Man of few words honored on 90th birthday
Don Owen is a man of few words. He is also a man of action and a man who is well-respected in the community of Ramona.
Don was born on the first day of spring 90 years ago and on his 90th birthday, March 20, his family and community gathered to celebrate his birthday in the San Vicente Room at San Diego Country Estates. The overflow crowd had to park on both sides of the street because the parking lots were full half an hour before the party began.
Don earned the respect of the community by being reliable, working hard and serving the community. He got his work ethic from his father, Bill, and his mother, Minnie. When he was 6, the Owen family moved from Sprague, Wash., to Ramona with his two older brothers, Bob and Clarence. Bill Owen started out farming but during the Depression he went to work for Works Progress Administration (WPA) and was a foreman on the job that built the rock creek that carries water through Collier Park. He also had a dirt hauling business when the only road out of Ramona was Mussey Grade through Fernbrook and past the San Vicente Dam.
The Owen family originally moved to the McWhorter House on the north side of state Route 67 and then moved to a house behind Circle K before settling in at what became and still is the Owens Dairy on 16th Street. Don has lived there for 83 years. All three of the houses that he has lived in are still standing.
He recalls how times have changed in Ramona. While he lived behind Circle K, the barber shop and gas station were across the street. He remembers that when a customer drove up for gas, the barber stopped cutting hair and went outside to pump gas. Most of the citizens of Ramona can’t remember when gas stations still pumped gas for their customers.
Don attended Ramona schools and graduated from Ramona High School. He lettered in baseball for the Bulldogs as a catcher. Upon graduating from RHS, he purchased the farm from his father and operated it until his retirement.
At its height, the Owen Dairy had over 100 cows and six employees. It was the only home milk delivery business in Ramona and Julian. For 37 years he delivered milk to homes and ran his dairy.
Don and his late wife, Wanda, raised their two children, Bill and Dolores, in Ramona. Both Bill and Dolores graduated from RHS and San Diego State University. Bill now lives in Arizona and has given his father three grandsons, Matt, Ruben and Philip. Ruben has added a great granddaughter, Avery, to the family tree.
Dolores, as her father, remained in Ramona and served the community as an elementary school teacher for 30 years before retiring. She gave her father his only granddaughter, Marissa.
When asked about what she remembers most about growing up at the farm/dairy on 16th Street, Dolores answered, “There was a lot of love in that house.”
Bill and his sons remember learning how to play dominoes and to lose gracefully. Philip is taking after his grandfather by serving in the Peace Corps. Matt remembers visiting his grandfather and just learning about the country.
”We lived in a big city so everything about visiting my grandfather was special,” he said.
One does not get the respect of an entire community by living 90 years. One earns that respect by what he has done in those 90 years. Don has been a reliable and trusted businessman and has served the community since he moved here.
Running a family business for 37 years doesn’t begin to tell how reliable Don is. He joined the Ramona Rotary Club 54 years ago and has had perfect attendance.
Rotary and Kiwanis have been friendly rivals for 50 years. Don attended the 50th anniversary of Kiwanis this month. Kiwanis attended Don’s birthday party and as a joke gave him a rock from the top of Mt. Woodson because they said it was the only thing they could find in Ramona older than Don.
Fifty years of perfect attendance comes with a price. After Don retired from the dairy business, he and Willy Tellam were picking up some cattle on Mussey Grade when a bull charged Don and threw him into an electric fence. Don got up and with Willy’s help finished loading the cattle. It was a Tuesday, so Don hurried to the Rotary meeting to perform his duties of sergeant at arms. After collecting several fines at the meeting, Don went to Dr. Marcelo Rivera’s office because his back still hurt.
X-rays explained the pain. Don had two broken vertebrae. He still managed to drive to the meetings while recovering. When Don was recovering from bypass surgery in 1997, he was told not to drive so he drafted Ralph Turner to drive him to the meetings. Little things like a broken back or heart surgery did not keep a determined Don from serving his community or attending Rotary meetings.
Don is in his 37th year of being a volunteer at the Ramona Senior Center. He works in the kitchen every weekday except on Rotary days.
Don is 90 years young. He has lived in and served the community of Ramona for 84 years. He has probably touched as many lives in Ramona as anybody in the community’s history. His love, hard work, service and reliability have earned him the respect of several generations.
Special thanks to Ellie Whitcomb, Ken Dower and Dolores Ciuzak for contributing information for this article.
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