In Memoriam: Donald Ray Whitaker (1925–2022)

Donald Ray Whitaker, died Monday, March 7, 2022, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Don was born to Verna Lee (nee Clark) and Carl “Rollin” Whitaker on July 10, 1925 in Hinsdale, Illinois. At age 5, he started in a Hawaiian guitar club with his parents and learned to love music. When he was ten, he discovered that the school band did not have guitars, so he took up the trumpet, became proficient and even played on The Morris B. Sachs Amateur Hour. In 1941 he competed in a national contest and received a first-place rating.

After high school he enrolled in an engineering program at Northwestern University and was drafted into WWII after completing one quarter and entered the Army in 1943.  After 17 weeks of basic training, he was sent to the 86th infantry division in Louisiana. He was trained in the pistol, rifle, carbine, 30 caliber machine gun, 50 caliber machine gun, 60 mm mortar hand grenade, and the Browning automatic rifle. This was accomplished with the aid of a fellow soldier who aimed his gun as Don had poor vision. After sending home for his cornet and standing outside the general’s headquarters playing bugle calls, he was asked to replace the current bumbling bugler. This got Don away from the front lines. He moved even further back when he secured a position as first trumpet in the division band, which meant he also worked in supplies. His determination to survive was evident as a young man. Don served in the European front during the invasion of Germany in 1944, came home to march in the parade in New York City and was then sent to the west coast. He was on a troopship preparing to invade Japan when the war ended and was diverted to the Philippines to defeat the Japanese holdouts. 

Don was sent home in April 1946 and worked for the post office for a few months before resuming studies at Northwestern University. After vacillating on a major, he ultimately got a Bachelor and Master of Music.

Upon returning home and completing his studies at Northwestern University, he married Winifred “Delores” Johnson in 1949, and had two daughters, Cynthia and Sandra.

While in the Chicago area, Don played professionally for eight years with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, several TV orchestras, Grant Park Orchestra and as first trumpet in the Lyrics Opera Orchestra, Shubert Theater for My Fair Lady and Music Man.

In 1959, he and his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin and he joined the music faculty at the University of Wisconsin, where he served as a Professor of Music teaching trumpet until his early retirement in 1981. During his time in Madison, he founded the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, played first trumpet in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and performed many solos in Wisconsin and surrounding states. He was President of the International Trumpet Guild and the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors and contributed to the early development of both organizations.

Dolores left Don to pursue other interests in 1972 and Don married Marcia Richards in 1973 and raised her daughter Maura from age 3. In spite of a 20 year age difference, they were married for 48 years. Maura added Whitaker to her legal name when she turned 18.

In retirement, he taught CPR and First Aid for the American Red Cross for seven years and then for the American Heart Association until 2017. Don learned how to snow ski, joined the National Ski Patrol as a lifetime member in 1983 and served as patrol director for 19 years at Heiliger Huegel Ski Club in Hubertus, Wisconsin. Don lived in Elm Grove with his devoted wife Marci and various cats. There, he was President of the Board of the Homeowners Association of The Park in Elm Grove from 2002 to 2018. Don enjoyed bowling, golf, bridge and taking numerous world trips with his wife Marci. One of his greatest passions was attending live performances of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Ballet and Skylight Music Theater.

Don is preceded in death by his parents Verna Lee (nee Clark) Whitaker and Carl “Rollin” Whitaker and his daughter Cynthia Lee (nee Whitaker) Sims.

He is survived by his wife Marcia Richards, daughters Sandra Whitaker-Organek (Greg) of Whitefish Bay, WI and Maura Richards Whitaker Olszanskij (Serge) of Salt Lake City, UT. Further survived by his grandchildren Jennifer Dial (Derek) of Fishers, IN and Gregory Olszansky of Salt Lake City, UT., as well as his great-granddaughters Layla Dial and Brooklyn Dial.

(Source: Jason Bergman, Marcia Richards)

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