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Don Wilson Leaves Behind a Legacy

His life was dedicated to developing programs for youth and seniors.

Don Wilson, 83, left behind a huge family and an endless list of friends. His name is synonymous with Ramona Senior Center. Wilson's accomplishments for youth programs for the school district, scouting camps and the city of San Diego will be remembered for generations.

Wilson passed away on Aug. 13 at his home in Ramona. He had been in hospice care since June for complications related to congestive heart failure.

“Most all of his whole life, in his career, it was a service career,” his wife, Pat told Patch. “He worked for the city, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts … His whole career was devoted to serving others.”

She said Wilson would be most proud of his work at Ramona Senior Center. He was director of the

Following his retirement, Wilson served on the governing board at the senior center. He and Pat often traveled with Ramona Ramblers, enjoying cruises to Alaska and Hawaii, and took countless road trips to places such as Rosarita Beach and Laughlin.

“His greatest love in his retirement was traveling, especially to visit his children, grandchildren and old friends,” his daughter, Christine Phillips, said. “Perhaps his most enjoyed trips were the two trips he and Pat took to Ireland. 

“He also enjoyed many years of taking a different one of his children and their families to Fort Bragg over the Fourth of July week, attending the self-proclaimed ‘Largest Salmon Barbeque in the World.’ Those are still some of the fondest memories recalled by those grandchildren. However, he was up for any adventure if travel was involved.”  

Donald Lee Wilson was born Jan. 3, 1928, in Washington, Iowa. He was the youngest of six children. Wilson joined the National Guard when he was 16 and later enlisted in the Army. He received a medical discharge after it was discovered he had one leg shorter than the other, a result of a riding accident when he was 17. He had a pin in his hip.

Wilson's first job in Iowa was as a YMCA swimming instructor, after attending the National Aquatic School in Wisconsin. He moved to El Cajon when he was 20 and worked at Cantoni’s, a feed store owned by his sister and brother-in-law. He met Patricia Ann Martin that summer and they were married six months later. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on Dec. 30, 2010.

Wilson attended community colleges in Iowa and California, earning an associate arts degree. He was working as a supervisor for Harris & Reidy Feed Company when he made the decision to change the direction of his career. He wanted to work in jobs where he was helping people, his daughter said.

He became an executive with Boy Scouts of America, after traveling to New Jersey to attend the National Training School for Professional Leaders in Scouting. He was district commissioner for the Boy Scouts in El Cajon and Escondido. As director of camping, he was involved in the development of Camp Mataguay in Warner Springs.

Wilson's next job was with the city of San Diego in the youth division of the Human Resources Department. He started a program for sending underprivileged children to summer camps. This was followed by a position in camp development from 1964 to 1976 for the Girl Scout Council of San Diego and Imperial Counties. He was instrumental in developing Camp Winacka in Julian and also served on the National Board of the American Camping Association.

Wilson worked in the maintenance department of for a few years before running for the school board. He was a trustee from 1977 to 1981 and is credited with bringing energy conservation to the district by having a more efficient type of lighting installed and lowering energy bills districtwide.

After moving to Ramona in 1973, Don and his family became active members of  . He was a member of the Downtown Rotary Club in San Diego and the , serving as its president and treasurer.

In addition to his wife, survivors include his sons Richard (Laurie) of Keene, Dennis (Mary) of Porterville, Paul (whose wife, Linda, passed away in 2002) of Ranchita and John (Gayle) of Brookside, Utah; daughters Christine (Jim) Phillips of Ramona, Doloris (Randy) Coit of Ridgecrest, Helen (Mark Hutton) Wilson of Ramona and Cera (Roger) Malech of Morgan Hill; 19 grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren. 

There will be a funeral mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, 437 E St., Ramona at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, followed by an Irish Wake from noon to 4 p.m. at Ramona Senior Center, 434 Aqua Lane. The family requests Hawaiian attire in memory of Don.

Penny King August 26, 2011 at 10:18 PM
This man was amazing. He was my first boss when I started working at the Senior Center in 1989. He is the one who instilled into me what a GOOD boss is. RIP Don. I'll miss you...
DRNM November 14, 2011 at 04:18 AM
I knew Mr Wilson for years when Pat and him dinned at Ramona Cafe, I was the waitress there. I remember him and an smile comes to me thinking of the great times and laughs we had together. I will always remember him and a great guy, funny and lovable couple.

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