Home Town or Home Community:

Wymore, NE, USA (grew up), Saskatoon SK (45+ years in Canada)

Our Story:


This story is about my life after and before arriving in Saskatchewan. Events and information are in categories to present points in stages and time spans. Topics skip back and forth in time to revisit periods in my life.

Donny in WWII uniform Year: 1943 Place Name: Denver, CO USA Professional photo of me in sailor uniform like my father was wearing at the time in the Pacific War Front in WWII.

Donny in WWII uniform
Year: 1943
Place Name: Denver, CO USA
Professional photo of me in sailor uniform like my father was wearing at the time in the Pacific War Front in WWII.


At age 19 I was diagnosed as having undetected binaural hearing impairment. As a lucky, humble, gifted, altruistic overachiever and survivor, I have also persevered:

  • Constant Binaural Tinnitus (steady, varying 3-4 ring, hum, roar, clicks).
  • Almost gored by a cow horn (1952).
  • Electrocution and burns: coma & unconscious 3 days (1956).
  • Mistaken as game: a hunter’s telescopic rifle shot barely missed (1962).
  • Temporary amnesia: head clubbed by 3 fugitive escapees (1984).
  • Fist-sized brain tumor & sepsis (2002).
  • Frozen left shoulder (1yr+, 2003).
  • Sciatic nerve attack (6 mo. +, 2005).
  • Left shoulder: Dislocated & cracked rotor cuff: (2007).
  • Vehicle collision: moose and bus– at 100 km/hr. (2011).

Hopefully, my surviving such happenstances is inspirational.


Highlights of 45 Years in Saskatchewan: August 18, 1967–December, 2012

On August 18, 1967 I emigrated with my wife (Louise) and three children (Robert, Christopher and Audrey) from Norman, Oklahoma on a one-year appointment as Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Saskatchewan– tenured 1968.

Forty-five  years later, I am a semi-retired renowned sculptor and philanthropist. Other highlights include:

  • Contributing Editor: Saskatchewan Science Teachers Society publication: Accelerator (1968—1971).
  • Inducted into Phi Delta Kappa Honorary Education Society (1968).
  • Who’s Who in Saskatchewan profile, P.91 (1968).
  • General contractor– Hefner Services and Industries (1974-2001).
  • Built national roadside attraction– life-sized bison sculpture, Don’t Fence Me In, at North. Battleford, Saskatchewan (2005).
  • Televised testimonials: Canadian Optometry Association (2009).
  • Roller skater and performer (1980—2000).
  • Poetry writing—New Collection on international tour (2011-13).
  • Instructor: University of Saskatchewan Certificate of Art and Design (1010-13).
  • Earned Adult and Continuing Education Certificate, Extension, University of Saskatchewan (1996-1998).
  • 77 blood donations (1996-2013).
  • Philanthropy award (November 15, 2007.
  • Over $2,000,000+ slot play and 425+ jackpot/major wins at SIGA Casinos (2009-2013).

Deciding to Stay in Saskatoon: 1970’s

I left the College of Education for PhD studies and became research assistant (1972-74):

University of Saskatchewan Continuing Medical Education Department. My smoking cessation and physician updating work was covered in Saturday Night newspaper and a Canadian medical journal. Obtaining a $250,000 Health and Welfare Canada research grant, we worked with staff to review therapeutics rural Saskatchewan hospitals. With statistics and pre-med studies, a career in continuing medical education appealed– a position offered in Maritime Canada was considered.

Don with Philanthropy Award Year: 2007 Place Name: Saskatoon SK Philanthropy award on Nov 15, 2007.

Don with Philanthropy Award
Year: 2007
Place Name: Saskatoon SK
Philanthropy award on Nov 15, 2007.

We were reluctant to move. In 1970 I was flown to Kingston, Ontario to interview for assistant professor at Queen’s University. Similarly, In 1969 I interviewed at Northeast Oklahoma State University for a tenured position as Associate Professor of economic geology. A class schedule and salary were given. My hearing impairment was the main factor against appointments. As well:

  • I tested in the top 3% of graduate students—GRE# 818349–in my field.
  • PhD requirements except dissertation were completed.
  • I had unsuccessful job applications, despite good experience and qualifications.
  • I was ineligible for work in Provincial Government departments: as non-British subject.
  • Couldn’t finance PhD research in Saskatchewan schools.
  • Moving was a prohibitive option.
  • My wife, Louise, was a tenured Saskatoon Public School teacher.
  • We had nine moves for my education and job changes.

We chose not to leave connections, stability and security in Saskatoon. I did substitute teaching, tutored math and sciences, was an insurance broker and assembled Fleury motor homes. We doubled our home, adding two suites, and bought a 3-plex rental property.

I became a general contractor and established Hefner’s Services and Industries (HSI) in 1974. Commercial clients included Saskatoon City:

  • Transit System. The transit system was a major client: I built and maintained over 110 passenger shelters, constructed the transit radio dispatch room and installed the paving stone in the main transit terminal, head office, bus garages and Confederation terminal.
  • City Stores and Records.
  • Parks and Recreation.
  • Public Schools.

Other activities included:

  • Demolition of: two motels, a one-block mall, a six-storey warehouse, several houses.
  • Residential: Fences, decks and doors, reroofing, bathrooms, basements, garages, sheds, play and doll houses and additions.
  • Tree trimming.
  • Insurance restoration.
  • Snow removal.

An architecturally unique dental, business and residential redevelopment at 603 3rd Ave N. & Queen St. is the largest project I designed and built. With little advertising, referral was the main promotion.

Altruistic Philanthropy in Saskatchewan

Despite personal challenges, I strive to inspire and help others, while gratefully giving credit to helping hands over the years.

Proceeds from my sculptures have provided over $100,000 to charitable causes, including:

  • A $500 donation to the Saskatchewan Western Development Museum’s “Prairie Gamble” project (June 1, 2005).
  • A $5,000 gift for the Art Gallery of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon (2005).
  • My largest gift–$25,000–is a bison sculpture (appraised at over $30,000) given to the City of North Battleford (June 8, 2007).
  • $50 rolls postage stamp each to 10 charities. (2007).
  • 100+ of my sculptures sold at over 50 fundraisers in Saskatchewan (1996-2013).

Anecdotes on Personal Charitable Gestures

Modest good fortune has helped me personally aid and encourage individuals, families and organizations. Hopefully, these anecdotes are inspirational.

Helping a Homeless Fellow (1970’s)

“I hired a homeless, vagrant chap at a labour agency. A willing worker, I offered him free room and board and casual work, so he could return home to another province with savings.”

Being a Compassionate Employer (1980’s)

“A teenager came to a construction site asking to work for same-day pay: his mom and two sisters were home without food. Without hesitation I gave him an advance and drove him to buy staples and take them to his family first.”

Providing temporary shelter for a lady entrepreneur (1990’s)

“On a cold fall evening, a divorced lady in her forties— living in her van– asked to park overnight in my lot. Because of a back injury, she couldn’t do her freelance delivery work. She took my offer to house sit my home under renovations, until her Worker’s Compensation pay began. “

Being neighbourly at Thanksgiving (1990’s)

“One fall I gave rides—1,400 kilometers—for two new neighbour’s daughters for the fall semester in special high school programs and activities. By unavoidable misfortune of a vehicle accident, the family of six was down on their luck, when thanksgiving was a few days away and they were to host dinner for the extended family on Monday. On Friday before I picked the girls up after school and took them to buy and pick up everything they chose for their mom to prepare thanksgiving dinner. The girls did well in school too.”

Don With T-Rex Sculpture Year: 1999 Place Name: Saskatoon, SK Image Source: Star Phoenix Shows Don with T-Rex sculpture welded from farm machinery parts.

Don With T-Rex Sculpture
Year: 1999
Place Name: Saskatoon, SK
Image Source: Star Phoenix
Shows Don with T-Rex sculpture welded from farm machinery parts.

Using trade skills to aid a charitable organization (2000-2010)

“I did projects, including $3,000+ worth of plumbing, extensive building insulation retrofits, three secure exterior steel doors and window bars for a charitable organization at little or no cost to them. Over eight years, the value of such contributions and cash exceeded $15,000. A patron of the organization sponsored a luncheon in my honour and I received a Certificate of Appreciation from them.”

Sculpture Career Highlights: July 1996-December 2012

  • 1,300+ wireworks: 20+ miles of recycled barbed, electrical and misc. wire.
  • Touring Exhibition (33 pcs): WIRED (by Mendel Art Gallery: Moose Jaw, Yorkton, Weyburn, Swift Current, Lloydminster, North Battleford.)
  • Most viewed and photographed object ever displayed in the Mendel Art Gallery: DON’T FENCE ME IN.
  • Sellouts: 7 SOFA international shows: 3—Chicago, 3—New York, 1–Miami.
  • Artist- of-the-Month: Mendel Gift Shop.
  • Artist-of-the-Month: Sasktel E-zine.
  • Artist –of-the-Month: Saskatchewan Craft Council.
  • Nominated for Saskatchewan Tourism award: Saskatchewan Craft Council.
  • Eight Mendel Member Shows (sold 15 of 16 pcs).
  • Mentored Noelle Lucas, my second wife (B.F.A. Silver Medalist, B.A. Hons. Art History & M.A. History) (Married: December 27, 1984; Divorced: June 6, 1998).
  • Artist-by-Artist Exhibition: Doug Bentham (mentor), Mendel Art Gallery.
  • Artist-by-Artist Exhibition: mentor for Linda Knight, Mendel Art Gallery.
  • Shakespeare on Saskatchewan, Saskatoon installations. (5 seasons).
  • Numerous media profiles, including:

o Rural Roots, Prince Albert Daily Herald (Jane Brown full color cover + pg.).

o International Symposium, Prairie Sculpture Association.

o CBC TV Prairie Portraits (Jeff Bohatch)—Provincial.

o CBC TV Arts Reel (Jennifer Weber)—Provincial.

o CBC TV “On the Road Again” (Wayne Rostad)-National.

o Shaw Cable TV. (Carol Blenkin).

o Two CBC Radio Noon Edition interviews.

o Profiled in Youth Heritage fair as a pre-eminent Saskatchewan artist.

o Saskatoon Sun, (Darlene Polachic-full colour cover + full pg.).

o Mendel Folio, (full pg.).

o CARFAC NEWSLETTER (1/2 cover + ½pg).

o Craft Factor Magazine (Sheila Robertson-full colour cover + 2pgs).

o Saskatoon Express (Lois Unger 1/2pg).

o Weekend Extra: ARTS, Saskatoon Star Phoenix (twice, Sheila Robertson-1/2pg).

o Kaleidoscope, News Review, Yorkton (Calvin Daniels-full pg.).

o Battlefords News-Optomist(Chelsea Reid & Jeff Schneberk-1/3pg & 1/2pg).

o Lifestyles, Estevan Mercury-(¼pg).

o Weyburn Review (1/3pg).

o Entertainment, Saskatoon Sun (Jenny Gabruch-full colour pg.-twice).

o City Page, Moose Jaw Times Herald Corey Atkinson-1/2pg colour).

o Metal Arts Guild of Canada, Magazine (Dianne Karg Baron-2 pgs.).

o Canadian Heritage project: spotlightonvisualart.ca web site.


Career Track After High School (1958-1967)

B.A. (August 1961–University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado)

From September 1958–August l961 I studied biosciences, elementary and secondary education. In first year:

  • Most summer pay financed two new hearing aids and glasses.
  • Part-time work on campus: audiovisual services, housing, bookstore and registrar’s office.
  • I tutored mathematics and science and edited written assignments.
  • I travelled 60 miles to Denver for 30 hours weekend greenhouse work.
  • With 4-F draft classification (Oct. 1960)—from hearing loss– exempted from mandatory Reserve Officer Training.
  • First-year grades – near perfect in chemistry — earned an Academic Merit award.
  • Freshman matriculation test rank in science was in the top 4% nationally.
  • I joined Theta Xi Fraternity to reside there fall 1959.

For upper years: Summer and part-time work would not cover further studies and internships. And:

  • Due to hearing impairment, I obtained Colorado State Vocational Rehabilitation training for tuition and books—unknowingly, missing out in first-year.
  • In 1958, Russia launched Sputnik and –to catch up– the U.S.A. offered loans for future math and science teachers. I qualified and got a newly established National Defense loan–50% forgivable and interest free for teaching five years.
  • I took year-round overload studies.
  • Hearing aids exempted me from 3 required physical activity courses.

I married university classmate, Evie Louise Yount (Married: December 17, 1960—Divorced: December 2, 1980). She taught—with Colorado Certificate: 8274– elementary school in Loveland, Colorado, where we lived while I interned in Berthoud, Colorado. Our oldest son, Robert, was born on Aug. 1961, just before I graduated, three years after high school by age 22.

We moved to Rangely, Colorado– in oil-rich northwestern Colorado– where we were elementary teachers, with the highest paying public teacher salaries in the state. I was assistant coach (football, basketball and wrestling) and refereed.

Bison Sculpture Year: 2005 Place Name: Saskatoon SK Photo of Don with life-sized bison sculpture

Bison Sculpture
Year: 2005
Place Name: Saskatoon SK
Photo of Don with life-sized bison sculpture

M.A. (August 1964–University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado)

I earned an M.A. degree over 1962-64 summers and extension post-graduate credits during the year from Universities of:

  • Colorado (Psychology of Individual Differences: 1963).
  • Utah (Principles and Materials for Biology Teachers: 1962).
  • Western State Colorado (Seminar in Current Education Problem: 1964).

My master’s research was about photo periods of local horned lizards: phrynosoma ornitisimum duglossei spp. My father-in-law—an eastern Colorado veterinarian and rancher—paid my M.A. tuitions and some costs to move over the mountains for summer school.

Some happenings:

  • Bought a new home.
  • Interim Cub Scout Master.
  • Science fair judge.
  • Fishing and hunting.
  • As a biologist—kept a field book.
  • Documented mountain picas not known to live locally.
  • Hunting fossils and Ute Indian flint works.
  • Discovered a sandstone outcrop on a promontory along a cliff hallowed out like a bathtub.
  • Visited nearby Dinosaur National Monument.
  • Gathered over ten tons of sandstone and built non-mortared fence, with seats and planters.

A noisy oil well operated across the back lane from our home. In May 1963, our second son, Christopher, was born in Grand Junction, Colorado.

More Teaching and Post-graduate Studies

In September 1964 we moved to Norwalk, Iowa, where I taught secondary sciences—Iowa certificate 92916–and took two University of Iowa post-graduate courses: statistics and algebra.(1964-65) Our daughter, Audrey, was born in September at Des Moines, Iowa. In spring 1965 I was appointed Instructor—employee 5430– of Mathematics and Science in the Northwest Missouri State University in the College of Education Horace Mann demonstration school.

In July 1965 we moved to Maryville, Missouri. During 1965-66 I took three post-graduate math & methods courses. Observers from college classes, parents, researchers and teachers viewed my classroom activities. That spring in 1966, I was accepted for a one-year National Science Foundation fellowship in earth sciences at the University Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma.

In July 1966 we moved to Norman, Oklahoma and I began fellowship courses, including: atmospheric geophysics, general geophysics, atmospheric geophysics, mineralogy & petrology, geomorphology, physical oceanography and history of science. Extra post-graduate courses: special topics in astronomy, modern abstract algebra, point-set topology, general physics, computer algorisms, calculus and general physics, elementary school curriculum development. Only a one-credit research report and oral examination remained to complete for a Master of Natural Science after four semesters: July 1966-August 1967. I was inducted into Sigma Gamma Epsilon, Honorary Geology Society and was a member of the American Geophysical Union.

Next Destination: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

In spring 1967 I volunteered to update posting of job vacancies at the university job placement office, as soon as they came in. The director stated in a reference that I was one of the best students — among over 1,400– in the University of Oklahoma post-graduate earth sciences programs. He encouraged me to consider a career in geology, but I had not arranged support for further studies and a student loan was being repaid.

By happenstance, I found an ideal position available at the University of Saskatchewan. I applied immediately. The Dean of Education at the University of Saskatchewan soon replied via phone, inviting me for an interview at the University of Missouri, in Columbia, Missouri. I was offered a one-year position as Assistant Professor of Education. A $1,000 reimbursement for moving expenses was included. I accepted, despite the bold, challenging process to emigrate for short- term employment: a major decision in 1967, affecting the lives of my family.


My Life from 1939 to High School Graduation in 1958

1939-1948 in Colorado: My First Nine Years

I was born in Denver, Colorado September 3, 1939– first day of World War 11–the only child of Harold Laverne (age-23) and Irene Audrey (age-18) Hefner (nee Hollman). I was sprinkled November 5, 1939 at Edgewater Methodist Church.

We lived in Denver across the street from dad’s greenhouse job. Harold (“Speedy”) was a prominent professional boxer. My grandfather, Elmo, promoted him and his two professional boxer brothers. I recall a few bouts. After Pearl Harbor, mom went to work in a munitions factory–later movies. In March 1943 dad enlisted in the Navy, fighting with the 93rd Seabee Battalion in the Pacific until fall 1945.

My parents divorced—dad with custody– and, at age 3 ½, I lived with grandparents Elmo Sr. and Ruth Hefner. My other grandparents, Burr Hollman, and wife also cared for me.

“Mom and I often played hide and go seek. When she left, I indelibly remember looking incessantly for her. I had suddenly lost touch with mom until age ten in 1950. For years later, I had numerous dreams about a small boy wondering, lost and afraid. After self-study of psychiatry in 1966, I analyzed an intense repeat dream one night: I realized the little boy was probably me! I never had another such dream.”

Grandmother Hollman died suddenly in 1944 of a heart attack in her 40’s and widowed Grandfather, Burr Hollman — a WW I veteran– moved to California and remarried. I was about age 6 then — we never met again but got in touch in 1950. Memorable notes include:

“I vividly recall trout fishing together in a row boat on a clear mountain lake. Since we both loved fishing—him—retired– at California ocean piers and me—as a boy– at dams and streams in Nebraska, Colorado and Saskatchewan–we swapped many stories and photos until his death, March 1976.

After moving to remote Rangley, Colorado in 1961, I told Burr I fished in the nearby White River. I learned that he and his younger brother, Paul, once lived on a ranch near Meeker, Colorado on — upriver 60 miles east. Furthermore, they forded the river near Rangely in 1912, going west to Utah by ox cart. They herded cattle with a horse called “twister”. Burr left in 1916 to enlist in the military.

I have a clipping of a Wray, Colorado newspaper print of an historical photo with the Hollman brothers in front of their sod Riverside Schools Housel (Circa 1892), near Vernon, Colorado– Eastern Colorado, where my great grandparents (Frank and Liza) homesteaded on poor, almost non-arable land. Amazingly, my first wife, Evie, grew up on a nearby dry-land farm and attended a newer school in Vernon.”

For first grade at Edgewater School, Grandmother Ruth packed my lunch in a recycled metal lard pail–always including a jar of milk. Elmo and I made wooden toys like cars and wagons from scrap lumber and tree branch slices for wheels with nails as axles. I dug foxholes in the back yard to play war games. We raised pidgins to roast. I got a sugar coated orange candy wedge at bedtime and slept with my brown teddy bear under some stairs. I proudly wore a U.S.A. navy uniform.

Reuniting with Father, Harold

Home from war by November 1945, dad married Edith Moran (nee Morris) in 1946 and I got four new older step siblings. Dad returned to his pre-war greenhouse job. I missed a lot of school, due to whooping cough and German measles. On a dare, I would pinch hollyhock flowers shut to capture bumble bees to put in a jar.

We moved to a small garden and chicken farm by a lake near Denver and dad commuted to work. We had milk and feeder cattle, chickens and hogs.

“I walked on stilts to pick apples, pears and peaches. I listened for evening dynamite blasts from a nearby quarry –I was told it was “nightfall”. To play war games, I used floating wood as boats to bomb with mud balls in a front irrigation ditch, where I lured large crayfish with bait. School also had challenges, partly because of an undetected hearing impairment.

While others ate in the classroom at lunch time, I went outside and came back inside later to retrieve food from waste baskets. Once, my finger skin got frost bitten when I picked up a piece of dry ice in a waste basket. A flannel blanket scrap served as a hanky for a star on the health chart. The teacher noticed and “just happened to have an extra hanky I could have”. I will never forget her reward of a small box of animal cookies for good citizenship.”

By 1947 I had a new toddler half-brother, Jimmy, and Edith was expecting Alice. Even with self-reliance for food and shelter—and Dad working long hours– times were hard for a family of nine.

Relocation to Nebraska (1948-1958)

In summer 1948 we moved to Liberty, Nebraska and, again, in September to an abandoned farmhouse on a dirt road beside Wildcat Creek. Necessities included:

  • No electricity, running water or phone.
  • Pot belly stove heated with wood, corn cobs and coal.
  • Oil lamp and candle light.
  • Cast iron cook stove: heated water and house.
  • Outhouse.
  • Laundry and bathing water heated by a fire under a cast iron pot.
  • Hand pumped water well and a windmill filled the stock tank.

As foreman on a hog farm, dad was away lots. My jobs: gather and cut firewood from along the creek and tend a milk cow. Once with bronchitis, I had painful pleurisy and nearly fainted, while getting the milk cow.

The infamous” blizzards of 1948-49” covered the whole Midwest—from November 18 to spring 49’. School was closed and I couldn’t find enough firewood under snow.

September 1948 to May 1949, I attended grade three—with four stepsiblings– at rural Union Center School (grades 1-12) three miles away.

I took short cuts to school through fields, along a trail of food stashes: corn, wheat and wild:

  • Strawberries.
  • Grapes.
  • Black walnuts.
  • Sand plums.
  • Mulberries.
  • Dew berries.

Wild critters tried to raid my containers, including:

  • Raccoons.
  • Rabbits.
  • Opossums.
  • Foxes.
  • Skunks.
  • Coyotes.

I cooked small sunfish from Wildcat Creek over fire in tin cans. Once with bare hands, I grabbed five young timber rattlesnakes from under a tree stump, unaware of danger!

I was unkempt, shared clothes and didn’t like sleeping in with siblings. Seeing my plight, teacher Marie Westfall, arranged for me to live on a farm with her aunt and uncle, Alfred and Beryl Pyle– as foster parents. Dad agreed to that.

In July 1949 I left home at age 9yrs. & 10 mo. — I seldom met dad after that.

Belongings packed into one Campbell’s Soup box, I arrived at my new more modernized home, with:

  • Running well water.
  • Full indoor bathroom.
  • Outhouse.
  • Electricity.
  • Radios.
  • Both cast iron and electric cook stoves.
  • An electric wringer washing machine.
  • A cistern pump at the kitchen counter.
  • A hand-crank party line phone.
  • A kerosene oil heater.
  • I had my own upstairs bedroom.
  • The house was at a corner of dirt and graveled roads–with a mail box in front.
  • A closed one-room school, outhouses and wood shed were across the road.
  • High power electric lines were in front along the graveled road.

I was given school supplies and better clothes, including shirts sewn from flour sacks by the Ladies Aid Society.

For five years on that farm, I worked to earn room and board by working like a little man to:

  • Tend to a large garden each summer –filling an underground root cellar.
  • Care for 5,000 chickens: breeders for a chicken hatchery, layers, broilers and fryers.
  • Slaughter chickens, candle eggs and separate cream for market.
  • Care for six feeder calves and milk three cows.
  • Can produce and fruit.
  • Try to get honey bee swarms into hives.
  • Churn butter.
  • Prepare food to store at a freezer locker in Liberty.
  • Raise and sell runts, cripples and sick animals given to me by for care.
  • Harvest roadside cuttings with pitchfork and hay rack to feed my critters.
  • Clean chicken houses and barn and spread manure in fields.
  • Walk cornfields to cut weeds with a machete.
  • Walk fields to pick up fallen ears of corn at harvest.
  • Drive a Ford Ferguson tractor.
  • Put up wire tied bailed hay.
  • Keep stock tanks ice-free.
  • Grind feed for livestock.
  • Raise bees for honey and comb to eat on toast, pancakes and bread.
  • Repair barbed wire fences at home and for neighbors.
  • Maintain farm equipment and buildings.
  • Replace cutter bar sickle sections: home and neighbors.
  • Salvage derelict farm machinery.
  • Fill living room kerosene heater.
  • Turning and pulling calves at birth—I thought of becoming a veterinarian.

I attended grade 4 at Union Center School (September 1949- May 1950), often wearing bibbed overhauls, with pliers and pieces of bailing wire in pockets. My teacher, Miss Burcha, let me make things –like chains—from bailing wire if assignments were done. My home shop was a converted outhouse, where farm parts were repaired or recycled. A foot peddled grindstone was beside it. In 1950 a classmate shot off a shotgun with the barrel near my head leaving me deaf for a while.

My best pal was my black puppy, Pepper. Foster parents threatened to poison him with strychnine for eating chicken eggs– but raccoons did it. Terrified and feeling I couldn’t run away with Pepper, I tearfully shot him with my 410, buried him and said it was an accident.

Donny and Mom Together After 8 Years Apart Year: 1951 Place Name: Liberty, NE USA Image Source: Foster Parent Mom found me in a foster home and came for a visit, bringing me a new bike. My dog, Pepper is in photo.

Donny and Mom Together After 8 Years Apart
Year: 1951
Place Name: Liberty, NE USA
Image Source: Foster Parent
Mom found me in a foster home and came for a visit, bringing me a new bike. My dog, Pepper is in photo.

Due to consolidation, Union Center School closed in June 1950. I attended grades 5-8 at Liberty, Nebraska–four miles south on dirt roads or farther by bus on gravel. I had near perfect attendance. I excelled in science and math, while enjoying reading Poe, Wadsworth, Guest, Frost and Hemingway. I became fascinated with Leonardo Da Vinci. I memorized the:

  • 93 Nebraska counties and seats.
  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.
  • All U.S. states and capitols.
  • Major countries and capitols, rivers, oceans, seas and mountains of the world.
  • Presidents.
  • Spelling words to be county bee contestant. (In preliminary tests, I did not clearly hear words pronounced in a large auditorium.)

My recycled waste paper sculptures were often displayed in the classroom. I pondered what life was: why does it exist? I had the year’s work done in workbooks before December. In grade 6–8 room I learned much of the next grade. Grades 9-12 at Liberty School closed in June 1954.

With perfect attendance (1949-1954) at nearby Pleasant Hill country Church & Sunday school l:

  • Started two wood stoves in winter.
  • Rang the church bell.
  • Mowed church lawn and cemetery.
  • Was baptized October 26, 1952 (age 11) at Liberty, Nebraska.
  • Was top achiever in summer bible camp, reading the entire bible.
  • Took orders to make artificial flowers— roses, iris & lily–for graves with crepe paper, pipe stems and wire.
  • Sunday afternoons, I hunted quail, rabbits and pheasants with my 410 and 22 caliber guns and fished in farm dams and Wolfe Creek for bullheads, catfish, bass, blue gills and sunfish–some kept and fed in stock tanks for future meals.

In summer 1949 Elmo and Ruth Hefner came from Colorado to visit and began writing often. Mom and grandfather Burr Hollman began corresponding with me, about seven years after losing touch. They sent cash in greeting cards and letters. My foster parents took me open an account for deposits in the State Bank of Liberty. I did not know it was a “joint bank account” with them, where I deposited most of the cash I earned or received as gifts for over five years, never checking balances or using the account.

High School at Blue Springs, Nebraska: September 1954–December 1956

In summer of 1954 we moved to Blue Springs, Nebraska, where I:

  • Tended two milk cows
  • Tended to laying hens and chickens for dressing.
  • Hand delivered milk, cream, eggs and dressed chickens on a small route in town.
  • Tended a large garden and did yard, tree and garden work for others.
  • Hauled and plowed with my Ford Ferguson tractor and trailer.
  • Scraped and painted house exteriors.
  • Worked with the town foreman and loaned tools and equipment.
  • Worked at a Mobile Oil gas station and farm service store, hand pumping each sale–at 25 cents a gallon– into an elevated glass reservoir.
  • Opened an account at the Blue Springs State Bank, with a $40 pay check for a week of work at $1/ hr. (Aug. 19, 1955).
  • I did yard work in trade for voice lessons, unaware of my hearing impairment.(1956)

We lived near Blue Springs School (grades 1-12), where I had perfect attendance for grade 9 and first semester of grade 10. In fall 1957, I was moderator for a one-hour live public broadcast program at Lincoln, Nebraska about the history of the 13 colonies. In September 1956, I bought a typewriter and took typing independently from home. In April 1955, I earned a Certificate in Religious Education. During perfect church and Sunday school attendance, I became a Junior Deacon at age 15, giving sermons two Sundays in July 1955. I considered entering the ministry.

Then in August 1955—just before turning 16– I survived electrocution and severe electrical burns: from a short in a brass pull chain trouble light, while digging a trench in wet soil. I was found lying unconscious, frothing from the mouth. Dr. Samuelson came and said nothing could be done. I was resuscitated in ambulance to Beatrice, Nebraska. (Ironically, over a year before, I bought a hospital & Surgery policy on Jan. 6, 1954– at age 14–from Banker’s Life Insurance, but did not it keep up.) To pay medical expenses, I convinced Blue Cross that my dad’s policy in Colorado covered me, since I was his dependent finishing school in Nebraska, after the family moved to Colorado.

In 1956 I discovered my foster parents withdrew my five years of savings of gifts and earnings I had deposited—unknowingly in a joint account– at the State Bank of Liberty. They said it was taken in return for my care: feeling betrayed, I sought a new home beginning January 1957. I asked American Legion baseball coach about finding work and finishing grade 12 at Wymore High School– my school was consolidating there in 1957. He said to come back in two days. On return he and his wife asked me to live with them, as a role model for their son, Michael.

Prepping for University in a New Foster Home

In January 1957 I moved in with new foster parents, Bill and Irene Hladik, in Wymore, Nebraska.  I:

  • Finished grade 12–from January 1957–June 1958: perfect attendance.
  • Took science courses and audited math needed for university entrance.
  • Had household duties and part-time service station work.
  • Did handyman work and odd jobs.
  • Perfect Sunday school and church attendance and choir.
  • Received U.S.A. Selective Service Number: October 1957.
  • Received $100 Hazen-Shields Scholarship. (June 1958).
  • Built a robot sculpture that played a taped Class Prophecies at our graduation prom.

In June 1958 I moved to Colorado to work in landscape architecture until university in September. I built a 3-level, terraced hillside rock garden and waterfall, from over ten truckloads of field boulders.

Eternal Saga Revelation: Profound Hearing Loss Diagnosis

In Summer 1958 I was diagnosed with undetected profound binaural nerve deafness, after almost crushing a worker by misunderstanding directions. This explained many misunderstood oral communications and my resulting behaviors over the years. I became 4-F—(draft ineligible) in 1960. Since the diagnosis an enduring, multifaceted pall has persistently plagued my outlook.