Don L. Church Sr.

EAST WINDSOR, NJ/ WEST PARIS, ME – Don was born in Plymouth, Mich. on April 21, 1933, and passed away peacefully March 22, 2023 at Meadow Lakes, East Windsor, NJ.

From a young age, he loved the outdoors, exploring the woods and marshes around his childhood home in Michigan and working on local farms.

He wasn’t a great student and struggled in school, but he was a lifelong learner and avid reader, always seeking new knowledge and skills. He learned to fix TVs in high school and always had a way with electronics and mechanics.

Later, after serving his country in the US Army during the Korean War, he became a Tool and Die Maker for Ford Motor Company. After moving to Maine, he worked for GE in Lewiston until his retirement.

When he was 18 in 1952, on Valentine’s Day he took a pretty, young redhead, Yvonne Lois Rankin, on a date. In September, they were married and lived a happy life until Yvonne’s passing in 2015. They had four children and settled in a small house on a one-acre lot outside of Saline, Mich.

The era of the 50s through the 70s did not allow much leeway for fathers beyond “breadwinner”. Indeed, for many years he worked 7 days a week to provide for his family but when he was home his children were caught up in his love of the outdoors and his ability to make ordinary things into the best toys. Once, he welded two bike frames together to make a tandem bike. Another time, he took a shell of some old car, stripped it down to the chassis with the motor and steering wheel. A concrete block, tied to the frame, made the driver’s seat. Many hours were spent ramrodding around that 1-acre yard with the “jitterbug”. There were numerous summer camping trips, exploring northern Michigan and many weekend afternoons were spent exploring the countryside in his Ford Bronco.

Eventually he moved his family into town, into a large old Victorian house. This home was where the neighborhood kids gathered and no matter who was around at supper time, everyone was fed.

The era he was born in was not fulfilling for men, constrained as they were in a very rigid role. His discontent gnawed at him, and he yearned to break out of that mold. Don left Ford Motor Company and several years later he and his wife began a grand experiment in the western mountains of Maine.

In the early 1970’s, they sold everything they had to buy a small, rundown 6 acre farm in West Paris, Maine. The following years were happy ones as they grew their own food and adopted a couple of milk cows, a few chickens and geese. They were able to purchase more land, eventually building a new home, mostly with their own hands on the extended property. He loved that land; almost 50 acres of mostly wood land.

Eventually he retired from GE in Lewiston and enjoyed time with family and traveling to coastal Maine. Woodworking and engineering household conveniences was a fun pastime in early retirement.

Yvonne’s passing in 2015 left him vulnerable to the ravages of aging and he eventually moved into a group home in Greene, Maine where he met a new love, Cheryl Deshaies. His health continued in slow decline, necessitating more support. In 2017, he moved to New Jersey to be near his daughter in Assisted Living. Cheryl continued to be his support from Maine, never missing a day to call and remind him that he was loved. She was his “voice on the phone” until his death.

Don leaves behind four children, Les Church and his husband Steven living in Vermont, Yvette Diane Inman and her husband Thayne living in New Jersey, Benjamin Church and Steve Church with his wife Elaine living in Maine; four grandchildren; numerous great-grandchildren; and even two great-great-grandchildren. He will be missed by all including and especially his love for the last few years Cheryl Deschaies.

Don was loved. In honor of him, hug a tree, make magic with your kids, and never stop learning.

Family and friends will gather in August in Maine for a celebration of life.

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