Verona - Donald “Don” Robert Hyde, 88, of Verona, WI, passed away due to surgical complications on April 25, 2021 surrounded by the love of family and friends. He was born January 1, 1933 or, as Don used to say, “one, one, three, three” in La Crosse to Henry and Beulah (Muller) Hyde of Viola, WI.
As an ever prepared Boy Scout, Don wrote his own obituary. What follows is our best attempt at editing-down the many-paged, historical obituary our Dad had been writing over the past few years. You may also view a memorial video below the obituary to see Don’s life story in photos and song.
Don, whose childhood nickname was “Happy Hyde” was the 5th Generation to live on a small family dairy farm in the Driftless area of Central Southwest Wisconsin. He grew-up alongside two younger sisters, Beverly and Nancy and a younger brother, Gary, in a beautiful spring-fed valley, he lovingly called “my kingdom”.
After attending a small county school along with several aunts, uncles and siblings, the school was integrated into the West Lima School system when Don entered the 6th grade. It was a longer walk to school, but Don didn’t seem to care because he had decided to learn everything he could so he could graduate from high school and go to college. Plus, the walk gave him time to whistle, sing and explore. While in high school he worked at several different farms in the area. When asked why he would work at a different farm when he already lived on one he said there just wasn’t enough work on the home farm.
He graduated as Salutatorian from West Lima High School in 1951. After being accepted to the Wisconsin State College at Platteville, Don studied Agriculture and Education. During his freshman and sophomore years he lived in a small school bus that was converted to a room complete with a bed, refrigerator, gas cooking plate and propane heater; a tiny home ahead of its time. To earn money for his room and board he worked at the college’s farm, and neighboring farms.
While Don was attending Platteville, he met his future wife, Dorothy Jackson, a lower classman. Don graduated in 1955 and spent one year teaching in South Wayne, Wisconsin. Following Dorothy’s graduation, they were married in 1956. Shortly thereafter, he was drafted into the Army.
Don was sent to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri and was required to live in the barracks so Dorothy stayed with her older Sister and her family in the Madison area. Their eldest daughter, Heather JoEllyn was born in Madison while Don was in Missouri.
After being transferred to Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia, Dorothy and Heather joined Don and moved into the base housing there. While in the Army, Don’s major roll was being the “Radar O'Reilly” of his Company. He participated in above ground Nuclear Testing in the deserts of New Mexico and Nevada, making him an Atomic Veteran. Decades later he could recall the names of the other men that were in his Company and their home towns.
In February of 1958 they added second daughter, Carrie Beth, to the family. That summer he was discharged from the army.
After his honorable discharge, Don moved his family from Georgia to Viola, Wisconsin, six miles from the family farm he was raised on, where he taught and was a principal in the school system. His only son, Brett Robert, was born in 1960. The family tragically lost Carrie Beth after a playground accident in 1961. Kristen JaDonn, his youngest daughter, was born in 1963.
Later that year, Don took a position with the Verona School System as a Middle School Science Teacher. The family lived in McFarland during this time and Dorothy taught 6th Grade Math there.
The 34-mile daily commute between McFarland and Verona was made in a little red Renault, giving Don extra time to practice his favorite pastimes, singing and whistling, often at decibels so intense his children could hear him before he got home every night, literally from a mile away.
In the 1960’s Don earned his Master’s degree by taking the family to UW-River Falls, where he studied and the family played. He continued his studies at UW-Madison.
A position change to Principal of the Verona Elementary Schools in 1969 precipitated another family move to Verona. At that time Elementary Schools meant the one “in town school site”, Verona Elementary (later known as Sugar Creek), and three country schools; Camp Badger, Valley View and Maple Grove.
After a more than a decade of Playground Patrol and calling students to the Principal’s office, Don went back to the classroom teaching 6th grade Science.
When Don married Dorothy, he became an honorary Cornishman and embraced the heritage enthusiastically. Two trips were made to Cornwall, England over the years and many trips throughout the US to Annual Cornish “Cousin” Reunions. They were a staple at the Annual Cornish Fest in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, Dorothy’s hometown.
During his lifetime, Don enjoyed the out-of-doors (where he could whistle and sing as loudly as he wanted) and was Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 359 in Verona from 1976 – 1979. He participated in many weekend camping trips with the Troop as well as several treks at Philmont, a Boy Scout High Adventure Camp in New Mexico.
When the kids were younger, the family enjoyed many Christmas’ trips to the Florida Keys to visit Dorothy’s Snowbird parents, stopping at many sites along the way. There were also many camping trips in the family’s TowLow trailer to many places across the United States.
It was a running joke that many weekly visit to the farm resulted in a “new way” to get home. Any road between any here and any there was never the same and the prayer was always that there was enough gas in the tank to get home.
There is some doubt that a Roadside Marker in the State of Wisconsin exists that was not visited at some time, and often several times. Such a stop resulted in a family picture taken beside the placard by Don with his treasured 35 mm camera. Many family, friends, neighbors, and students endured hours of scripted and narrated slide shows with Don recounting the trips in minute detail.
Don became the doting grandfather to Heather and her husband Elton’s four children in the 1980’s, Matthew, Meagan, Mark, and Martin. While the grandchildren lived in Houston, Texas and Norman, Oklahoma, they spent many school breaks and summers at Grandma and Grandpa’s. As the kids grew-up and moved to other states Grandpa and Grandma made sure to visit each of them and continuing ancestry research along the way.
As a lifelong learner, Don also enjoyed learning about other cultures. He and Dorothy were about to experience this by participating in exchange programs. They did more hosting than travelling but did enjoy a trip to Switzerland. Always involved with the schools Don and Dorothy travelled as chaperones to Germany with the German classes in Verona. This was before The Wall came down in Germany and they were on their toes keeping track of students while in East Germany.
Don “retired” in 1989 from the Verona School District but his contributions to the school district did not end upon his retirement. He spent a few years as a crossing guard and helped in minor administrative duties in the schools.
Although retired, Don worked for two Christmas seasons at American Girl in Middleton and also helped his daughter, Kristen, during the Christmas season by cutting photos for the photographic studio she managed.
Summers after retirement were spent on the family farm growing rows and rows of organic vegetables for resale to Madison area gourmet restaurants. He became a founding member of a fledgling food co-op named Organic Valley, based in nearby La Farge, Wisconsin. In the summer of 1994 Don sponsored a young Ukrainian exchange student who was learning American farming techniques. Not only did Gregory learn Don-style farming but Don learned much about the Ukraine including how to make Borscht.
While Don was enjoying retirement, Brett and his wife May gave him 2 more granddaughters, Samantha and Stephanie, who affectionately dubbed him “Grumpy.” Since they were only an hour away, Don and Dorothy were a constant presence at all of their activities.
As a Grandpa, Don treasured time with his three Grandsons and three Granddaughters and made it his personal mission to teach them compass and map skills and how to garden. He was immensely proud that his grandsons all earned the Eagle Scout Rank and that his granddaughters all earned the Girl Scout Silver Award.
While many people retire to the city, Don and Dorothy moved from Verona to the family farm in 2007 where “his kingdom” was walked every day…until he got a new John Deere tractor to facilitate his rounds. The family believes he made excuses just so he could drive that tractor at least once a day.
Just because they were retired, the couple did not slow down and were members of Volunteers-In-Mission (VIM) for the United Methodist Church to Jamaica and Missouri.
In the summer of 2017, Don and Dorothy moved off the farm and into town and back to Verona, choosing Noel Manor, a new retirement apartment complex mere blocks from their original home, on Noel Way. They enjoyed time in their apartment surrounded by many old and new friends. At Noel Manor, Don was a fervent member of the community’s choir.
Don never met a stranger and was known to strike up a conversation with just about anyone that would listen. Years later, he would likely be able to give you that person’s name, probably where they lived and details of the discussion.
Anyone who spent time around Don was likely to be spontaneously serenaded by his distinctive whistling and/or his “enthusiastic singing”. Don’s baritone register graced many choirs, singalongs, and hymn fests over the years. Most family phone calls ended in a serenade after he thought he had hung-up.
After surviving 2020 “as a prisoner” in his apartment without contracting COVID and shortly after his 2nd “freedom” shot, Don underwent two emergency surgeries necessitated by a 40+ year health condition. While he survived double brain surgery eight years before seemingly unscathed, this time was more difficult to overcome, and he endured good days and bad for almost 9 weeks while in two hospitals. Don died in Verona, a unique community where he had spent most of his life, surrounded by friends and family in a wonderful care home located halfway between the original Noel Way and Noel Manor homes.
Don is survived by children Heather (Elton) Oelke of Norman, OK and the family farm, Brett (May Pionek) Hyde of Muskego, WI, and Kristen Hyde of Madison, WI; six grandchildren, Matthew Oelke (Sarah Gilbertson) of Norman, OK, Meagan Oelke (Jason Monsorno) of Jacksonville FL, Mark Oelke of Gainesville, FL, Martin Oelke (Jill Swander) of Hampton, VA, Samantha Hyde of Oostburg, WI, and Stephanie Hyde of Muskego, WI; and four great-grandchildren; Carter & Garret Oelke of Norman, OK and Ethan & Emilia Oelke of Hampton, VA. He is also survived by his two sisters Beverly (Hyde) Wemette of Alma, WI and Nancy (Hyde) Brooks of New Port Richey, FL; 15 nieces & nephews; numerous cousins and other relatives; many, many friends, teachers and at least two generations of school students.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 62 years Dorothy (Jackson) of Mineral Point, WI; daughter, Carrie Beth Hyde; parents, Henry and Beulah (Muller) Hyde; and younger Brother, Gary Hyde.
An outdoor Celebration of Don’s life will be held at the old Verona Elementary School, located at the West end of Church Ave in Verona, WI on Saturday, June 19th from 1 - 4 PM. Don will be interred in the Viola Cemetery in Viola, WI at a future date.
A Celebration of Don's life will also be held from 1-3 p.m., on Saturday, July 3, 2021 at Viola United Methodist Church, 225 N. Washington Street, Viola. Interment with Military Honors will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 3, 2021 at Viola Cemetery, WI 131, Viola.
In lieu of flowers memorial contributions may be made in Don’s name to the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired or Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library or a food bank of your choosing. After failing vision, due to Macular Degeneration, Don benefitted from the services of WCOTV and became an avid listener of narrated books from the Talking Book Library.
A special thank you to Noel Manor; Don wanted so much to be back with his friends and neighbors there again. Everlasting thanks to Kathy and her staff at Sonrisas Assisted Living Care Home in Verona for all their extra efforts, special tender loving ways and care; it is just a wonderful place. Thank you to the City of Verona for allowing us to use the Elementary School grounds for our Dad’s life celebration and Miller’s grocery store. An extra special thank you to Margy, Donna and Arlys for their loving chorus of hymns and being present for Don.
A long time Methodist, Lay Leader, and self-taught Biblical Scholar, Don has been a member of Bashford UMC, Madison, WI; Divine Savior UMC, Madison, WI; Sugar River UMC, Verona, WI; and the small United Methodist Churches in Viola and Lafarge, WI. Before his surgery, Don was studying the Book of John and would leave you with these words:
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 3:3 & 5 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…born of water and the Spirit.”
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 4:13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 8:12 when Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 11:25 & 26 Jesus said to her (Martha), “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?
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