Featured Resident – Don Esslinger
Don Esslinger was born on a farm in Madison, KS. He had a twin sister but she didn’t survive infancy. He grew up the fourth of five sons born to Charles and Kathryn Esslinger. The farm was 350 acres and his father was the second generation to farm it. Their main enterprise was cattle though they did raise sheep and hogs. His mom also sold eggs and cream to help support the family. Don was active in 4H and had his share of chores, mainly feeding chickens, catching chickens for frying and helping hold down animals for doctoring. As he got older, he drove a team of horses during haying. He recalls one time when they were raking and he found a nest of bumblebees. The horses took off and he held on, dumping hay as he went. He didn’t get stung however.
Don’s mother passed away when he was 14. An aunt came and stayed with them for about three years. When she left, Don became chief cook and bottle washer – which meant cleaning the cream separator. But he didn’t have to milk the cows because he was fixing breakfast.
Don attended a country school through eighth grade and then attended high school in Madison. After graduating, he attended K-State majoring in General Agriculture. He was also involved with Army ROTC.
Don went home one weekend with a buddy. His buddy’s girlfriend had a friend interested in dating Don. So Don went out with a girl from Burlington on Friday night and went out with this other girl on Saturday night. That girl was Carla Hanes. Over the next two years, they dated off and on. Don graduated from K-State and went active duty. He asked Carla to marry him. In 1955, they had a military wedding in the chapel at Fort Lee, VA. Their reception was held at the Officer’s Club. Don was taking the Basic Officers Course and completed his service at Fort Lee.
Don was discharged in 1957. He, Carla and their one year old daughter, Jetta, moved to Salina, Ks. Don was employed by the K-State outreach department as an assistant County Agent in Salina for a year and a half. Their son, Brad, was born in Salina. The family then moved to Lyons where Don was a 4-H agent for K-State outreach.
Don applied for a fellowship with the USDA. He was accepted and the family moved to Washington DC for a year while he earned his Master’s Degree from the University of Maryland in 1962. Don moved the family to Manhattan and worked for Kansas 4-H foundation. They had a small magazine and he ended up working as the editor for the publication. In 1963, their third child, Kristi, was born Don became K-State faculty in 1965 doing feature writing for K-State Extension, mainly agriculture engineering, animal science and forestry.
In 1969, Don was hired as Publications Editor for Agriculture and Outreach at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Every seven years, they were allowed a sabbatical. Don applied to the International Rice Institute as a visiting editor and moved the family to the Philippines for a year. During this time, Don edited papers supporting the Rice Institute’s efforts. He visited Thailand, Hong Kong and South Korea. This opened new doors for Don and over the next two decades he went to Central America to review projects and taught technical writing workshops for projects in 3rd world country development in Africa – Botswana, Swaziland and Bangledesh.
In 1990, Don applied for a long term project in Egypt. He had left Swaziland, flew to Europe to fly to Cairo to interview for the position. He and Carla spent four years living in Cairo while Don was on loan from MU to the Univ. of Arizona working on this project in Egypt. He worked with Egyptian Undersecretary of Agriculture and did ghost writing as well as organizing staff.
In 1994, they moved back to the U.S. and Don retired. They moved to Sun City West, AZ, for eight and a half years before building a new home on Lake Britany in Bella Vista, AR. After eight years, the property became too much for them to take care of and they moved to Liberty, MO. to be closer to their daughter.
Don’s health was failing. They started looking at several senior living places. Westbrook met more of their criteria than most including being privately owned instead of corporate owned. Don and Carla moved to Westbrook in October of 2017. Don enjoys being around the people. He likes being friendly and joking around. He appreciates how handy Westbrook’s location is and says he’s comfortable living here.
Don has led a very active life. enjoying his work life and all the opportunities it offered him. He was able to travel extensively and had the opportunity to scuba dive in the Red Sea and in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. He was involved with wood working as well. He loved remodeling and when they built their house he did the finish work. He even taught wood working in 4-H. He has lived by the philosophy of WHTBDN – What Has To Be Done Now. He said he never went to work in the morning without a plan. If you go into things with a plan, you always know what you’re doing and can more easily adjust to change when things don’t go as planned.