Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Donald L. Oberholzer, who died Oct. 11 at the age of 77. His obituary was published in the Oct. 12 edition of The Herald-Mail.
Donald Oberholzer knew his priorities.
Family and church came first, then service to the community he had lived in his whole life.
“He was the first one to volunteer to help out. That was a nice trait,” said his sister, Phyllis Oberholzer of Chesapeake Beach, Md.
And if service involved a lawn mower or grill, even better.
“He loved to cut grass,” said daughter Brenda Oberholzer of Hagerstown, whether it was at home, at church or the Elks Club on Robinwood Drive.
“He was the grill master,” said daughter-in-law Tara Oberholzer of Hagerstown.
“Oh yeah, he loved to cook out,” said son Brian Oberholzer, who is married to Tara.
Donald was born and raised in Funkstown, the oldest of Jacob and Annie Oberholzer’s two children. After several years of trying, his mother didn’t think she’d ever have children, Phyllis said.
They were born about two years apart. Phyllis said they were raised by “strict, pretty straight-laced parents,” and she and Donald tried to adhere to what they were taught.
“He was a great brother,” Phyllis said. “Even after I moved away, we were always there for each other. He had your back. He was one of the good guys.”
Phyllis said Donald was one of the first in the neighborhood to get his license and a car, so he became the chauffeur. He often would end up driving groups of mostly girls to go swimming, to Starland for roller skating or wherever they needed to go.
“We’d pile in his car and he’d haul us around,” Phyllis said.
Once they both became parents, Phyllis said they started calling each other by what their kids called them — Uncle Donald and Aunt Phyllie.
After the children were grown, Donald and Jean still vacationed with them, usually to the beach at Wildwood, N.J., or more recently to Rehoboth Beach, Del.
“No matter where we went, we always took someone with us,” Jean said.
The couple loved to travel to Las Vegas, and often would go with two female friends, which prompted people to tease about “Donald and his harem,” Jean said.
Holidays and birthdays always were celebrated with family gatherings, and for the longest time, they would have Sunday dinners together as well.
“It’s a very, very close family,” Phyllis said.
The family’s faith was nurtured at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Funkstown. Donald, his children and five granddaughters, who called him “Poppy,” all were baptized at the church, and many family weddings have been there as well.
A lifetime member of the church, Donald served on the church council and was an usher, as well as helping maintain the grounds.
Brian said his father was involved in Boy Scouts growing up, which provided outdoor pursuits that Donald enjoyed.
“Dad loved the outdoors,” Brian said.
Donald graduated from Hagerstown High School in 1952 and met Jean Douty while both were working at Potomac Edison.
Donald and Jean married six months after meeting — he was 22 and she was 19 — just months before he left for basic training with the U.S. Army in Augusta, Ga.
The couple originally had planned to get married on March 15, 1957, but Donald found out he had to have his military physical that day and suggested they postpone the wedding.
Jean wanted nothing to do with delaying the wedding, so they moved it up a week to March 8 and celebrated their 55th anniversary this year.
“He was a dear,” Jean said of her husband.
She said she was “scared to death” when she rode the train to Augusta to visit her new husband. Donald came home on leave when he could.
Donald then was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Lee, Va., during his two years of active duty. Two years of active Reserves and two years of inactive Reserves fulfilled his six-year obligation, Brenda said.
He returned to his job with Potomac Edison, now Allegheny Power, and retired in 1996 as a field coordinator after more than 40 years, when there was a corporate reorganization.
Brian credits his father’s military experience for some of his traits.
“Dad was very meticulous about everything he did,” Brian said. “He was very neat, very particular.”
Brenda was born in 1958, followed by Brian in 1961. They lived on Bryan Place before buying the Radcliffe Avenue home in 1963 where they raised their children and still live.
Phyllis said her brother is remembered for his sense of humor, which she describes as “George Burns-type, a dry sense of humor”.
“He was always pulling pranks on his co-workers,” Brenda said. “He was always joking. He had a great sense of humor.”
Brian added that his father loved the humor in “Seinfeld” and must have watched each episode at least 10 times over the years.
Other interests included softball, which Donald played for several years. He was a longtime duckpin bowler, but it was the activities of his children and grandchildren that drew him in.
“As far as the grandkids go, he never missed a concert, band recital, dance recital or chorus concert,” Tara said.
For more than 20 years, Donald has had to deal with medical issues. In 1991, he was “up and down the road to Greensburg (Pa.)” for work. He told Jean over the phone that he wasn’t feeling well, and she got a call later that he was at the hospital in Greensburg with a ruptured aneurysm in his abdomen.
“We didn’t think he’d live, then we didn’t think he’d walk, but he made a full recovery,” Brian said.
Donald was hospitalized in Greensburg for three weeks and a family member was by his side the entire time, Brian said. Before that, Donald had worked for 24 years without ever taking a sick day.
The aneurysm was what led doctors to discover breast cancer that had spread to a spot on Donald’s kidney. He had his first mastectomy in 1995, which began a lengthy list of tests and treatments, all documented in great detail by Donald.
There were three bouts of breast cancer, which metastasized to his lung and liver, and two diagnoses of kidney cancer.
“He was a fighter as far as his health went,” Jean said.
Recently, due to his medical history, the oral chemotherapy Donald was taking no longer was effective.
Returning to the regular regimen made him sick constantly.
Jean said they talked and agreed that they didn’t want to waste any more time with him being sick, so they stopped the treatment. Hospice was called in and the family treasured the next several weeks together.
“Every night he’d say, ‘Thank you for taking care of me. I told him, ‘55 years ago, I promised for better, for worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer. I’m just doing what I promised,’” Jean said.
His final wish was to have the whole family together before he died. Brian was the last to arrive, and once Donald got to hug him and say goodbye to his son, he peacefully slipped away.
“He was one of the most courageous people I’ve ever seen,” Phyllis said. “He faced everything with faith, courage and just plain grit. He didn’t want you to worry about him. He surely will be missed.”