Donald James 'Don' Sutton was born November 16, 1931 in Findlay OH, son of Robert L. and Ruth Anderson Sutton. He had three siblings. As a small child, he admired his uncle, Colonel James Sutton, a World War II veteran, after whom he was named. When Don grew up, he followed his uncle's career in aviation. He was scholastically gifted, beginning with grade school and continuing in junior high and high school, from which he graduated with top honors.
He was an avid singer and sang for church audiences beginning at age four. He played the cello from sixth grade through high school. As a high school senior, Don sang the lead singer's role in 'Naughty Marietta,' without a doubt the musical highlight of his school days. He definitely enjoyed entertaining people in all venues and forms, including karaoke.
After high school, Don attended Oberlin College for one year, majoring in music. Perhaps harkening back to his admiration for his uncle, he sought an appointment to West Point and was nominated by Congressman Jackson Betts. On July 3, 1951, Don entered West Point with the Class of 1955.
Don did well at West Point, both in academics and athletics, and he participated in a number of extracurricular activities, most notably Glee Club and Chapel Choir. He performed as principal soloist in 'On the Road to Mandalay' and 'Song of the Open Road,' as well as regularly singing 'Army Blue.' He also appeared on many television shows, including the 'Ed Sullivan Show.' Further, he sang at President Eisenhower's Inaugural Ball and in the movie The Long Gray Line. Throughout his life, he sang at numerous funerals and weddings, including the wedding of classmate Dick Wargowsky to Sandy.
In a lighter vein, Don saw the opportunity to make a little pocket change by using his skill as an amateur barber to trim hair.
When Don graduated, he opted to be commissioned in the Air Force. Among his early assignments was as flight instructor at Laredo AFB, TX, 1956-59. From 1959 to 1960, Don was assigned as a PT instructor and lacrosse coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In 1960, he resigned, but continued to serve our country by flying C-97 and C-130 aircraft from Stratton AFB, Schenectady, NY. In total, Don served as a military pilot for 11 years.
In civilian life, Don accepted a position as an account executive with Merrill Lynch in Albany, NY. For many years, he sold high write-off tax shelters to wealthy clients. During this time, he was a member of the Albany Mendelssohn Club, singing tenor in quartets throughout the area. In his private life, he ran local school board meetings and taught religious education at his local church. When his marriage to his wife Valerie ended in 1984, he returned to Findlay, OH, and in 1984 he married Jill Cole of Findlay and continued to work in financial businesses.
In his leisure time, Don played tennis and, at 62, won the Findlay Singles Championship. He was also a YMCA and Beacon Club member; the latter being a local professional men's club. Don was attracted to the Big Brothers organization and met a nine-year old boy, Jon Thomas, who told him he wanted to do 'man things.' So, Don took him camping, fishing, hunting, swimming, many movies and introduced him to the Boy Scouts. Jon became an Eagle Scout, went to college and became successful in life. He benefited greatly from Don's teachings. Don was very proud of him, and they became lifelong friends. This particular example is only one of many that reflect that Don loved meeting people and learning about their lives. If a problem existed, he would enthusiastically help in its solution to ensure their success in life. Don always followed the principle 'be firm but fair' and the ideals he was taught at West Point.
Don always continued to sing, most often at his church, Journey at Christ Church, where he sang beautiful Christian songs. The congregation was amazed at his abilities. He was an avid reader, history novels and anything involving General George Patton being his favorites. Don loved his family, especially his grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. One of his loving ways with them was to allow them to color his face and body. They giggled with pleasure, and Don 'Papa/Uncle' enjoyed it too.
Don suffered two severe strokes in August 2011 and was in the Ann Arbor VA hospital for rehabilitation until October 2011. He returned home for three years of therapy before suffering a heart attack in April 2014. After local inpatient care, he returned home for more home health care, which motivated him towards a remarkable recovery. Sadly, he passed away on November 2, 2016. The love and support Don gave to his entire family, including those from both marriages, will endure for eternity. They, his classmates and friends, have given me the outpouring of help and stamina to carry on. Don is survived by his first wife, Valerie, and his second wife, Jill; by a very large loving family; and by many close friends.
- Jill R. Sutton and Family
TAPS Memorial Article