Donald was born March 21, 1925 in Spring Lake, MN, the second of ten children born to George and Esther Stangland. Growing up on the farm his daily chores taught him how to work hard. His grade school years were spent in a one-room country school in Sand Lake. His secondary education was spent in Deer River where he experienced dormitory life, going home on weekends. In 1943 he graduated from Deer River High School.
Upon graduation, he was drafted (1944) into the U.S. army, and later selected by the U.S. Marines and sent to Camp Pendleton in California. There he attended basic training for six months. In a letter to his sister Dorothy, he described one of his basic training exercises. “I hiked for 52 miles. Going up one long hill, I thought sure I would drop out as I was all out of wind, and it was dusty and couldn’t see the man in front of me. I made up my mind I was going ‘til I dropped, and I just made it and that was all. There were 80 guys in our company that did drop out.”
World War II is something Donald rarely talked about. He was a part of Co. G, 2nd BN, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division in the last and one of the fiercest battles of the war, the 83-day Battle of Okinawa (Japan). Fortunately, Donald survived the horror of that experience, but not the memories. Donald was in his 90’s when for the first time he told his sister Alice some of what he experienced. “During the battle I lost 40 pounds and was never sick. Because of the monsoon rains and winds for about two weeks they could not get food supplies to us; actually we starved. Many of the men died. The only thing we had is what we found in gardens we raided. We came upon a Japanese food dump. I could not read Japanese and one of the cans I got was fish eyes. I consumed it all.”
Following the end of the war Donald was stationed in Peking, China for 6 months, then discharged, and returned to Minnesota. Donald at first worked for the Deer River Co-op delivering fuel oil using his own truck. He also managed the Co-op Station for a year. This is where he met the love of his life, Bernice Thompson. Bernice was employed by the Co-op as a clerk. They married January 8, 1948 making their home in Deer River.
Donald left the Co-op in 1952 and began work with the Great Northern Railroad. At first he was laid off during the winters, and returned to working in the woods. After three years the railroad work became year-round.. He served one year as a conductor and the remaining years as a brakeman. After a 35-year career he retired in 1987. Although Donald and Bernice made their permanent home near Deer River, at times they set up temporary residences in towns closer to Donald’s railroad assignments. In retirement they returned to their lovely home in the country with lots of space for gardening and enjoying wildlife. They also spent time traveling.
Although Donald could ride the train for free anywhere in the USA, he chose to drive his car as they explored both the west and east coasts. They eventually sold their home in the country and moved into an apartment in Deer River.
Not long after their retirement, a friend invited Donald to bowl in a league. He had been pitching horseshoes with brother Gerald. Bowling became a passion that lasted into his early 90s. At one time he bowled for three teams. Donald eventually gave up league bowling, but continued bowling for pleasure. He was so confident in his sport that he enjoyed an audience. Strikes always warranted his own ‘pat on the back’.
In his retirement Donald also enjoyed fishing, playing spades, and an early morning trip to casino which he musingly referred to as ‘his office’
Donald was very fond of his family in all generations and was always up to visiting with friends and family, welcoming them with his great smile and open arms. Donald always expressed the love and pride he felt toward all his family. He will surely be missed.
Donald is survived by his son Ronald Stangland of Deer River, MN; son Michael (Pamela) Stangland of BigFork, MN; daughter-in-law Cindy Stangland of Stacy, MN; 7 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren; sisters Alice Kirn and Hazel Lambert; brother Kenny Stangland.
Donald is preceded in death by his wife of 70 years, Bernice, son Larry Stangland; parents George and Esther Stangland; sisters Dorothy Edlund; Lorraine Isaacson, Marie Peterson; brothers Delmer Stangland, Gerald Stangland, and baby Delmer; sister-in-law Rosie Stangland