Sharing our Links to the Past
by Wally and Frances Gray

Donald Oliver McNabb

Don.jpg (48136 bytes)

#M2 MCNABB, Donald Oliver

Born: 17 Sep 1903 Britt, Hancock, Ohio.
Died: 1 Nov 1928 Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah.

Father: George Daniel MCNABB #M4 (12 Jan 1783-14 Jan 1960)
Mother: Bertha Elsie STANFORD #M5 (22 Jun 1873-22 Feb 1905)

Married: 29 Nov 1928, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah to Elsie Gladys LUNDQUIST #M3. They had two children.

Frances Mildred MCNABB #M1 (b 26 Sep 1929), m 29 Aug 1947 to Wallace Firman GRAY #G1.
Gordon Donald MCNABB (b 16 Nov 1931), m 27 Oct 1953 to Sara Elizabeth Ann SINE.


Donald Oliver McNabb liked to think of himself as a quiet doer. In one of his letters to his future wife, Elsie Gladys Lundquist, he said, "As you know I am not much of an enthusiast about anything. I like to see things done, of course, but I like to be quiet and let the doers do without the distraction of my useless noise."

To him, shallow enthusiasm was like a fire cracker: "One flare, a burst, a loud noise-then uselessness until the next one." His philosophy was that "It takes the steady thrust of ambition and accomplishment to advance our creeping civilization."

This does not imply that Donald was lethargic. Quite the contrary. He was a hard worker all his life. His letters reveal in just one segment of his life how he spent long hours working at the farm, or how he expected the best out of himself and his fellow workers when he was an employee for the Central States Electric Company. Certainly his determination to finish high school after being in the army for four years indicates his desire to succeed. His constant push for work during the depression when jobs were hard to come by bore out this fact. He never left the raising of his family to anyone else.

His goal as stated in an early letter to Elsie was, "I have a burning ambition to show you a man instead of a polished excuse."


Don lost his mother, Bertha Elsie Stanford, when he was just a little over a year old. In 1907 his father married Hattie Belle Jolliffe. At this time the family partially broke up with Don going to live with his Aunt Anna McNabb. Don went back to live with the family when they were in Britt, Iowa. At age 16 he joined the Army (arranged by his father.) It was 1918 and the war was almost over, so Don saw no action and did not go overseas.

In 1923, after serving for three or four years in the Army, Don returned and completed high school, living at home. Reva said he was very fluent in speaking and in writing. "English was his forte." This is obvious from the excellent style of writing we observe in his letters to Elsie. Reva said he was good in math, too, and was a talented artist, but she said that the things that he would write in school really got favorable attention. The family had hoped he would become an artist. Don's high school record shows he entered high school in 1918, then withdrew after a year of school and returned in 1923. He graduated in 1925 at the age of 21 with a passing grade of 75 percent, although his grades in English, Social Science, Mathematics, science and commercial courses were in the 80s and 90s.

He was president of the Class of 1922. Among his other activities in school was football, and throughout his life he was avidly interested in sports, either as a participant or as a spectator. His letters tell of his love for boxing and of basketball, and he played on the football and basketball home town teams. After he was married he had Elsie listen to the World Series on the radio (which was broadcast in the daytime) and had her report the various plays to him when he came home at night. His daughter, Frances McNabb Gray, recalls the fond memories of sitting on her father's lap while they listened to fights and ball games on the radio. Don explained the events to her, as they jointly filled out score cards for the football and baseball games. He was also an ambitious tennis player.

Courtship and Letters

Then he met Elsie.

One day while Elsie was at her desk at a plumbing office, she looked up to see a tall, good looking man coming toward her. When she asked Don if she could help him,his smile bowled her over. He said he wanted to know what his next assignment was to be. Elsie realized that he was a truck driver for the company.

Soon Don asked Elsie if she would like to take the first ride in a little roadster that he had built himself. The next Saturday, they got in his blue car, built from Ford parts. Elsie wore a new light green silk suit. She settled into the two-seater and away they went. As Don sped along the highway, they laughed and praised the car's performance. However, there was no carpet on the floorboard, and the smoke from the exhaust poured into the car. When Elsie returned home at Ruby and Frank's, Ruby said, "Look at your suit. It's black!" Don had her suit cleaned and Elsie agreed to ride in the car again after Don put in a carpet. They traveled all over town, sometimes Don going 80 miles an hour and climbing mountain roads at high speeds.

A few weeks later, Don broke his wrist while cranking his car. (In those days you had to turn a crank in the front of the car to start it. There were no automatic starters.) While recuperating, he often waited for Elsie on the steps of Ruby and Frank's apartment when she came home fromwork. He taught her how to play pinochle. Playing pinochle and bridge became a regular activity during the evenings. Ruby and Frank liked Don and the feeling was mutual. Elsie and Don took many rides together over the mountain roads in Glendale.

When Ruby and Frank Smuin decided to go back to Salt Lake City where Ruby could give birth to her firstborn, Elsie wanted to go with them. Don asked her to stay in California and marry him. Elsie said "I wouldn't marry anybody who isn't a Mormon." Don, who thought that Mormons were peculiar, felt rejected. However, he still wanted to marry her. He remained in California while Elsie went back to Utah and lived with the Smuins in their home on Westminister Avenue in Salt Lake City. He wrote his first letter to Elsie while she was still in California, on February 10, 1927. After she left he continued his letter writing which lasted from May 2, 1927, until July 7, 1928, as he traveled across the country to Iowa and then as he lived in that state, and finally traveled to Salt Lake City. There was a total of 128 letters, over the 15-month period, averaging over eight letters a month. During this time, Elsie shared an apartment with her brothers Roy and George. She was working for an attorney partnership in Salt Lake City.

Back to Britt

Don had decided to go back to his home town of Britt, Iowa, in order to clear up the debts from the bank failure which he and the Steiners were involved in. (Speaking of his reasons for going to Britt, he later wrote Elsie, "It was high time I came home and contributed my bit toward cheering [the Steiners] up and taking over some of the responsibility.")

He found a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Harris, who needed to have someone drive  them to Denver in their car, so seizing the opportunity, he took the job. From Denver he caught a bus to Omaha, Nebraska. He intended to take the train from there, but missed the connection and hitchhiked, arriving in Britt in May. He wanted to go to college in Ames as his brother George had, but he couldn't afford it. He also thought of going to some small school in the south, but it meant giving up sports and "taking on a lot of drudgery."

Rather than do this, he got right down to work on the Steiner's farm. The first full day there, he put in 13 hours on the tractor. The farm was shorthanded, having only three men where they needed six. The Steiners were broke, and couldn't afford any more help . Apparently Don felt partially responsible for the Steiners' financial condition because of the investments, that they were mutually involved in, and he worked for no wages.

The ensuing months found Don hard at work in Britt at Steiner's "Beautiful View Stock Farm," (as stated on some of the letterhead Don used) writing often to Elsie, sometimes enclosing drawings and poetry, always expressing his love for her. Her letters to him were of constant encouragement. The courtship by mail helped the months speed by.

Don described himself (in 1927) as of long and narrow build, well thatched with dark brown hair and in pretty good shape for his age of 26. He weighed 172 pounds. He described his pedigree as Scotch-Irish, though no evidence appears for the Irish portion of his descent.

His letters during the 15-month period are remarkable. They are well written, quite frank, and contain an exchange of courtship and love with some quarrels, but mostly full of deep love and commitment to Elsie. Through reading the letters, we get his descriptions on life on the farm, his frank feelings regarding the high price of wheat, his educational plans (which never materialized), his feelings on morality, drinking, etc., his recreation (fishing, hunting, sports, dancing), fighting blizzards, expressing his feelings regarding God, living without money, listening to the radio, and his health problems.

Charles Lindbergh, His Hero

Charles Lindbergh was a beacon to him, whom he described as "one of the doers in this world and not well suited to the pomp and glory he is subjected to." He had the opportunity to shake hands with Lindbergh when the flyer was briefly at the Mason City air field in the latter part of August 1927.

Don's Has Health Problems

In March 1928, Don "nearly slipped his moorings in the sea of life," when he passed out after playing a basketball game. He was rushed to Mason City Hospital where he was unconscious for three days. The doctor said it was leakage of the heart. Dr. Burke blamed it on over indulgence in athletics without training, three years of mental work, sleeplessness and nervousness. The doctor, in answer to Don's question of "How long?" replied, "You never can tell." Imagine Don's concern, but he reassured Elsie by saying, "God's works are wonderful and usually His methods are mysterious but unquestionable."

Within a week, after testing, a team of the doctors Burke, Muldoon and Quincy gave him this advice: cut down on meat, eating it well done only twice a week; plenty of exercise, but not work to excess; vile medicine; be aware of the hot sun; no sports; regular checkups, hours, meals and habits. They also said he could continue smoking, but moderately, for to quit suddenly would have injurious effect. Subsequent activities proved that his health was better than originally thought, for before him was hard labor in another field, that of working with the Iowa Electric Company.

His Job With the Electric Companies

During the same month of his heart problems, Don decided he needed to begin earning some money, so he got in touch with an old friend who was in charge of a big crew of men putting in power lines in Iowa with the Iowa Electric Company. He obtained a job as time keeper and general office assistant. He first worked at Redfield, then Jewell, then Story City and finally, Webster City. In the latter city, he was working for the Central States Electric Company. During this sojourn as an electrician, he was promoted to grounds man and linesman, and experienced heavy work, both day and night, fair and fowl weather. Then he became a truck driver for the company. Don felt his experiences would help him in finding a job with the telephone company in California later on.

Don kept promising in his later letters that he was going home to Elsie soon, at least by August. By July he was on his way. Don and Shorty, his roommate, took box cars to Denver, then hitchhiked to Salt Lake City.

To Salt Lake City and Marriage

After arriving in Salt Lake City, Don took a streetcar to Elsie's apartment that she shared with Roy and George. He appeared at her back door, leaning against it and grinning. He said he had been reading all the Church literature including the Book of Mormon all the time he was in Iowa, and he was ready to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The excited couple went to the bishop of the 20th Ward who saw nothing wrong with Don except he still smoked and drank coffee and alcohol.

They were married November 29, 1928, Thanksgiving Day. The wedding took place at Elsie's mother's sister, Aunt Sarah Fowler, who lived south of Salt Lake City. Witnesses were Sarah Fowler and Roy E. Lundquist, Elsie's brother. They were married by BishopGeorge Bowles. Don was baptized two days later on Sunday, December 1, 1928.

The new couple rented an apartment in the 20th Ward. It was on Second Avenue, upstairs. It didn't matter that wash had to be done by hand on a washboard with clothes being hung on a line downstairs. They had each other and that was what counted. Don bought an attractive sturdy card table with a felt cover and black decorated border. It was used to play honeymoon bridge and other games with friends. Then they rented a home on G Street above Fifth Avenue and bought new furniture on credit.

Don got a job, through Dick Lundquist's (Elsie's brother) work at Utah Oil where Dick was purchasing agent. Don was an all-around fix-it man and carpenter. However, after the Depression started in 1929, Don was laid off and the new furniture was repossesed. The couple had to move to a smaller place on Second Avenue, a house with an apartment in the back part of the house. Coal for the furnace at home ran out, and they couldn't pay their rent. But then Elsie got the job of keeping the furnace going, helping to pay the rent. Don got a job hauling coal with Curtis Coal Company, but after a few months, he was looking haggard. Hauling coal had turned up his old heart trouble and soon he had to quit. Elsie found part-time work as a social secretary for a wealthy lady who lived on South Temple. A chauffeur took her back and forth from work twice a week. She was able to earn a little extra money to buy a layette for their forthcoming baby.

Their first child, Frances Mildred McNabb, was born on September 26, 1929, at the LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. She weighed 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

Pocatello, Idaho

A friend of Don's said he was opening up a radio shop in Pocatello, Idaho, and he would give him a job as a salesman. The family moved to Idaho by train since they had no car. Don was a good salesman and made attractive display windows, but the Depression had set in and business was slow. By then, Elsie was pregnant with Gordon, and the radio shop was going broke.

To California

Elsie's brother George was in California working for Goodrich Tire Company and invited Don to move there. Elsie and Frances went ahead by train and Elsie and George found a place in Maywood with Ruby's help where George could have room and board. Rent for the apartment was $18 a month.

Don came in a couple of months and went from place to place looking for work. He stood in long lines, but found nothing for a long while. They lived in a little court of small houses, and Don was given the job of painting the apartments as pay for their rent.  With George's board and room money and the painting, they survived. Elsie said, "These were hard times. No work, except what George could bring in, and we lived frugally on soup and spaghetti and raisin cake and Spanish rice, mending socks and pants." White margarine (you had to add the coloring) was 10 cents a pound, bread was 10 cents a loaf, peanut butter was 10 cents a paper carton and vegetables were one cent a bunch. Movies were 10 cents as was a baby sitter. However, the sitter would often request a bowl of soup rather than the dime. Gordon Douglas McNabb (Elsie changed his middle name to Donald after Don's death) was born November 16, 1931, in a small, new hospital in Bell, California.

During this time they were in the Maywood Ward, Don was the most active in the Church than he had been. He worked on his genealogy and he and Elsie joined the stake choir in preparing for an oratorical, "The Seven Last Words of Christ," to be sung at Easter in the Huntington Park Stake. At a stake Gold and Green Ball program in 1932, Don was the duke for the ward's part of the presentations. He even helped to make the costumes. He was given a very good job as ambulance driver in Bishop Rice's mortuary business. In March 1932, about 6 p.m. the famous Long Beach earthquake occurred. Frances, with glee, saw the chandelier swing back and forth, and Gordon, in swing in the doorway, was getting lots of motion without anyone pushing him. Don spotted huge flames rising on the horizon from Huntington Park. Being an ambulance driver, he took off and was dispatched to Huntington Park where buildings had collapsed on people in the streets. He used baskets to put the crushed bodies in. The after quakes came frequently for a week.

The Carbonated Gas Business

Hearing of a chance to take over a carbonated gas business in Santa  Monica, Don negotiated its purchase from the widow of the former owner. He served soda fountains and beer parlors. He sold carbonated gas in long various-sized cylinders as well as syrups for the fountains. A panel-body 1930 Ford Model A went with the business. The family moved to 241 Pacific in Ocean Park (a suburb of Santa Monica) up the street from the widow of the man who had owned the business.

The house was a small one, and the double bed in the children's room took up almost every inch of space. When Mildred stayed she slept there with the children. They had lots of fun bouncing and throwing pillows. Here Frances made her first "best friend," Barbara Van Orden, who lived down the street. Her family were Latter-day Saints and were very kind to Frances.

A year or two later Don felt the need for more room for the business so the family moved to 619 Pacific in Ocean Park on top of a hill where there was a big garage for his equipment and tools. The family all loved this place with a big side yard of lawn and trees. Towards the back,  on the side was a fish pond and a huge pepper tree. The children loved the shady cool place under the drooping branches that reached the ground. It became a play house, fort, or whatever was needed in their play. On the west side was a huge vacant lot all the way to Sixth Street. Next door on the east was a long vacant old house over the hedge. The children called it a spook house and loved making up scary stories about it.

The Trip to Britt

It was time for the first family vacation. It was 1937 and Don had dreamed of taking his family back home to Iowa for a visit. Gordon was 5 and Frances was 7. His business had been good. By the middle of August, they started on their trip.  They packed up the black Ford panel truck, placed an old seat in the back for the kids, and furnished it with quilts, blankets and pillows, a bread box, a few canned goods, cereal, a bag of potatoes, a black iron skillet, kettles, dishes, towels, etc. There were no windows in the back so the only air came from open windows in the front. With their faithful dog Vic, they were on their way. Frances and Gordon entertained themselves by playing Old Maid and other games they made up

During the 15-day stay in Britt, Iowa, they enjoyed meeting all Don’s family in and around Britt. The family went downtown on one Saturday, promenading down Main Street as was the custom of the people, meeting many of the townsfolk. They had ice cones and pop corn. Grandpa McNabb walked up and down with them and Elsie bought him a bag of candy.

The final Sunday, September 4, they packed, then gathered around the piano and sang old church hymns. Even Grandfather George Daniel McNabb came out of his bedroom and sang with them. On Labor Day, they had their  lingering farewell and started home.

The trip to Iowa took 108 gallons of gas, six quarts of oil and cost $26.07 for the gas. The returning trip took 157 gallons and cost $33.59 for the gas, making it about 21 cents a gallon. They had traveled 6,000 miles.

Happy Time

Don loved the beach and took his family there often. On one occasion, during a severe heat wave, Don took the kids out of school and took them to the beach. He didn't let them go back to school until the heat wave subsided, feeling that it was too hot for them to suffer in such heat. The family also did a lot of hiking. Gordon when little was afraid of heights, but with Don and a lot of chiding, he climbed the big rocks with him at Malibu Beach.

It was truly a happy time for the family. The business had made it possible for them to have more money and to take their unforgettable trip to Iowa.

The Business Is Sold

In 1939, after the summer business slowed down Don sold the carbonated gas business. Elsie and Don took their last trip together to the San Francisco World's Fair, accompanied by Teckla Baker. Don's health had not been good. Taking care of the business and handling huge cylinders of carbonated gas had made his heart condition worse. The doctor told him he should quit smoking.

After selling the business Don felt like he wanted to get a new start and get back to Church. He asked Bishop E. Garrett Barlow of Santa Monica Ward for a blessing and told him he wanted to take his family to the temple.

He put his application in many places for work including Douglas Aircraft Company. The family enjoyed many leisure afternoons out on the side lawn and around the fish pound drinking orange juice with mint leaves at their home at 619 Pacific Avenue in Ocean Park. The bishop had called Don to be activity counselor in the Mutual Improvement Association and the family was going to Church and paying tithing. Don also had quit smoking .

The Tragic Accident

It was Halloween, October 31, 1939, and Don was in charge of the Halloween party for the ward's Mutual Improvement Association activity. Elsie dressed up like a pioneer lady and Don wore a typical Iowa hobo outfit with a string belt he made and a black half-mask. The party was a huge success.

That night, Elsie rubbed Don's head, a regular practice. The next morning, November 1, when Don left, Elsie ran out and said, "You forgot to kiss me goodbye!" They laughed. He was going to pick up Elsie's sister Mary, who lived in West Los Angeles, on the way back home. The family was going to have a wiener roast at the beach.

He never returned. As Elsie, Frances and Gordon were waiting for him, the doorbell rang and two policemen stood there. One said, "Your husband has been killed in an automobile accident." Elsie was 35, Frances was 10 and Gordon would be 8 in 16 days. Don was 36. Ironically, a few days later the family received a letter meant for Don offering him a job at Douglas Aircraft Company in Santa Monica.


In looking back on her life with Don, Elsie said, "Don loved his family. He was proud of his children. As I look back, I remember how he delighted in getting his curly-haired 'Pinky' ready for bed when Frances was a baby. . . . Gordon was good-natured, and Don particularly loved to

hear him sing. "The children looked forward to their Daddy's return because he played a lot with them and tussled, and brought them treats. He took us on so many interesting trips; we had wonderful times at the beach. He loved to travel and was interested in everything, and had a great capacity for explaining all about the places we went. Our trip to Iowa covered 6,000 miles, and we had a broad education, as well as visiting his folks.

"In spite of the Depression and its pervading gloom, we always had lots of friends and good times. Don and I enjoyed our own evenings together, reading and listening to the radio. He knew the principles of the Gospel better than I did and always defended them with great insight and vision."

Frances recalls one of her favorite memories with her dad: "An example of the special spark and life that was part of him was a July 4th near the end of his life. He came home with a large box full of fireworks. There were yards and yards of firecrackers strung together, of all sizes and Roman candles and pin wheels for show at night.

"After a while the backyard was covered with a layer of paper pieces left from the exploding firecrackers. It looked like a summer snow. I took a string of small firecrackers off by myself at the side of the house and lighted them in my lap. They all went off and burned my dress and my leg. It was quite a shock as I had thought I was old enough to manage by myself. I was especially upset because it ruined my favorite dress.

"The excitement of the day is with me still. That night Dad tied the Roman candles and pinwheels to the clothesline pole and set them off. We and the neighbors had a wonderful fireworks display as we all waved sparklers in the air.

"I think what impressed me most was the incredible abundance, abandon and freedom of it all. This was what our country was all about. This was my Dad, giving it all to us."

"Recently [1997] Wally and I went to our new Sedona Red Rock High School and sat on the football field waiting for the July 4 fireworks display. I felt the same wonderful joy as I had many years ago: to be an American and Dad's daughter."

(Written by Wallace F. Gray. Abridged from Chapter One of his book, The Life and Letters on Donald Oliver McNabb, August 1997.)

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