Donald Hansen Stretch, born January 17, 1927, in Los Angeles, California, passed away January 20, 2022, on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Don passed away quietly in his sleep after 95+ years. His was a life well-lived.
Don had a wonderful life, full of family, friends and experiences that shaped the gentle and loving man that he was. He moved at an early age with his family from Los Angeles to a turkey ranch in Lodgepole, Nebraska. There he spent his formative years learning what it truly means to live a sustainable life. Growing up on a turkey ranch during the Depression proved to be a challenge and inspired a sense of resourcefulness that Don brought to bear in all aspects of his personal life and professional career. Don’s parents, Anna Frederikke and Joseph Stretch, and Don’s siblings, Fred and Ruth, learned to improvise when circumstances called for thinking outside of the box. They created passive refrigeration for perishables by collecting ice in the winter, placing it in a depression on the grounds of the ranch and then covering it with straw for insulation. The ice held well into the spring. Raising turkeys could also be a challenge. Don and his brother Fred would often have to serenade the turkeys at night to keep them from over-crowding and suffocating one another. Don rode his pony to school year-round. He hunted and learned what it takes to be self-sufficient.
Don’s family moved back to Los Angeles when he was about 15. While he was not eager to move back to the city, he learned to adapt. He ran track as a sprinter on the high school team and took engine mechanic shop classes where he learned to disassemble and rebuild a Pratt-Whitney airplane engine. This came into use when he turned 18 and found himself a candidate for the Selective Service during World War II. He entered the Navy before finishing high school and was stationed in Vernalis, California at an installation designed to train military pilots to launch from and land on aircraft carriers. As a seaman first class, Don anticipated that he would be assigned KP and other mundane duties. However, when his superiors discovered that Don could disassemble and rebuild aircraft engines in his sleep, he was assigned to be a flight mechanic, responsible for preparing fighter and bomber planes for their training missions. The pilots would offer flight mechanics opportunities to ride along because they knew a mechanic willing to fly with them was confident that the plane was ready and safe to fly. Don often would go along and lie on a blanket on the bomb bay doors. He recalled that he hoped that the pilots would not accidently hit the switch that opened the bomb bay doors.
Don saved up his money by working off hours in the local tomato canning factory. He bought a car and used it to travel home to L.A. on weekends. Several of his service buddies would ride along and help with gas when they weren’t able to get aviation fuel. Of course, with such a rich mixture of fuel, Don found himself in need of an engine rebuild for his car. When he wasn’t on flight mechanic duty or canning tomatoes, Don would take advantage of the tool resources afforded him in the service to rebuild his engine with parts that he could afford and when he couldn’t afford them, he machined the parts he needed. He even created tools and techniques to get the job done when they were not otherwise available.
After the end of the war Don was Honorably Discharged. He returned to L.A. and completed his high school GED diploma. Don took a job with Hoffman Electronics where he became a production supervisor in radio and television set manufacturing. It was there that he met Dorothy (Dottie) Holloway. They wed in 1948 and were very happily married for nearly 50 years before Dottie passed away. They had one son, James Joseph Stretch, named after Dottie’s brother, Jim Holloway who gave his life in the Korean War, and Don’s father, Joseph Stretch.
Don moved to new jobs in the early years, one that took him to Tops Records where he oversaw production of vinyl records and then to Lightcraft of California. As a production manager in the lighting industry Don learned all the ins and outs of the business. He was invited to be a partner in a new lighting company venture, Forecast Lighting. There he and his business partners built a nationally recognized lighting brand where he worked until he retired in the early 1990’s.
Don’s family life was very rich and fulfilling. He and Dottie frequently traveled to Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, enjoying concerts and the nightlife. Don, Dottie, and their son, Jim would spend happy times entertaining family and friends at their home, as well as taking family vacations. They had a warm and loving family with a tradition of working hard but always finding time to appreciate their time together.
When Dottie passed away in 1996, Don wanted to honor her memory in some significant way. His successes in real estate, investing, and the lighting fixture business allowed him to endow a research chair, The Dorothy E. Stretch Memorial Chair, at the Benaroya Research Institute of Virginia Mason in Seattle, Washington. The endowment sponsors scientific investigation to better understand and treat auto-immune disorders.
Don later married Ruth E. Trudeau and remained married until his death in 2022. For health reasons, Don moved to Bainbridge Island to be closer to his son and daughter-in-law for the last 2 years of his life. He joined the community at Wyatt House where he made close friends that helped to soften the impact of the COVID pandemic. His time on Bainbridge Island enriched the lives of Jim and Sybil as well as the Wyatt House community.
Don is survived by his son, Jim, and his daughter-in-law, Sybil. Don is also survived by his second wife Ruth as well as his step-daughter, Greta Berlin, and step-granddaughter, Kaley Berlin.
Don was interred with full military honors on Thursday, February 24, 2022, 11:00 am, at the Sequim View Cemetery, Sequim, Washington. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that those interested in making a memorial donation consider contributing to the memorial chair that Don established in Dottie’s name. Such memorial donations can be made to: The Dorothy E. Stretch Memorial Chair (Fund # ROO171), Benaroya Research Institute, c/o Virginia Mason Foundation, D1-MF, P.O. Box 1930, Seattle, Washington 98111-1930