Don Hayes has written two books about his life. The first, a spiral-bound edition, is called Life Memories. It covers the period from his birth in 1924 to 2006 and features, among other things, photos of his father, who was a trapper, a weed inspector and a boxer. The book also includes a page filled with photos of his childhood sweethearts.
The second book, assembled in a three-ring binder, is called Up, Up and Away to Eternal Life. It focuses on the period from 2009 to the present.
There is a lot of ground to cover in those two volumes. Hayes was born in Clarissa, located between Wadena and Sauk Center in Todd County, and he stayed there until he graduated from high school and joined the Navy in 1943.
Hayes served in the hospital corps, largely on Manus Island in the Pacific. His facility received the wounded from the forces who went into Japan.
Hayes was eventually promoted to Yeoman. He was in charge of updating records, tracking when patients came in and where they went when they left - either back to the front lines or home with injuries that prevented their future service.
"It was a lot of work, but it was very interesting work because a lot of people were very injured," Hayes said.
After he left the Navy Hayes received training to work in a hardware store. He liked the idea, he said, because he liked talking to people. He took a job at a Coast to Coast store in Long Prairie, then two years later returned to Clarissa to work for the co-op in the city.
Eventually, Hayes started working at the Red Owl grocery store. Then, he bought a Red Owl of his own. That's the path that ultimately brought him to Farmington.
Hayes left Clarissa for a bigger city because he needed a better income to help support the seven children he and his wife, Margie, raised. He moved from owning a store to working for the Red Owl organization in their corporate office. Then he helped start a two-year vocational training program for people who wanted to work in the grocery business.
"The first year, we taught them how they could be the produce manager, dairy manager. The second year we trained them to be a store manager," Hayes said. "Those people were very dedicated. They were just like my children."
Those children brought Hayes and his training program to Rosemount's Dakota County Technical College in 1972. He worked at the school until 1987. Meanwhile, he and his family settled in a home along Highway 3 in Farmington. The couple was very active at Farmington Lutheran Church, and Hayes was one of the original planners of Dakota City Heritage Village, the turn-of-the-century city located at the Dakota County Fairgrounds. He was the first mayor of Dakota City and helped organize the flea markets that paid to move the first buildings to the site.
Hayes gives his wife most of the credit for raising their children. He was the breadwinner, he said. She was there every day for the children. During his frequent speaking engagements he would introduce his wife by explaining he was the luckiest man in the world, "because she is full Norwegian. She's got blonde hair, blue eyes, two dimples and she's always got a smile on her face."
Hayes and his wife were married for 48 years. She died in 1992.
These days, Hayes stays busy making stained glass. He has photo books full of his work, each labeled with a number so if he ever decides to sell something he can look it up and see how much it cost him to make it. He's made lamps and light fixtures and a Minnesota Vikings logo that hangs on his wall.
All in all, it's been a good life.
"I've been very fortunate," Hayes said. "I am a very, very lucky man."
It's a life worth preserving in print.