- Written by Jeff Summers Jeff Summers
Donald Summers was born on September 7, 1916. He was the tenth child out of twelve born to Joseph George and Evelyn Bagley Summers. Don had four older brothers and five older sisters. When he was born, the family lived in Shelley Idaho where his father farmed on the “Hayes” project. As a boy, Don worked around the farm helping his father raise sugar beets and other crops. From an early age, Don exhibited a great sense of humor. He was constantly playing jokes on his family and friends. Don was always the life of any group he was with and everyone fed off his love of life. Every Halloween Don and his friends would spend the evening playing jokes on the neighbors. During that time, nearly all of the houses in the neighborhood had outdoor plumbing. The pranksters would be on their horses and hide in the shadows. When an unsuspecting victim would travel to the outhouse, Don and his friends would wait until the door closed then they would lasso the outhouse and pull it over. They were always careful to make sure the outhouse fell door down trapping their victims. They would then ride off laughing. As a student, Don did not show interest in formalized education. Although he went through the eighth grade, he quit during his freshman year to try and earn money to help his family make ends meet.
In 1932, Don and his friend Ambrose Williams decided that they needed to find some girls and that the best place in Goshen to look would be at a church activity. They drove Don’s Whippet car from Shelley to try and impress the young ladies. When he arrived, both Don and Ambrose fell in love with the same lovely girl, Velene Hess. Don danced with Velene several times that night and then in a fit of bravery asked if he could take her home. She agreed and Don did his best to impress Velene with his Whippet car. They drove around for a while before arriving at her house. Don walked her to the door and when he made sure no one was looking, he stole a kiss on her cheek and ran off. Velene was not sure what to make of this fun-loving boy. Their paths would cross again when Velene went around selling Country Gentleman magazine for Firth High School. One of the houses she stopped at was Mae Summers house. Don happened to be there and decided he needed to once again show off for this pretty young lady. So while Velene tried to sell magazines, Don was trying to show his toughness by punching a bag of potatoes. Velene would later comment that she came to the house selling magazines but ended up buying a husband. Don and Velene dated for two years and while Don would tease Velene about all of her boyfriends, it was clear that she loved Don. Don decided that this was the woman he wanted to spend his life with. He worked hard in 1934 farming a field of potatoes to earn money. For his efforts he was given $80. He took $40 of this and purchased a ring for Velene. Don, being very traditional thought he should talk to Jesse Hess to ask for Velene’s hand in marriage. Don had very few earthly possessions but the most valuable asset he had was a dog that he named Carbonic Acid. Don went to Mr. Hess and offered his dog in exchange for his daughter. Grandpa always teased grandma that he traded her for a dog. Grandma would always counter with, “the dog died after just a few years, you have been stuck with me for the rest of your life.”
Don and Velene were married on October 20, 1934 at the Idaho Falls courthouse. Theirs was not an easy life. It was during the great depression and work was very hard to find. Neither of the newlyweds had much money but that did not seem to matter. They were together and they were in love. After they were married, they lived in a small two-room house in Shelley. Don worked as a farmer during the summer and found whatever job he could during the lean winter months. One job that he took was to bail hay in Montana. The pay was a dollar a day. Grandpa went to the foreman and claimed he could do the work of two men. The foreman watched Don work and agreed. Don was paid $1.50 per day for his efforts. During this time of his life, Don also worked alongside his father-in-law Jesse Hess and they built the Goshen cemetery. Many of the trees surrounding this land today are a result of Grandpa Summers hard work. During the depression era, grandpa and grandma would move to wherever there was work. Grandpa was a wonderful provider and always made sure that grandma had whatever her heart desired.
During the fall of 1935, Velene gave birth to their first child. Jay Wendell Summers was born on October 14 in the hospital in Idaho Falls. Jay would be the only one of their children born in a hospital. Grandpa would always remind Jay of that and how expensive he was complaining that the doctor charged him $20 for the delivery. Grandpa loved his son though and the two of them would be very close. Jay would work side-by-side with grandpa on the farm and when work was finished, the two of them would go fishing or hunting.
After being married nearly two years, grandma and grandpa came to understand how special their love was for each other. They could not stand the thought that death would separate them. On September 14, 1937 they went to Logan Utah. On that day they went through the temple and were sealed to each other. They showed their love for one another and made promises to their Heavenly Father and were married for time and all eternity. This act of love and dedication would set the tone for their entire marriage. Grandma was the only woman he ever cared for and he loved her throughout this life and the life here after.
The following year, Don and Velene were blessed by the birth of their second child Norma DeAnn Summers on March 20, 1938. On the day that DeAnn was born, a great snowstorm raged throughout southeastern Idaho. The doctor was summoned but had a difficult time getting to their house. Grandpa did everything in his power to get medical attention to his wife and daughter. He and great-grandpa Hess shoveled and pushed snow so that the doctor was able to get on his way. Grandpa was so proud of his two children, he often took his family camping and fishing. One of their favorite spots was in Wolverine canyon where they would hunt for chokecherries.
Grandpa continued to farm on the “Hayes” project. He also worked at the sugar factory to support his growing family. In 1940, grandma and grandpa were again blessed by another child. On April 24 Jerry Garth Summers was born. Grandpa picked the name himself as he had always wanted one of his sons to have the initials “JG”. Grandma and grandpa’s family was now complete and grandpa took every opportunity he could to take his family fishing and camping. One of grandpa’s favorite spots was coffeepot rapids. Grandpa would fish for hours at a time while the kids played around the hatchery.
In the spring of 1945, grandpa moved his family from the Shelley area to a homestead near Rigby. It was a 100 acre farm with room to raise dairy cattle. Grandpa needed $1000 as a down payment which he borrowed from Uncle Elmer. Grandpa was never one to be indebted to anyone and he worked extra hard in the fields being able to raise the money he had borrowed and pay uncle Elmer back in less than three years. The farm was a very special place for grandpa. He loved working the land and he thought that it was important for his kids to learn the value of a good day’s work. Besides farming, grandpa also raised 20 head of dairy cattle. Jay and Jerry would take turns milking the cows to earn money to go on dates. Through the daily chores of milking, Jerry learned a valuable lesson, he would never live in the country and his kids would not have to milk cows.
During this time, grandpa was very involved in church and he seemed to gravitate to working with the young men and scouts. Grandpa would always take the boys with him on scout trips. He wanted them to have an appreciation of nature just as he did. Grandpa loved the outdoors. He was always happiest when he was camping where he could fish or hunt. His love was contagious as anyone who was around him for any amount of time learned to appreciate what nature had to offer.
In 1958 grandma and grandpa moved to Idaho Falls to a house they had built at 1855 South Higbee. This would be the house that they would live in the rest of their lives. The house was built by my grandpa Olsen and my dad and would always have special meaning to me. Grandpa was very proud of his house and was a wonderful neighbor. He could always be found visiting with the neighbors and had quite a barter system going. He would bring home fish and would trade it for fruits and vegetables from the neighborhood. He loved serving others and was always willing to lend a hand to anyone in need. Later in his life, he would go out after every snow storm and would scrape everyone’s walkways so that they did not have to do it before they went to work.
Holidays were always a special time for grandpa; he loved to decorate the house. I think it stemmed from the fact that he was a kid at heart. There was an understanding around grandma and grandpa’s house. Grandma was responsible for decorating the inside while the outdoors was grandpa’s domain. Each year he would do a little more than he did the year before. Although he had lights around the eves, it was Santa and his reindeer that will most remind me of grandpa. Each year he and I would go up on the roof and scrape away the snow to make room for his ornaments. Santa would stand behind the sleigh pulled by three reindeer. Grandpa always told me that the other reindeer were out hiding because it was deer season. Rudolph would lead the way with his blinking red light bulb nose. Seeing them on grandpa’s roof always was the official beginning of the holiday season.
When grandpa moved to Idaho Falls, he gave up farming and went to work for DeMott tractor. Grandpa was amazing in his ability to fix things. He quickly became one of the foremost authorities on John Deere equipment, especially hay bailers. He would spend countless hours a day visiting with farmers and repairing their equipment. During hay harvest, farmers have little time to spare but when grandpa came they always had time to listen to his fishing stories while he worked on their equipment. I remember as a child going with grandpa to his various service calls. We would be in the John Deere green pick-up and it seemed like every piece of paper on the planet was stored on the dash of grandpa’s truck. I came to learn and appreciate the respect that grandpa had earned through his work. His expertise was known far and wide and grandpa had the opportunity to go back to John Deere headquarters to give them feedback on the new bailers that they were working on.
Although grandpa loved all of his children, it was his grandchildren that he cared for the most. When each of them was born, grandpa would give them a nickname. I don’t think I ever remember grandpa calling any of the grand kids by their real names. He only ever used our nicknames. There was Puddin, Cookie, Corky, Tex, Pard, and me. I was Rowdy. I am not sure how grandpa came up with these names but they always seemed to fit. I only remember one time when grandma got involved. When my youngest brother Mike was born, grandpa wanted to call him microphone. Grandma would not allow that and demanded that he change it immediately. Grandpa tried to argue but there was no way that he was going to get his way. He finally relinquished and changed Mike’s nickname to Chug. I can’t speak for Mike but I think I would rather have been called microphone.
Grandpa Summers felt that his grand kids should gain an appreciation for fishing and so he would plan a fishing trip with the children. It was not just one or two but all of the grandchildren. The one rule was that you had to be out of diapers so as soon as you were potty trained, you were eligible to go on the trip. Grandpa would pick all of the kids up and we would go to Firth to Elmer and Norma’s store for supplies. All of us were allowed to shop for the groceries that we would eat on the trip. As far as any of us could tell, Uncle Elmer only had one aisle in his store and that was the candy aisle. We would load the cart with candy bars, pop and more candy bars. When we got to the register, we would dump our harvest out on the counter for Aunt Norma to count. Strangely enough, there always seemed to be a couple of packages of hot dogs that would magically appear when we got to camp though none of us remember putting them in the basket. Grandpa would set up camp which consisted of what seemed like huge tents. Once we had camp set, we were off to the Blackfoot river. The way this worked was that grandpa would find a spot for us to fish. He had one pole. When he stopped and cast, all of the grand kids would line up in single file down the river bank. We would all wait patiently for a fish to be hooked. Once hooked, the first kid in line would reel in the fish. Once the fish made it to the bank, grandpa would take it off the hook and that child would go to the back of the line and everyone would move up one space. The person catching the fish was not the most important person though. It was all the other children that held the key to our fishing expedition. For it was their job to call the fish. We would all stand at the bank and at the top of our lungs we would call, “here fishy fishy fishy!” It must have been quite a sight to behold as 10 children stood along side their grandfather yelling at the water trying to coax fish to nibble on grandpa’s line. I know it must sound funny, but this worked wonders as I think that every child caught a fish. These were trips that each of us has replayed in our minds throughout our lives fondly remembering the love grandpa had for his grand children.
Today we are once again standing here thinking of what grandpa meant to us. Instead of the Blackfoot river, we are standing along the banks of mortality. Grandpa has cast his final cast, the waters now run still. Each time we think of him, we cast our own memories of this great man. We remember the love he had for each of us, we remember the love he had for life. Today we aren’t calling the fish; instead we are calling to Heaven to tell grandpa he will never be forgotten. His memory will live on with each of the people whose lives he has touched. Fortunately for us, Heavenly Father has placed no limit on the love we can have towards grandpa. We are free to catch as much as we need.
Grandpa Summers is one of the greatest men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. But more important than that, he was my friend, he was my grandpa. I love you grandpa.