Donald “Don” Dean Ater
A celebration of life for longtime Lamar resident, Donald Dean Ater, affectionately known to his family and friends as Don, will be held at 10:00AM on Friday, February 17, 2023 at the Lamar First Baptist Church with Pastor Darren Stroh officiating. Military Honors will follow at the Fairmount Cemetery under the auspices of the local V.F.W. and American Legion Posts.
Visitation for Don will be held from 3:00PM until 6:00PM on Thursday, February 16, 2023 at the Peacock Family Chapel.
Don passed away on February 10, 2023 at the Spanish Peaks Veteran’s Community Living Center in Walsenburg, Colorado at the age of 93 with his family by his side.
Donald (Don) Dean Ater was born on October 5, 1929 to Dorothy and Harry Ater in Oberlin, Kansas. Being only 13 months younger than his older brother, they were often mistaken for twins. Don enjoyed the benefits of growing up in a small town and had many community connections. He was a proud member of the Boy Scouts. After graduating from Decatur Community High School, Don enrolled in Blair Business College in Colorado Springs. Two years later with an accounting degree in hand he came back to Oberlin to work with Harold Robinson in his grocery store. When the grocery store closed, he spent the summer as a truck driver during harvest.
In 1951, Don entered the army. He completed basic training at Camp Chaffee in Fort Smith, Arkansas and then served with the 3rd Division Artillery as Sergeant Major of S-1 Personnel in Korea, north of Seoul and above the 38th Parallel. Don was close to enemy lines, and his position focused on casualties, personnel processing and replacement reporting to the General’s intelligence briefings. A highlight of his tour of duty in Korea was the chance to see his only brother who was assigned to the 7th Division, 57th Artillery in the winter of 1952. During his time there he met the Evangelist Billy Graham and President Eisenhauer.
Don met the love of his life, Pat Ater on a blind date arranged by his older brother and her older sister. They dated for two years and wrote letters to each other for an additional two years while Don was in the service. Don sent Pat two large boxes of china from Japan; that’s when Pat’s father began to suspect that Don had some definite plans. After his discharge they were married on July 28, 1953.
During their first two years of married life Don worked as assistant manager of a local grocery store while Pat taught public school kindergarten. Don also completed some reserve time in the 425th Transportation Company in Norton, KS and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant First Class.
As so many people did during that time, Don smoked, and he quit smoking on a dare from a co-worker in the grocery store who told him he couldn’t. As he would later proudly tell his grandchildren, he never picked up another cigarette.
In 1955, Don and Pat made the decision to try out the benefits of the GI Bill. He enrolled at Colorado State College of Education in Greeley, CO, now known as University of Northern Colorado. While they lived in the basement of a sorority house, Don worked at the Sherwin and Williams Paint and Picture Frame Store, and earned his Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees. Don always attributed his educational success to “his dear wife” Pat and her steadfast encouragement.
After graduation Don and Pat dedicated their working lives to education. Don obtained a teaching position in business at Bent County High School in Las Animals CO. He stayed there two years before Superintendent Al Young convinced him to move to Lamar to become the Business Administrator for RE-2 Schools. Although they only planned to stay 5-6 years, he was asked to be the Assistant Superintendent and remained in that position for 29 years before retiring. He continued to work part-time for 6 more years as a consultant to the school district.
Don’s favorite part of his job was people. When possible, he enjoyed hand delivering paychecks to everyone in the district. He knew all those who worked for Lamar School District by name. In later years he would stop by the Administration office just to say hello and offer support.
Among his accomplishments, he led the construction of Lamar High School, expanded Bus transportation, and started the school lunch program. Don served as a board member and then President of the regional Rocky Mountain Association of School Business Officials. He then served as President of the larger national Association of School Business Officials for the United States and Canada. He also served as President of School Executives of Colorado. He was listed in Who’s Who for Education in Colorado. His positions allowed for extensive travel and Don thoroughly enjoyed getting to make new friends wherever he went.
As Don would state in his Presidential address to the Association of School Business Officials, “what a gift to have been given the privilege to educate and encourage young people.”
In addition to his own career in education, Don supported Pat’s dream. They opened Miss Pat’s Pre-school, the first licensed private pre-school in southeast Colorado. While Pat served as director and lead teacher, Don provided accounting and maintenance from 1966 through 1984. Don and Pat loved knowing that the building and play yard that they designed (including the tricycle highway) continue to be enjoyed by children today.
Don and Pat enjoyed retirement together traveling in their RV. They also dedicated their time to intently caring for both their widowed Mothers and felt good helping them have a happy life.
Don and Pat celebrated their 50th year anniversary just as they would have it, with a big party inviting all their family and friends. Shortly after, Pat was diagnosed with Lewy Body disease, a type of Parkinsons, and Don became her primary care-giver. Don and Pat’s faith remained strong, and Don’s family and friends as well as staff at the nursing home saw a testament to the dedication that comes with love as he continued to spend every day with her until her death in 2010.
After Pat’s death, Don continued to live an active life involved in his church and the community. He could often be found walking at the community building or visiting with his children at his favorite restaurant spot. Don was a constant encouragement to his children and grandchildren in all their activities. He celebrated Roger’s time on city council and 10 years as Mayor to Lamar, and his daughter’s position as Colorado Welcome Center Manager. He visited his grandchildren in California and Colorado Springs, in addition to taking many other trips to visit family and friends. Don moved to the Legacy in 2015 and then to Spanish Peaks Veterans Community Living Center in 2020. Don enjoyed living in community with others and continued participating in activities.
Don and Pat were blessed with two children, a daughter Leslie Ann born in 1956 and a son, Samuel Dean born in 1961. A second blessing came when their daughter Leslie married Roger Stagner and they became the parents of their granddaughter, Annessa and grandson Bronson. Both remember the swing “Papa Don” made for them, trips to the post office, little boy and girl shaped pancakes for breakfast, and many “smile Papa wants to take your picture” moments. Papa Don had an adventurous and competitive side - he could go faster than anyone else snow tubing and could beat anyone at tag on ice skates. He loved camping, travel, bicycling, golf, roller skating, Ice skating, swimming, bowling and photography..to name a few. Don attended the weddings of both his grandchildren and always said he loved gaining more grandchildren when Bronson married Shannon Ernst and Annessa married Jensen Stulp. He loved becoming a great grandpa, and holding each of his great grandchildren - Kensley Ann Stagner, Adalynn Kay Stagner, and Barrett James Stagner, Ezekiel (Zeke) Wayne Stulp, Trenton Dean Stulp, and Anneston Jane Stulp.
Don was very involved in First Baptist Church and was an ordained Deacon having served on a number of boards, including Chair of Trustees, Chair of Finance and Treasurer, Moderator and Sunday School Superintendent. Don and Pat also provided guidance to the creation of the First Baptist Church Preschool, which opened in 1988. He enjoyed teaching Sunday School, helping with Awanas and singing in the Choir.
Don was also very involved in the community, having served as a Master Mason for 69 years and a member of the Lions Club for 60 years. He was a member of the City of Lamar Utility Board, Planning and Zoning Board and The Arkansas River Municipal System Board.
His many awards and honors do not compare to the thrill of knowing Jesus as his personal Savior. Don accepted Jesus as a young man shortly after meeting Pat. His strength of character came from this steadfast relationship with his Savior. His family looked to him as a wonderful role model. He will always be remembered for his amazing leadership abilities, his exceptional positive outlook, along with genuine integrity, kindness and a heart full of thankfulness.
He is preceded in death by his wife of 57 years Patricia Ater, son Samuel Ater, his parents Harry and Dorothy Ater brother Bill Ater, brother-in-law Dr. Fred Reith and two nephews Patrick Ater and Dr. Jerry Reith.
Don is survived by his daughter and son-in-law Leslie and Roger Stagner of Lamar, CO, grandchildren Dr. Annessa Stagner Stulp and her husband Dr. Jensen Stulp of Lamar, CO and Bronson Stagner and his wife Shannon Stagner of Colorado Springs, CO, great-grandchildren Ezekiel Wayne Stulp, Trenton Dean Stulp, Anneston Jane Stulp all of Lamar, CO, Kensley Ann Stagner, Adalynn Kay Stagner and Barrett James Stagner all of Colorado Springs, CO, sisters-in-law Connie Reith of Novato, CA and June Ater of Burleson, TX as well as six nephews Bill (Kathi) Ater, Jr., Michael Ater, Phillip (Kathy) Ater, Rick Reith, David Reith and Tom Reith and their families and many friends.