flew on up to Anchorage for Tom & Danni Straugh’s wedding. I think this was the only time I ever saw Don in a tux. He enjoyed the wedding, but he liked the fishing even more! He made 3 or 4 more trips to Alaska and enjoyed every one of them.
The other trip that he always enjoyed was the trek into Blodgett Lake in Montana. He and our friend, Ray Dunbar, made the trip several times. Don always looked forward to the trip. The last trip Don made was on horseback. He said he was so stiff by the time they got to the lake that he couldn’t even fall off the horse!
As I went through our photos, I realized that Don and I traveled the western states quite a bit. We also made a few trips to Missouri and followed the Oregon Trail. He loved our fifth-wheel and meeting other people. One of his favorite trips was the camping trip he organized for this church over to Steens Mountain.
From the time we moved to Oregon City, Don always had a garden. He grew lots of things, but his favorites were corn, green beans, peas and tomatoes—and more tomatoes! Since he was off during most of the summers, he learned how to can or freeze all those crops. He taught Tara how those peas were best right out of the pod, but he was never able to teach her to love “those evil tomatoes!” His friend, Tom Straugh, never had that problem though. Tom lived in Anchorage, Alaska, when he had to come down for a conference in Portland. He stayed with us overnight. The next morning, he dressed in his suit and tie, and came out and asked if we would mind if he took a salt shaker out to the garden so he could have tomatoes for breakfast! That was one of Don’s favorite “tomato” stories.
In February 1998, Don retired from his teaching position, although he did finish out the school year as a temp. In June of that year, Don became retired—and bored! Fortunately, at that time, Don became involved with the Handyman group at the Oregon City United Methodist Church. We had been members of the church for a long time but hadn’t really gotten very involved. I consider the Handyman group to have been Don’s savior! He made new friends and got involved in helping to build the Heritage Room at the new church. I had been concerned about Don’s boredom before that, but the Handyman group took care of that.
About this same time, Tara moved back in with us; and with her came Sean & Ginger. No history of Don’s would be complete without Sean, in particular, included. Sean loved Don and went virtually everywhere with him. Don spent lots of hours in the field in back of our house throwing balls and bumpers for the dogs. It’s hard to guess who had more fun!
At the end of 2002, I retired. I knew that I had a lump in my breast at that time, and in March of 2003, I had a double mastectomy. Don became my nurse for the next six months, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one. He never seemed to be squeamish about changing my dressings, and he got to be a real expert at making pudding when I was going through chemotherapy. He was always there and he was my hero!
In March of 2004, we decided to move to our house at the beach. We had bought the lot and cleared it in 1972. In 1973, we started building. Don obviously had asked his dad and my dad for advice over the years, so we got the foundation and framing done. Then both his folks and mine came over to help out. Since this is Oregon, they finished putting the roof on in the rain. When they were all done, Jake looked at Don and said, “If you weren’t my son, I wouldn’t have done this!” Thank heaven for parents!
Anyway, when we moved to Coronado Shores in March 2004, it was basically going to be for three years. Well, 10+ years later, you can see our plans changed. Of course, Sean moved to the beach with us. He and Don spent many an hour on the beach with sticks, Frisbees and ponds! Don always complained about the weather down here, and he would have liked to go to Arizona for the winters. I, however, didn’t care for Arizona, and I absolutely loved it in Coronado Shores. We made friends here and joined in a lot of the activities, so we stayed.
As part of our Coronado Shores history, we spent most of our holidays down at the house. Tara was born in February 1975, and we must have taken her to the beach house for the first time sometime in February or March. (M6) Another of Don’s favorite stories was when he told one of the female teachers that we were taking the baby to the beach for the weekend. Obviously, she didn’t know Don well and didn’t realize that we had a house at the beach (even if it was unfinished!). She really laid into Don about how mean he was to take a baby camping in “that kind of weather.” Don never told her the difference!
Over the years, we spent virtually every Thanksgiving at the beach with our good friends, Bob and Julia Richardson. Our good friends from Montana, Ray & Laurie Dunbar, came over for Easter a couple of times. We spent most of our Christmases at Coronado Shores too.
We used to go to Montana every summer to visit family and friends. In 2000, Don went over to help Ray put a new cedar shake roof on their house. The Bitterroot was burning up that year, but Don & Ray were up on the roof putting down shingles as the helicopter was flying over sprinkling water on them on the way to the fire just up the mountain. Don & Ray laughed so hard and said the helicopter pilot probably thought they were nuts for putting down shakes instead of composition shingles.
In July of 2005, our lives took a big change. We were in Spokane on our way to my 40th high school reunion in Stevensville, when Don had a stroke. Because I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) drive the pickup with the fifth-wheel attached, I was stuck in Spokane with Don in the hospital. Fortunately, two wonderful angels from this church, Dick Ferguson and Doug Forncrook, saved me by bringing my car over and then driving the truck and fifth-wheel back. I drove Don back in the car, and he went into rehab for a month.
Once he learned to walk again, he was gradually able to take part in many of his former activities; however, he never returned to his “before normal.” He lost much of his desire to do things. He had always been so busy gardening, fixing things, getting wood, etc., and now he was pretty comfortable just sitting, watching TV and watching the world go by. Again, a bunch of guys sort of saved him. That was his coffee bunch at Coronado Shores. I always called them the “liar’s club!” Don went down to the clubhouse almost every morning and joined in the laughter and kidding around, although he wasn’t big into the political commentary. Since he walked down there most mornings, he got a little exercise.
In May of 2012, Don was noticeably slowing down on his walking. There were a couple of days when he could hardly make it down to the clubhouse or back home. So off we went to Corvallis to the heart doctor. It turned out that he had an aneurysm and was about ready to have a heart attack. So a couple of days later, he went back in for double bypass surgery. This was a hard time for me because I watched other heart patients come out of surgery and start walking again in a day or two. Don was unable to walk after a week in the hospital. During his surgery, he got “pump head”, a condition caused because the brain actually knows the difference between a “real” and an “artificial” heart. Fortunately, most people are unaffected by it, but Don wasn’t that lucky. After another month in rehab, he again came home. However, from that time on, he had lots of mobility problems and we had lots of imaginary visitors at our house ranging from rabbits and cats to small children.
From that point on, Don was seldom left alone. He never wandered, but he couldn’t be trusted to make good decisions. Aging Wisely with Heartfelt Hands was the first outside agency to help us out. I wanted to get out one day a week and have coffee & lunch with my friends, so one of their caregivers came every Friday. That was great except it still didn’t give me enough time to take care of business. So in 2013, I discovered North End Senior Solutions (NESS) in Lincoln City. NESS is an adult daycare facility that is wonderful. I didn’t think Don would ever agree to go to a daycare facility, but he agreed to go and loved it. Jan Fitzgerald and her team are amazing and helped us so much. I would leave Don at NESS and go run errands. I don’t know what I would have done without both of these wonderful organizations.
In June of this year, it was obvious to me that I could no longer take adequate care of Don because he was just too heavy for me to handle by myself. So in July, Don moved into Lakeview Senior Living in their Compass Rose (memory care) unit. The caregivers were so nice, but it soon became evident that Don was more than they could physically handle. Thus, I began looking for an intermediate care facility. Unfortunately, medical facilities on the coast are severely limited. Lakeview was just an “assisted living” facility. So I decided I’d move Don up to the Oregon City area where he would be close to Tara. I planned to live with Tara about half the week and return to Coronado Shores for the other half. I thought that I had a place all set up for Don, and then it fell through. I felt like things were really getting desperate, so I started another search for a place close to Oregon City. I looked at 10 facilities and finally selected Elite Care at Oatfield Estates. It appears to be a wonderful facility, and I thought Don would enjoy it even if he wouldn’t participate in a lot of the activities.
I went up to Milwaukie to sign the papers on September 29, and that evening I received a call from Lakeview telling me that Don wasn’t doing well. By the time I got there on Tuesday morning, I could tell he wasn’t going to make it. I was shocked, however, when he died early on Wednesday morning.
No matter how well you think you’re prepared, I suspect we aren’t really ready to give up a loved one. I was used to Don being gone from our house, but I still saw him virtually every day. I was fairly used to getting one-word responses from him the last few months, but I still miss telling him the family or neighborhood news. Tara has been a big help, and I thank all of you for all your phone calls, cards and prayers for both of us. Don had a lot of great friends and wore different hats for different groups of those friends!