Wednesday, April 20, 2016

50 years of Benton Community -- Donald Impact

“Success in school or lack of success in school does not indicate your success in life!” 

As I heard those words from Ron Donald my heart wanted to make sure that every person who walks the halls, rides the buses and sits in our classrooms believes in this statement and themselves  - whether they are an adult or child.
Mr. Donald 1982 Yearbook photo
I’ve known Mr. Donald since I heard his name from my oldest brother, Jeff.  Mr. Donald taught Jeff in high school and driver’s education and also coached him in track.  Mr. Donald remembers my brother Jeff describing the first track Benton Community had as the place where “cow-path relays” took place. 

Benton’s first track was measured out on the outside of the football field as close to a 440 as possible.   The farm boys, who were members of track team, helped build the track and field with their knowledge and equipment.   They needed a long jump pit and the boys on the team knew a solution to make that happen.  Rick Nolan said “I can get my dad’s truck and get sand for the pit.”  He drove to Garrison, where they loaded the truck to the hilt with sand.  Driving back Van Horne was a challenge for the overloaded truck, but true to form of “Being a Bobcat” and doing the right things for the right reasons, the team members found shovels and started creating a long jump pit as the truck adjusted to the weight being removed from its bed. 

While the truck was being unloaded, Bart Nolan & Jim Nolan (Rick’s grandfather and father) drove up and said to Rick, “Who’s that young fella?” as they pointed at Mr. Donald who was the dirtiest one in the back of the truck.  Rick responded, “That’s the coach.”   And from that point on Benton Community had a track and field team.  That was in the spring of 1972. 

My brother Jeff told me his favorite coach ever was Coach Donald.  Mr. Donald remembers the 2-mile relay was the first relay team to make it to state from Benton.  My brother was part of that team.  Another member, Scott Thompson told Coach Donald, as he lay on the ground after running and knowing they had just qualified for state, “That’s it – that’s all you’re getting – you’re not getting anymore!”
1975 BC Yearbook photo
Jeff said one of Coach Donald’s work-outs included sending the track team north of town to run the section.  Jeff remembers one night, Doug Silhanek and some others decided to cut the workout short and cut through the fields.  Track happens in the spring in Iowa – so imagine what the fields they cut through might have been like.  There was no hiding the fact they cut off some distance, but not time, from their workout when they got back to the track.  Coach Donald took that decision in stride with his “cheese and crackers” pep talk for the team.

Mr. Donald has tons of memories from his time at BC and can’t really single one out over the other.  In his coaching he does remember why he quit doing tackle drills with his football players.  John Less sent him flying across the field and he quit tackle drills.  He quit racing the football players when Shawn Pfiffner beat him in 100 yard dash.  After 12 knee surgeries, he still wishes he could compete at the level that allowed him to tackle and race his players.  He also remembers Pat Vogel, the 1st Benton Community wrestling state champion, had 3 nail biting matches before being crowned Benton Communities 1st State Wrestling Champ in 1977.

Besides coaching, Mr. Donald also taught Driver’s Education for 50 years.  My brother Jeff also remembers thinking “he didn’t need Driver’s Education” when he had to take it with Mr. Donald.  He was “a farm-kid for cripes sakes and had been driving a long time.”  As I spoke with Jeff about writing this story of Ron, Jeff told me of one of his driving days with Mr. Donald.  Jeff drove north on Highway 21 and Mr. Donald asked him to turn left to go to Elberon and Jeff stopped the car on Highway 21.   Jeff remembers Mr. Donald calmly asking him, “What are you stopping for?” and Jeff responded, “I don’t know, guess I didn’t need to.”  So, maybe Jeff did need Ron’s Driver’s Education, along with the other students Ron taught for 50 years to drive. 

Mr. Donald started teaching and coaching at Benton Community in the fall of 1971.  He made it a habit to be at school by 6:30 a.m. to get his day organized before other people arrived in the building.  He knew he would not have time after school due to his coaching responsibilities.  Over the 28 years he taught at Benton, he taught the following courses:  American and World History, Economics, Government, Consumer Economics, American Issues, and Global.  He developed many of these offerings by taking graduate level courses to increase his knowledge.  His main focus in his teaching was engaging his students to see how small the world was and to become aware of the world outside of Benton County.  He did this by helping investigating, researching and creating connections for his students between their home and the world. 

Mr. Bell and Mr. Donald also recognized that some students might struggle with traditional courses, so they came up with ideas as to how to tailor courses to make students more engaged and successful.  Courses like Practical Government and English 11 and 12 had many cross-curriculum projects and learning assignments.   Ron says since Marv and he was backdoor neighbors, they often collaborated on Donald’s front porch.  I would love to of been an observer of these problem solving and solution focused sessions.  Both of these men have a talent of being able to tell stories that both inform and engage. 

Some of the best compliments he ever received on his teaching came from students.  One he remembers was from a student who was bright and told Mr. Donald after finishing his class, “I learned a lot, I didn’t think I would.   I thought I knew everything there was, but I learned a lot.”  Another compliment was from Joan England, she nominated Mr. Donald for one of the first teacher of the year in Eastern Iowa. 

He also remembers fondly the parents who came to school conferences, especially those mothers he saw year after year after year due to the number of children from each of these large Benton Community families.   He taught many siblings and even was blessed with teaching children of former students.

When I asked Ron and Sally about their decision to move to BC – Ron said “They would hire me!”  Unlike the people I have interviewed before in this series, Ron had sent in his resume from an ad he saw in the paper for a teaching and coaching position.  Mr. Manship and Mr. England called him and told him they liked his resume and he came for an interview in the spring of 1971.  When he was hired he was the Head Football and Assistant Boys Track coach, taught Drivers Ed and Social Studies.  Once when he was showing a team from Linn Mar where their locker room was in the old Van Horne high school before a football game, he overheard one of their players saying, “God, what a dump!” and Ron thought to himself, “Yeah, you are right but it’s our dump!” 
BC Yearbook photo


Ron and Sally have always believed that Benton has been made up of a very special group of people.  The Donald’s first meeting with some families of Benton Community (Bell’s, Eckenrod’s and Logan’s) was at the Bell’s house where they served lemonade and ice tea, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  I have also had tea and lemonade at the Bell house and many great memories of being educated by each of these teaching families. 

Sally and Ron have three children and Sally was a huge supporter of Ron being so involved in coaching and teaching here at BC.  Sally worked at Rockwell Collins for 25 years and was the cog in the wheel that kept their family organized, in clean clothes and fed.   Since Ron and Sally’s twin boys were our age, year-round I spent a lot of time at the Donald home, both in Van Horne and at Holiday Lake, eating Sally Donald food.    As I think about that now – we still do that when their children are back home visiting them!   There has never a time when we have felt we are imposing on the Donald’s.  In high school we just were part of their family and that feeling has continued for the past 30+ years. 

Although I am one a very few BC grads that did not have Mr. Donald as a teacher, one of my favorite memories of Mr. Donald involves my connection to him as a parent of my friends, living in Van Horne.   The girls distance runners from the track team and the Schwan’s man knew each other well.  In the early 1980’s you could charge your parents account if you stopped the Schwan’s man on the streets of Van Horne.  (Sorry mom and dad – I think you might just be learning about these purchases!)  We frequently did this outside the Donald home.   Mr. Donald told us we could keep our purchased ice cream bars in his freezer.  This way when Coach VanEtten sent us on a long run around town, we could stop for a mid-run snack.  Mr. Donald told us as long as he could eat them, his freezer was our freezer. 

Mr. Donald retired from teaching in 1999.  At that time he still immensely enjoyed teaching – even the last day, but the early retirement incentive was too enticing.  He continued to sub and teach Driver’s Education for another 12 years.    Ron and Sally are the epitome of community minded people.  Both have been members of the Van Horne Fire Department (Ron 32 years Sally 12years), Van Horne Lions (Ron since 1971 and Sally since 2001 ), and have both been heavily involved in local and state government – whether that be as serving as Mayor, VH Library Board or running for state office.  Ron and Sally even used their persuasive powers to convince Todd to join the Van Horne Lion’s and he has enjoyed immensely being part of this service organization and giving back to the community. 

As part of their commitment to the Lion’s Club International, they are an integral part of vision screening and transporting corneas and tissue for needed patients and institutions.  The Lion’s motto is “We Serve” and both Ron and Sally are examples of serving others as they live a very successful life!


I am not 100% sure this is Ron and Sally -- but I know they enjoy riding!

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