Cover photo for Don L. Cantrell's Obituary
Don L. Cantrell Profile Photo
1932 Don 2024

Don L. Cantrell

July 12, 1932 — April 3, 2024


Don L. Cantrell was born in Mansfield, Arkansas in July 1932. His parents journeyed the long road west in search of better opportunities when he was about a year old so that he grew up in Southern California. He always remembered his first view of the Pacific - at the beach in Santa Barbara- even at the early age of a year and this remarkable ability for recall would stay with him his entire life as a true asset.

Being mechanically inclined and gifted, Don's father worked on Navy ships and received recognition for his workmanship. The family located in Balboa Island - then an affordable paradise even for those of modest or less than modest means of which his family was one. In time, the family grew with the addition of a brother and later a sister.

Fond childhood memories included sandlot football on the beach and diving into the bay. One time diving, Don broke his eardrums. His hearing was never checked until much later when he was drafted by the Army into the Korean war. He was missing 17 sounds on the odeometer scale, but was drafted and served two years.

At Newport Harbor High School, in Newport Beach, California, Don played football as an All League quarterback in 1949. Here, some of his fondest memories and friendships developed and lasted throughout his life. His talent in writing showed at a young age as he participated in high school journalism. Both journalism and sports led to a college scholarship at Willamette University in Oregon.

His journalism in newspaper writing began as a correspondent for the Portland Oregonian, though he returned to Southern California and worked for the Santa Ana Register as both city and sports editor. He received three top honors and more than 16 honors in the Orange County Press Club.He wrote the heartwarming play Estancia Gold based on California history in these years. Also a respected visual artist, his cartoons appeared in California newspapers and artwork of both paintings and photography were featured in the Laguna Exhibition of Art known as the Sawdust Festival.

Don loved humor as depicted by his cartooning--something he would carry forth late in life. His favorite comedians were those classics such as Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields.

Don left California during that timeframe to take the opportunity of a position as Managing Editor for the Dispatch in Casa Grande, Arizona. He loved the Sonoran desert as much as he loved the Pacific and his time in Arizona was studded with enduring friendships and treasured writing. It was at this time that he received a call from (then) Governor Jack Willams commending him on a column he wrote. Gov. Williams and close friend US Senator Barry Goldwater were native Arizonans and stayed in contact with Don many years later. It was at his time as managing editor of the Dispatch, one day while getting into his car, when a boy in his late teenage years hurried across the parking lot to him with an air mail envelope in his hand. He seemed anxious, but was courteous as he asked Don to read the letter and introduced himself as Manual Galvez Jr. He apologized knowing that Don was late for an appointment but said he had to return the letter to his mother in the morning. The letter was one of sympathy from a Capt. J.H. Binford Peay, III -an officer in the battery of Tom Galvez, the brother of Manual-relating the fateful day of Tom's death in Vietnam and conveying his highest regards.

Manual's face held immense pride in his brother as he asked Don how much it would cost to get the letter published. Don assured Manual that this was legitimate news and wrote the poignant article that Tom's bravery exemplified many men whose dedication is symbolic of "the spirit of free men who have made a choice not to lose their integrity, nobility and liberty under a dictatorship...". This article was written in to the United States Congressional Record by Congressman James Utt (CA) in 1961.

Later, in Arizona Don served as the last editor of the famed old west Tombstone Epitaph newspaper which had subscribers in 32 foreign countries when it folded in 1975.

He then returned to California as a college administrator at Cypress College 1975-77 where he originated its Americana Awards program that -to this day- still honors top citizens and celebrities. Under Don's administration, these were individuals like Gene Autry, Ray Bolger (scarecrow in Wizard of Oz) and the original Cisco Kid (Stan Dunn).

In following years in New Mexico, he and colleagues developed Pioneer News Corporation -and the Pioneer News School Bus Driver awards that honored bravery and heroism in school bus driving. He had heart for native americans and those who went unrecognized or were underdogs in life. The two award programs received commendations from (then) President Gerald Ford and Vice President Al Gore.

Many years later, a Hall of Fame would be established at Newport Harbor High School. He went to great efforts to get a number of deserving friends and individuals he knew nominated. One was Rear Admiral James Seely, one of the kindest of men. Jim had flown 434 missions and was base commander at Whidby Naval Base in his military career. At one point, Don himself was nominated by others and accepted as one of the (alumni) 4th class inductees. As quoted from that bio:

"Don Cantrell, Class of 1950, insightful writer and historian, distinguished himself on the NHHS Football field as quarterback, and served in the CA National Guard and the US Army Signal Corps. He studied Journalism at Willamette and CSU Long Beach, and began a lifetime of spreading knowledge."

Don married Leslie Anne Woidyla in 2000 after they met through mutual friends in prior years. He had a big heart for his children and all children. Similarly, he loved Leslie's sons, Jesse and Dillon, and raised them as his own. He once said, "These are the priorities in life: God first, next are the children and then somewhere way down the ladder is oneself." He made it a point to live a life of those principles. Together he and Leslie share a blended family of eight children: Kelly Martin, Mikel Ann (Bunny) Dooher, Teresa Conrad, Robert Cantrell, Richard Cantrell, Troy Cantrell, Jesse Fishman, Dillon Fishman. Don has 15 grandchildren, nine great grandchildren and two great, great grandchildren.

His wisdom entwined with lighthearted humor and kindness will forever remain in our hearts.

To send flowers to the family in memory of Don L. Cantrell, please visit our flower store.


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