• Last modified 689 days ago (Sept. 24, 2020)


Class of ’65

Graduate went on to a globe-trotting career

Staff writer

Don Westerhaus went a long way from Marion after his high school graduation in 1965, but memories of his time here linger. His life took turns he never dreamed it would take.

One of his proudest memories of high school is an award at a state contest.

“When I was a sophomore I got a #1 rating at the state music contest,” he said. “I succeeded at something that not everyone does.”

Westerhaus said he was naïve about moving away from the sheltered environment of Marion, but growing up here was a good thing.

“I have come to realize that growing up in Marion allowed me to participate in activities that collectively gave me a good foundation by the time I left for college,” Westerhaus said. “But when I think about all of the math and science classes and homework — my apologies to Rex Wilson — I have to admit that learning to type has been more important in my life than almost anything — except maybe for my trumpet, which I continue to play even today.”

After graduating from high school, he studied at Wichita State University for a year, and then transferred to University of Kansas. He studied journalism.

That’s where he learned to write extemporaneously, a skill that helped him throughout his life.

“I learned to analyze the facts about an event and explain them in a way that any reader could understand,” he said. “Many times, over the years, I’ve helped people put their words on paper when they had no idea how to even begin.”

He also met his wife, Anita, during the summer after his sophomore year in college. Both were counselors at Midwest Music and Art Camp.

He also spent time working at The Marion Record summers during college.

“One of those summers Eric Meyer and I put together a darkroom upstairs,” Westerhaus said.

Time in the Navy after his college graduation introduced him to life outside Kansas.

When he completed his service in the Navy, he began what he thought would be his career in journalism as an editor at the Atchison Daily Globe.

“If Anita hadn’t been teaching elementary school music at the time, we might have starved,” Westerhaus said.

He then moved to Des Moines, Iowa, and became a sales promotion writer for The Bankers Life Insurance Company, now Principal Financial. He wrote sales materials, newsletters, and news releases. In that position, he learned to put words and artwork together, enhancing his skills.

After Bankers Life Insurance, he spent six years working for Successful Farming magazine, also in Des Moines.

“That’s where growing up in Marion began to count again,” he said. “Although I wasn’t a farm kid, my summers putting up hay and other odd jobs during high school and college translated into enough understanding about agriculture to be able to explain farm magazine benefits to advertising executives in New York, Chicago and Detroit.”

His next job began a career of nearly 20 years in international advertising and sales promotion at a company then called Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

“I was hired to help the managers of Pioneer offices in countries around the world learn to promote their seed businesses,” Westerhaus said.

In that career, he saw most of Asia, Russia, the island of Hokkaido, Japan, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Egypt, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and eastern and western Europe.

In Egypt he helped introduce clear sunflower cooking oil in a country where ghee, a clarified butter, was used for cooking.

He saw the Philippine Islands, once right after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

“As we drove to our destination along a rural road covered with volcanic ash, out the window I saw a small concrete structure that had been the top of the bell tower of a Catholic church,” Westerhaus said. “A sobering reminder of what happens sometimes in our world.”

Other memories from his world travels stand out.

“I still remember my very first trip outside the U.S.,” he said. “It was to help with a farm show in Hungary before the end of Russian domination. I met the manager of the company office in Vienna, Austria, and we drove in his BMW 750 at 200 kilometers per hour to the border with Hungary. There we were searched by soldiers armed with submachine guns and no smiles. And then we stayed in a small-town hotel — not like the Elgin! My room had a single light bulb, mosquitoes, and shared a communal bath that was nearly uninhabitable. Quite an awakening for a kid from central Kansas!”

In 1999 he took a job with an advertising agency in southern California.

He then returned to Des Moines and worked for Kemin Industries, remaining there 12 years.

He retired in 2012 and now lives in Bloomington, Indiana, near his daughter, Jennifer Adams, and her family.

“In many ways, I wouldn’t trade my life for any other,” Westerhaus said.

He said no class of 1965 reunion is planned out of concerns for the COVID-19 pandemic.

A small group of classmates had been working on reunion plans, but the class took a poll when the pandemic hit, and only 10, including spouses, were planning to come. Reunion planners canceled the event.

“The last I heard Larry Ensey was planning to do something at the Elgin,” Westerhaus said.

Class members are now discussing having a reunion next year. Westerhaus has his doubts the pandemic will be past by that time.

“Personally I think it’s going to be not one year, or two years, but three years,” he said.

Last modified Sept. 24, 2020