By Dale Goodwin (’86)
This ex-Zag outfielder and former Marine gets in a regular workout most days in his basement gym, and fits in a game of golf with his wife once a week. When we talked in early May, Donn and Dude Thompson were planning a drive from their Spokane home to California to visit their first great- grandson.
No so out-of-the-ordinary . . . except Donn is 92, fit, and doesn’t look a day over 70, and Dude (pronounced DUE-dee) is 89, but looks like 60.
“Climbing those stairs every day for my workout is keeping me young,” Donn surmises.
Donn never shied away from hard work. He served in the U.S. Marines and was involved in several successful assault landings during WWII. After attending Gonzaga, he began a career that would take him to California where he served executive roles for Republic Indemnity as loss control engineer, ascending to vice president of his company. So driving the California freeways on their trip south in June was not a worry to Donn, although his three sons may have chosen a different option, if given the choice for their parents.
He played baseball for Gonzaga in 1947, the first year back for baseball after a 15-year hiatus, mostly due to the Depression and world war. “We didn’t have much of anything,” Donn recalls. “We had no field. We worked out south of DeSmet Hall. Most of the time we played our games at Ferris Field near the old Playfair Race Track.”
So imagine Donn’s delight when the 2015 Gonzaga baseball team invited him back to meet the guys and take a look at the beautiful Patterson Baseball Complex.
“We showed him around the clubhouse and took him into the home dugout,” says Coach Mark Machtolf. “He said a few words to the players and we took a picture with him.”
“In today’s society we’re missing the tough discipline and class that was present back in my day. But these young baseball players act so gentlemanly. I told them that to meet them and see how they respond, makes me believe the whole world hasn’t gone down the tubes after all,” Donn said. “These kids are exactly what I wish all our kids could be like today.”
Donn wrote a note to Coach Machtolf after the visit. Machtolf was moved by his words. “He told me he thought he could have played for me. That’s a very nice thing to say,” Machtolf says. “He looked like he could have gone out there and played. He is in amazing shape.”
Donn liked what he saw. “The new ballpark is better than what the Spokane Indians have. It’s absolutely fabulous. And I love the way Coach coaches his team. I saw left-handed hitting, bunting, the double steal; those are the kinds of things that make baseball fun. This is why I liked watching Lou Piniella with the Mariners – bunting, stealing home, doing things out of the ordinary.”
And Donn knew a lot about baseball. He grew up on his family’s farm on Moran Prairie in southeast Spokane. He went to a three-room schoolhouse for grades 1-8 before enrolling at Lewis and Clark High School. During the war he played baseball for the Marine team, playing exhibitions against many Major Leaguers. So when he suited up for GU in 1947, he was primed and ready. He was one of four players to hit over .300 on a team that went 10-5 on the season.
And while proud to have been a part of the program and the master of a successful business career, what makes Donn swell with pride that nearly busts his buttons is his grandson, Trevor Thompson, a Navy SEAL. “He’s gone through many deployments but most of his missions nobody knows about. He received lots of awards. He’s now a Leapfrog, the guys who parachute into many functions with the American flag, equivalent to the Blue Angels. They are scheduled way out in advance.”
Says Machtolf: “Anytime we can give back to someone who has given so much for his country and for a fellow Zag, we’re happy to do so. I know Donn appreciated it. And I think it is important to bring joy to someone else and thank these heroes. Sometimes our youth take for granted what they have, and it’s a good lesson for our players.”
In the meantime, Donn walked off the baseball field a happy man.
Donn’s son Jim thanked Gonzaga for its hospitality. “Dad was speechless over the warmth of the Zags, and the reception he received. Words do fail me, too. Thanks so much. Dad said it was ‘one of the best days of my life,’ and no doubt it was.”
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