On Saturday, June 15, a memorial service was held at St. Peter’s Church of Coupland, followed by a luncheon. When I learned that Don was in the hospital back in May, and that he was not expected to live, I was filled with a profound sense of regret that I hadn’t taken the time to get to know him better.
I met Don soon after I moved to Coupland and exchanged greetings with him several times after that. Earlier this year, I spent some time with Don and his wife, Sylvia, in connection with volunteer service to the Coupland Civic Organization. At that time, Don was at home recovering from a previous health issue but I enjoyed talking to him and was struck by how powerful was his presence when he looked me in the eye and shook my hand. He reminded me so much of my own father during the last year of his life, when he was frail in body but strong of spirit.
I visited another time to keep him company so Sylvia could attend a social gathering. We watched television and chatted about all sorts of things. He was often frustrated by his inability to find the right words when he was conversing. I told him that my father, who passed away almost 20 years ago, had suffered from a similar condition. I told Don how my mother had arranged to put my father in a nursing home and that he didn’t mind, at first, because he was getting “three square meals” a day. However, they had put a “wander” bracelet on him, which would set off an alarm if he went out any of the exterior doors. My father was an old Army man who had flown Dustoff medical evacuation helicopters, commanded a medical battalion in Vietnam, served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, and later was the Inspector General for all US military hospitals in Europe and the Middle East . He hated that bracelet. He could never think of the phrase “nursing home.” The only word that would come to his mind was “jail,” which, I am sure, was no accident of the mind.
This story prompted to Don to speak, with tears in his eyes, about how grateful he was to Sylvia for all her love and sacrifices and how lucky he was to have her in his life. I was so looking forward to becoming better acquainted with Don but then it was too late and I was kicking myself for missing an opportunity to share his life.
The memorial service gave me that chance. I listened as his sons spoke of how he raised them with discipline and love. I learned how he lost his first wife to a disease I had never heard of and how he became a leading figure in the effort to find a cure and to support people who were suffering from that disease. Local artist Jim Huntington spoke about how he had worked with Don on various community projects and how much he admired and respected him. I learned how in 1975, Don had sold everything, packed up the family in a motor home, left Colorado, and hit the road for 6 months, having the adventure of a lifetime, which turned out to be a major turning point in the life of his family. I learned how they settled down in Austin and Don started a business.
During the luncheon, I visited with a man and his wife who had business connections with Don. They sat at the same table I was at because they, too, wanted to see the repeating slide show on the screen in the corner of St. Peter’s Fellowship Hall. Old family portraits, pictures of scenery, a house in the woods, a turtle on a beach, a deer that had been field-dressed, newspaper articles showing his advocacy for small businesses, and tons of kids told the story of his life in images alone.
I’m not feeling quite so sorry for myself now because now I know that he was as remarkable a man as he seemed and that, even though I didn’t get to know him directly, I learned so much more by hearing how his actions affected the people around him. Again, I am reminded of my own father and how in a eulogy my oldest brother and I prepared for his funeral, we made reference to something the Wizard of Oz told the Tin Woodsman: “A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.”
Don Summers surely had a heart as big as Texas because the love he engendered in others could barely be contained in our little church on the hill.
Stewart Dale Spencer
The following obituary was published in the Austin-American Statesman on May 26:
Donald Fred Summers, Sr Donald Fred Summers, Sr. passed away on May 22, 2013 surrounded by his family. Friends and family will gather on June 15th for a memorial service at St. Peter’s Church in Coupland, Texas at 10:30 am to celebrate his new life. Don was born on April 7, 1932 to Fred and Nora Summers in Lemoore, California. After graduating from high school, he joined the United States Air Force. While stationed in Denver, Colorado at Lowry Air Force Base, Don met and married Gwendolyn Neill. They raised their four sons in and around the Denver area. Don’s career as a skilled technician afforded him many opportunities, including working for Neoweld, a manufacturer of specialized equipment used in power plant construction worldwide. After nearly 9 years of traveling nationally and internationally, Don and Gwen decided it was time for a change. In February of 1975, they embarked on an adventure of travel across the USA with their sons. The “family trip of 1975” exemplified Don’s commitment to his family and his passion for adventure. This event became a pivotal event for Don and his family, resulting in his and many of his family turning to faith in Jesus Christ. After 6 months of family travel, they settled in the Austin area. In 1978, Don made the leap from employee to employer when he opened his small family business, Austin Welder and Generator Service, Inc. As with all of his endeavors, Don poured himself into his business, continuing to set an example of strength, work ethic and service to others. Don soon became involved in promoting sound public policy for American family business through his active involvement in the National Federation of Independent Business, the NFIB. And as active members of Allandale/ Great Hills Baptist Church, Don and Gwen enjoyed singing in the choir and teaching Sunday School. In 1997, Don’s wife of 43 years passed away from a rare illness called Shy-Drager Syndrome. Don became very active in promoting the awareness of this disease and served as the President of the SDS/MSA Support Group for 10 years. In June of 1999 Don remarried a long time friend and neighbor Sylvia Hoffman and moving to Coupland, Texas, in 2000. Don retired from his business in 2002. Don became very active in the community and served as the first president of the Coupland ESD #10, President of the Coupland WSC, and attended the St. Peter’s Church of Coupland (UCC) where he continued his musical passion in leading the congregation in musical worship. Don’s faith in Jesus Christ was foundational in his life and he always sought to show the love of God to those around him. Don was predeceased in death by his wife, Gwen, their son David Neill Summers as well as his parents, one brother and five sisters. He is survived by his wife, Sylvia; three sons, Donald Fred Summers Jr. and wife Mary, Kurtiss Eugene Summers and wife Cathy, and Kenneth Wayne Summers and wife Annette; stepdaughters Cindee Chard and husband Mike, Jamie Mayfield and husband John; 13 grandchildren, 1 great grandchild, many nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends. The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made in Don’s honor to SDS/MSA Support Group, http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/MSACoalition/multiple-system-atrophy-memorials or to St. Peter’s Church of Coupland, PO Box 146, Coupland, TX. 78615