“I think everyone who knew Don knew him as a faithful servant.” Thus wrote Mark Belz in a memorial tribute to his longtime friend Don Donaldson, who went home to the Lord on July 24, 2017. “Always serving. Always respecting his brothers and sisters in Christ. Always laboring with and for us. Never, ever complaining.” Those who knew this quiet, unassuming lifelong bachelor would agree with Belz’s assessment, but few might guess the rest of Donaldson’s remarkable life story.
Orphaned before age 3, he and two siblings moved to Palestine when they were adopted by their uncle and aunt, LaVerne and Louise Donaldson, missionaries to that land. Less than a year after his adoption, the family had to relocate to Cyprus due to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. At the end of the conflict, the Donaldsons settled in Bethlehem, and for the next seven years Don lived in the birthplace of Christ.
The 1956 war between Egypt and Israel displaced the Donaldsons again, this time to the United States. When LaVerne and Louise returned to Jordan in 1959, Don was sent to Cono Christian School near Walker, Iowa, as the first of what would become many boarding students. Mark Belz, son of Cono founder Rev. Max Belz, was his roommate, and Don became an “honorary” member of the Belz family.
Don worked in the school print shop, which did much of the printing for the Reformed Presbyterian Church. He became skilled at cutting new stock and folding, stapling, binding, and trimming the finished product.
Don graduated from Cono in 1963 and from Covenant College in 1967. He then spent a year in graduate school at Colorado State University before enlisting in the United States Navy. Following active duty, he returned to Cono to teach for six years and serve as chief engineer of the Cono Educational Network, an early attempt at electronic distance learning. Though he resigned from Cono in 1979 to become an electrical engineer at Rockwell-Collins in Cedar Rapids, he never really left the school. He joined its board in 1980, and served many years as board secretary.
He was an active member of Cono’s parent congregation, Bible Presbyterian Church of Cono Center, where he taught Sunday school, sang in the choir, and served on the session for 26 years, many of them as its clerk. His homemade bread was a highlight of countless church dinners. He served as stated clerk of Iowa Presbytery from 2005 to 2012, and represented Iowa on the PCA General Assembly Review of Presbytery Records and Nominating Committees.
Appropriately, Don was laid to rest in the cemetery of his beloved Cono on August 12.