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Words of Tribute from the Celebration of Life for Don B. Eilts, held in the Fellowship Hall of the North Manchester, Indiana Congregational Christian Church at noon on Saturday June 30th.
“Don’t be a crank, be a self- starter” was the advice to the Laketon High School Class of 1945 which included Don Bornheart Eilts. He died on April 19, 2018 in Glendale Arizona in the care of his daughter Dana Fischer. Don was born in Rensselaer, Indiana on February 10, 1926, the fourth child of Edward and Bertha (Goepp) Eilts. There were eight Eilts children in all. John, August, Edwin, Donald, Theodore, Mina Johanna (Minnie) Freeman, Martha Rinehart and Henry. They moved to the Laketon area in 1935, on a farm with a pond and a creek, that Edward bought sight unseen, but which he and this family worked profitably. The oldest son, John, remained with relatives in Rensselaer for his senior year of high school and Edward Eilts and his seven children moved into an old farmhouse. Their mother, Bertha was living in the State Hospital in Logansport, where she would remain until her death. A number of housekeepers aided in the raising of the Eilts Eight over the years. All the kids had nicknames- Don’s was “Dink and a half.”
Don’s most sincere moments of living were when he married Arlene Sellers and helped raise her kids, Kenneth Sellers (now deceased) Christine Reeves, Debbie Ford, Von (Mike) Shepherd, and their daughter Dana Fischer. He had grandsons Antone, Adam and Gavin, and Adarrias as his granddaughter. Two daughters from a previous marriage Sherry and Mina Ann, survive in Arizona. “Years to a father may bring distress, but do not make him love the less” sums up Don’s affection for his children which kept growing in his later years. Coming from a large family made Don grateful for moments of clarity, conviction and caring.
Three members of Don’s class were among those family and friends gathered that day to remember Don. Genevieve McNutt, Leon Ulrey and Ed Price. Genevieve, who rode the bus to school with the Eilts kids, shared that she remembered each of the seven Eilts children walking down the hill, single file, from the farmhouse to board the bus to Laketon. She offered that it was a real testimony to a father’s love, that he raised such fine children who each made their way through the world by hard work and perseverance. “Don always kept us laughing,” and “He was sort of our class clown,” she offered. It was reported by Leon Ulrey that Don tied a mouse they had caught to the desk of Doris Pottenger, a classmate, who was really prim and proper. This caused quite a commotion. When questioned about the event, Don claimed responsibility. Anyone who knew Don Eilts knew that he was a man of uncommon humor. “Don taught me how to play,” remarked a nephew. Don played basketball for Laketon High School with his brothers. The boys would ride the bus home to the farm, do the chores and then run back to the gym at school, so they’d be warmed up for practice. Edward would drive in later to bring them home. As part of the Wabash Community Service league basketball teams at Honeywell Center, he was “the Meat Man” very ably rebounding for his team.
Don was self-motivated and self-employed – a real “self- starter” and “could do anything with a machine,” offered brother Henry “Hank” Eilts. He owned and operated his own heavy equipment. Don was also a union machine operator, became a supervisor for Reith Riley, and helped in the construction of US Highways 69, 24, 31 and 30 in the area. At one time or another all the Eilts brothers “collaborated’ on various trenching and excavation projects. Don started out a ditch digger, and was a big fan of the backhoe, “a real improvement in trenching” he remarked.
Other memories from those gathered included many stories. “He could hit a home run, but could only run to second, with his wobbly legs.” “He danced the heel off my shoe one night.” He loved to play cards and with brother Ted, was unbeatable. “You dirty bird,” was an oft heard response to poor play. “Don’t interrupt him in Vegas, he played 3 slots at once!” He always traveled “light,” carrying all he needed for a Vegas trip in a bowling bag. Don wore a captain’s hat many times, and was often mistakenly assumed to be in charge of events- to the great gain of his family when it came to ‘gathering tickets’ for admission to amusement rides. Thelma Butler shared that she gave Don his last haircut before he moved to Glendale Arizona to live with his daughter Dana Fischer.
Don Eilts was a member of the US Army, serving as a Fireman in Louisville Kentucky, remembers Hank. All six of the Eilts boys were in the Armed Forces. He was a life member of Laketon “Sunset Post 402” of the American Legion, reported Commander Floyd Hiner. Commander Dave Burnette and The Honor Guard of North Manchester Post # 286 provided the Military Service Ceremony with flags present, gun salute and “Taps.” The American Flag was presented to his daughter, Dana Fischer. A luncheon was served by the Legion Auxiliary at the post in North Manchester following the service. Conviviality and stories flowed.
Don was raised a good Lutheran in the old brick German-Lutheran church on IN 114 just west of IN 15, in Wabash county. His was the job of starting the fires in the stoves before worship to warm the house of God. He knew who the Good Lord was, and what He expected. That he had his faults, bears testimony to his humanity. Don knew God’s grace: sometimes grace to overcome and many times grace to endure. He will be sadly missed by all, but lived a full life well into his 92nd year. One time when Don had lined his brothers’ up along the fence by the pond for “some much needed instruction” as they had been slacking in digging the potatoes he shared a good maxim for living.
I offer to you now a “Life Lesson from The Eilts Boys:
“When ‘ere a task is set for you - Don’t idle set, and view it.
Nor be content to wish it done - Begin at once and do it.
If that task is once begun - Never leave it till it’s done.
Be it labor great or small - Do it well or not at all.”
From the Bible, Ecclesiastes Chapter Twelve teaches us that
When our life on earth is over that “The body returns to the earth from
whence it came, and the spirit returns to God Who gave it.” So true.
Respectfully compiled by Pastor JP Freeman, nephew of Don Eilts.