Donal Booker was Born October 14, 1921
Former Greenville Police officer and World War II Army veteran Donald Booker will be celebrating his 100th birthday at a party in his honor on Oct. 15 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Ohio Street.
His first response to ‘how does it feel to be nearing 100’ was “I’m getting old” with a wide grin on his face. He said he never thought he would live that long. However, he’s making the best of it.
He mows his own lawn, takes care of his own yard, cleans his own house and still cleans the gutters on the exterior and sometimes a neighbor’s while using the ladder, the latter making his daughter, Debby Sodders, cringe just talking about it.
“I make the ladder sturdy,” assured Booker, whose birth date is actually Oct. 14, 1921.
“I gave him a lecture on how blessed he is,” she said.
All of the work he accomplishes is done with him being blind in his left eye. More recently, he began having troubles with his right eye when it was decided that he was having ulcers and dendrites in the eye. However, it’s healed now.
He said he went to the eye specialist eight times south of Dayton and eventually had to put in eyedrops in his eye every hour.
“I’m in eyedrop heaven,” he said.
He even makes his own meals if he can read the recipe, but basically uses the microwave oven.
He lives in a community surrounded by widows who keep a close watch on him and vice versa.
The soon-to-be centenarian has been through three colon cancer operations and was diagnosed as having Covid this past December.
Why does he think he’s lived so long? “I mind my own business,” he said.
Daughter’s Debby’s response was “He’s got good genes.”
Booker, the third child and only son of Omer and Elsie (Sharp) Booker, said his family lived on Hogpath Road when he was born and eventually moved north, and Don went on to graduate from Ansonia High School in 1940.
His mother died in 1946 when in her 50s and his father died in 1972 at the age of 87. His older sisters, Lavera Garland and Dolores Hesson, died at the ages of 93 and 97, respectively.
Booker went on to marry the former June Hiatt, a graduate of Palestine High School on Sept. 14, 1946, and she died at the age of 90 on Nov. 17, 2011.
They met while he was working for Garrison Well Drilling and went to a job site near her family’s residence.
“Garrison’s had three big outfits and one day after we finished with a well, the next stop was where my wife’s family lived,” he recalled.
Learning that she traveled to Greenville on weekends, he decided to go there and, lo and behold, he met her again.
“I took her home,” he said. “That was before the war, and she stayed single. I gave her an engagement ring before I left.”
His wife really never got to celebrate milestones during her lifetime.
“For their 50th wedding anniversary, Mom had a heart attack,” stated Debby. “On their 65th, she had a stroke.”
When they married, they lived on Gray Avenue in Greenville, then Don spotted a house being built in another area of town and approached the builder, wondering if he would trade houses. He did, with Bookers selling theirs for $10,000 and buying the new one in the Hunt addition for $19,000.
“And, we’ve been here 63 years,” he said, smiling. “The street behind me was built after we moved in.”
Booker has two children, Debby Sodders of Greenville and Craig of Fort Wayne, Ind.; two grandchildren; two stepgrandchildren; and two great-grandchildren; and two stepgreat-grandchildren.
At his age, Booker’s memory appears to be impeccable.
“I have a good memory,” he said, adding, “I don’t have anything else up there.”
And, despite all he’s been through, he has never lost his sense of humor.
He enjoys talking about his military days.
“I was drafted to Cincinnati and to Durham, N.C., for six months of training. When it was time to ship out, we rode a troop train to San Francisco, but stopped in Colorado Springs where everybody had to get out and do calisthenics before reboarding.”
Booker said he served in Australia, New Guinea, and Kiriwina Island and then at Luzon at the edge of the Philippines and Manila.
“I didn’t see much action,” he said.
After he got out of the service, Booker worked for Union City Body Company until work there started to slow down, then he became a member of the Greenville Police Department as a lieutenant.
He was assistant chief from September 1978 until he retired.
He worked under Police Chiefs Ora McCellan, Ernie Hufnagle, Tom Kellye and Dwight Williamson during his tenure.
Booker, who trained at a police academy in London, Ohio, for two weeks, has more memories to share on that career.
He was the first police officer to respond when a woman, Mabel Trainor, was found in her house on Vine Street, after having been eaten by her 219 cats in December in the late 1960s.
“Her brother and his wife lived across the street and hadn’t seen her but noticed water coming from her house, so he and I went over there,” Booker recalled. “There was mail on her porch and the cats must have turned the faucet on.”
He will never forget that investigation.
“Dad came home and went straight to the basement and took a bath in Pine-Sol,” Debby said.
In an earlier interview, Booker indicated he was driving the cruiser with a partner at his side, chasing a stolen car out of Greenville, which had rolled over and crashed, killing the driver; and he almost delivered a baby on a thick icy roadway in the 1950s, but made it to the hospital.
He has been to hangings; to an incident where someone shot himself in the chest with a high-powered rifle; and to several other shootings.
“It seems like things like this happened on my shift,” he said, with Debby adding, “At supper time,”
“I’ve been through it all,” he went on. “I used to spend every Saturday night when downtown Greenville was busy, standing at the corner of Fourth and Broadway at Second National Bank, watching while deliveries were made there. Two men from West Manchester and Castine would always come and sit with me. They were truck drivers.”
He said back then, there was very little trouble in the city.
“He walked the alleys off of Broadway with a flashlight and no gun,” his daughter said.
“My wife, who is from Dayton, called Greenville Mayberry and me Opie,” son Craig said in that earlier interview.
Booker worked part-time three times a week for Sellman’s Hardware until it closed its doors after his retirement from the police station.
Debby said her father refuses to use a cane or a walker and is a “candy man,” especially enjoying salt-water taffy and caramels.
She’s proud of him.
“A lot of people love him because he’s real and tells it like it is,” she said. “He’s always been a good worker.”
Booker said he is proud to have served his country but didn’t like where he went.
“The worst trip was in the Philippines in the China Sea,” he said. “We ran a fuel pumping station. There were 19 of us on a Landing Craft Support (LCS). It was a flat-bottom boat about 40 feet high.”
Has he lived a good life?
“You might say that,” he said. “The childhood was kind of rough. It was in the ’30s and the Depression. We moved south of New Weston and I attended Black School for three years and worked at Stemley Canning in high school at Ansonia.”