Donald Opie, 77, died Tuesday evening, Feb. 12, at Harney District Hospital in Burns following a long battle with degenerative lung disease. (However, Donald made it a point to let everyone he came in contact with know that he never smoked a day in his life.)
Donald was born on Sept. 8, 1935, in Mesa, Ariz., to Henry and Gertrude Opie, the youngest boy of 13 children. Because he lost both his parents before entering the sixth grade, Donald spent most of his time raising heck with his brothers and sisters.
Shortly after his sophomore year of high school began, he made the move from sunny Arizona to the land of Harney County to live with his brother Dan. Life with Dan was a bit more structured than what Donald had previously been experiencing in Arizona, and he soon came to find that going to school really wasn’t all that bad.
Following graduation in 1953, he joined the Army. He loved to make jokes that he had the easiest job during his time of service because other than his combat medic training, he spent the majority of his time playing basketball, football and volleyball for the Army teams. Due to his 6-foot, 6-inch build and rather large stature, it was easy to see why athletics played a huge role in his life. Soon after returning home, he was asked to walk on at Oklahoma. He was also visited by the Oregon State football coach. After the coach witnessed him getting bucked off a broncy colt, he offered him a full-ride scholarship. At that point in time, however, Donald had no desire to be anything other than a rancher.
Directly after his discharge, he married Betty (Jenkins) on Dec. 1, 1956. From that point on, it was understood that Betty was the only person on the planet that could strike any sort of fear in Donald.
Together, the two raised three kids: Ross, Dawna Sue and John. It didn’t matter what the sporting event may have been or where the rodeo was located, you could bet that Donald and Betty both would be the first to arrive and the last to leave.
Soon after Donald and Betty’s marriage, the couple moved to Anderson Valley and worked for Betty’s grandma (Adele Paul) and parents (Tom and Dorothy Jenkins) for five years. At the completion of that stint, Donald went to work for his brother Dan on the Spurlock Ranch for three years, until he took over the management position for an additional 16 years. In 1976, he and Betty purchased a portion of the Spurlock Ranch, which included the Slokum and land at Lawen.
In the early 1980s, the family lost everything in a devastating flood that leveled their house, barns, shop, corrals and a few other things. With seemingly nowhere to turn and virtually no money for rebuild, Donald moved his family to Crane and began driving the activity bus for Crane High School athletic teams, as well as, hauling hay for various ranchers in order to make a living. He chose not to rebuild their house in Lawen but rather, continued to rebuild their ranching operation in Crane.
Among his many talents, Donald certainly never had a problem voicing his opinion or “telling it like it was.” Because of this, he served on numerous different boards throughout the county starting with the Lawen Elementary School Board for 21 years, Crane High School Budget and School boards for eight years, Harney County Stock Horse Futurity Board for 10 years, Harney County Fair Board for 21 years, and his most favorite job of all, deputy sheriff of all the county dances when he and Betty were young. Due to his dedication and service to these fine organizations, he was named the Harney County Fair Grand Marshal in 2006 and the Harney County Senior Man of the Year in 2010.
Donald thoroughly loved being a father to his three children and jumped at every opportunity to teach them aspects of the ranching lifestyle and give guidance in the game of life. To top it all off, these children granted him five grandkids who were his whole world. From 1992 on, he was no longer just “Dad” or “Uncle Donald” … he became “Grandpa” to five wide-eyed kids, eager to mimic his every step.
Besides being the ultimate family man, model father and diligent friend, Donald’s absolute greatest passion in life was to help every kid that was ever in need of assistance. Whether loaning horses, giving horses, hauling kids to rodeos, organizing 4-H horse judging practices, rounding up roping cattle, providing a place for kids to practice, starting the Opie Arena Rodeo, attending ball games (which always included a fair amount of bellering at the referees) or raising money for a new elementary school gym, it was guaranteed that he would be at the forefront of absolutely any youth activity. He loved all kids in general, not only his own grandchildren, but every single kid he had the opportunity to be around.
For 11 years in a row, Donald insisted that the Opie Arena Rodeo would go on, despite some oftentimes not-so-generous weather. One year, the rain continued for days on end, making the arena a sloppy mess.
Fortunately, Donald spurred the entire family into action and managed to arrange, with the help of the Baileys, 52 belly dump loads of sand to be unloaded in his arena.
Donald was instrumental in acquiring funds to build the new Crane Elementary gym. Being an extremely unbashful person, he had no problem calling and asking for money. Ironically enough, he wanted it built entirely for the kids. He even went as far as volunteering family and friends to provide free labor while in the process of building. Without a doubt, he “volon-told” instead of “volunteered!” He was so proud to see the gym complete and would have been even more proud to see that the bathrooms were finally finished.
He was truly a horseman at heart and nothing made him prouder than to see his kids and grandkids mounted on the “good lookin’” horses, as he called them, that he worked so hard to create. From the bucking chutes to the roping chutes and from the show arena to the branding trap, you can bet your bottom dollar that his heart became a little happier each time he was able to both partake in and watch these fine events.
Last, but not least, he was an avid hunter. Come every fall, it was a given that you would find him down at the Slokum with Ross, John, the kids and many friends that he loved having around. Hundreds of deer and elk stories were repeated endlessly. There was little room for cow work during that time of the year.
Donald was and still is the boss of his family. His distinct ability to holler will never be replaced.
Donald is survived by his wife of 56 years, Betty (Jenkins) Opie; son, Ross Opie and wife Kerry; daughter, Dawna Sue Nyman and husband Skip; son, John Opie and Gwen Haigh; five grandchildren, Brooke Nyman, Ryan Opie, Nic Nyman, Tyler Opie and Quinton Nyman; two sisters, Dorothy Skinner of Crane and Mary Maupin of Seattle, Wash.; one brother, Delbert Opie of Mesa, Ariz.; numerous nieces and nephews; and many close family and friends.
Donations can be made to Crane Elementary Gym Memorial Fund in care of LaFollette’s Chapel, P.O. Box 488, Burns, OR 97720.
Condolences can be sent to the family at: www.lafolletteschapel.com