Vale Don Burnham

Don Burnham

Donald Lee Burnham 1934 – 2017

ASBA has received news that a well known cattleman and pioneer of breeding Simmentals in the USA, Don Burnham passed away on July 16.

Peter Speers writes: Don was well and favourably known to many ASBA members, particularly those who joined WSF trips and those who enjoyed a day on his Prickly Pear ranch during the WSF Congress in USA.

Don had steadfastly refused to buckle to his Parkinson’s affliction. Instead he pursued his passions in life to the best of his abilities. Indeed, having suffered this disease for over 30 years, he was the world’s longest Parkinson’s sufferer.

Throughout his life, Don was supported by his lovely wife, Nancy and his family.

Don was a pioneer breeder of Simmentals in the USA having bred some of the first Black Simmentals in the USA. He also served for many years in Directorship roles within ASA.

Much more can be said about Don – a friend to us all and an inspiration to everyone who crossed his path.

Vale Don Burnham

The following is Don’s obituary:

Donald Lee Burnham, 83, of Helena, died on July 16th, 2017 at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula, five days after an accidental fall at his Helena valley home. Every member of his immediate family surrounded him in his passing. Don battled Parkinson Disease for over 30 years, always with a positive attitude, sense of humor, and the desire to keep going.

Don was born at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula, Montana on January 4, 1934 to Harry and Marie (Plummer) Burnham. As a young boy, Don discovered his passion for agriculture. During the war, hard work and honest sweat became the building blocks of his character. He learned how to grow a victory garden with his grandparents. Don started his first independent agricultural business at the age of eleven. He negotiated with a neighbor to rent and farm a small plot of land where he raised and sold raspberries. Don went on to begin his career in animal husbandry by raising and selling rabbits. One of Don’s favorite stories was how he and his cousin got the keen idea to dye some of the bunnies to help them sell better at Easter.

Don graduated from Missoula County High School in 1952. He was a respected member of the track team and one of the top distance runners in the state. Participating in FFA and Vo-Ag created a solid foundation for Don’s lifelong career in agriculture. Don’s first trip out of Montana was to attend the FFA National Convention in Kansas City as the president of the Missoula Chapter. He took the money he earned from his FFA projects and started college with $150 in his pocket.

An ardent MSU supporter and 60-year alum, Don attended Montana State College (University) in Bozeman and majored in animal science. In 2014, he was honored with the Outstanding Agricultural Leader Award from MSU College of Agriculture. To finance his education, Don washed dishes for 50 men as a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity and worked the night desk at the Baxter Hotel. His strong focus to achieve his goals and dedication to excellence paid off. In his junior year, he received the Danforth Fellowship for being the outstanding junior in the Department of Agriculture as well as a scholarship from Ralston Purina. He quit washing dishes and became a counselor in the new men’s dorm.

While attending college, Don met the love of his life Nancy Lichtwardt, of Helena. Following his graduation in 1956, Don went on to U.S. Naval Officer’s Training School and served four years as a Navy Aviation Navigator. He was stationed in Hawaii and Guam, flying with the Seventh Fleet. Don took a short leave from duty to return home to Montana following Nancy’s graduation from MSC. They were married at St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral in Helena on April 12, 1958 and began their wonderful journey together in Guam. The couple shared a beautiful life filled with memorable times and hard work while making numerous friends along the way during their 59 years of marriage.

Don and Nancy raised three sons, Kurt, Kent and Gary and a daughter Marla. Don especially enjoyed family camping trips between hay cuttings that included fishing and huckleberry picking. It was life’s simple pleasures such as stopping for ice cream, coin collecting, playing cribbage and spending time with his grandchildren that really put a smile on his face. Don was an amazing father who loved deeply, guided gently, and never wavered in his support for all of his children’s endeavors.

Don and Nancy started Prickly Pear Ranch in 1962 with the first cows being purchased from the local packing plant for eleven cents per pound. In 1968, the Simmental breed caught Don’s attention and by 1972 he imported the first purebred Simmental bull to Montana. The first black, polled Simmental bull in the world was born on the ranch in 1979. In ensuing years, he sold cattle into 40 states, Mexico, Canada and Kazakhstan. A renowned and highly respected cattleman,

Don spent 13 years on the Montana Simmental Board of Directors and six years on the American Simmental Board. In 1999, Don was one of three ranchers to receive the World Simmental Golden Book Award, a very distinguished honor. He also received the Montana Simmental Association Pioneer Award in 2006. As a dedicated American Simmental Association charter member, Don attended World Simmental Federation meetings in the USA, Canada, Austria, Brazil, Ireland and Scotland/England. Don exclaimed, “The best part of the Simmental breed is the lifetime friendships that develop.”

Always interested in issues relevant to his community, agriculture, the ranching industry, and his family, Don was active in several organizations and boards. He served as President of the Prickly Pear Water Users, Lewis & Clark County Farm Bureau and the 4-H Community Center. He was on the Helena Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Don was a member of the Montana Stock Growers, the National Cattlemen Beef Association, and, for 45 years, he was a representative for American Breeders Service.

From 1988 to 2000, Don made ten trips to Africa as a consultant on animal health, nutrition, and genetic programs in Nigeria. Don was active, along with Nancy, in Lewis & Clark County 4-H for over twenty years as a parent, leader, judge, and volunteer.

Visitors were always welcome at the ranch. It can be said that Don never met a stranger. He will always be remembered for his fabulous stories and funny jokes. Don was a very generous man who shared his experiences, knowledge and wisdom without hesitation. Don and Nancy opened gates and doors to guests from around the world including foreign exchange students, a Friendship Force gathering of 200 Japanese visitors and their host families, plus a wide range of travelers from 34 countries.

Don always enjoyed getting out to meet people and explore. He was always up for traveling with Nancy, especially to their winter getaway in Texas, playing bridge with great friends, and spending time with family.

The word retirement was not in Don’s vocabulary — he dedicated his life to being a steward of the land, a caretaker of the herd, and a man of integrity who could always be counted on as a helpful neighbor, a trustworthy friend, and a devoted family man.

Don is survived by his wife Nancy, sons Kurt (Delores), Kent (Lynne), Gary (Loretta) and a daughter Marla Maharg (Sean). He was a proud grandfather to ten grandchildren: Hunter Joppa (Doug), Connor and Mason Burnham, Shawna Alexander (John), Shannon Currier (Rob), Jaden, Kyler, Treven, Dylan and Juliah Maharg, and also four great-grandchildren: Isabella, David, and Daniel Alexander and Rose Currier. He is also survived by his brother Neil Burnham of Toronto, Ontario, sister Joyce (LeRoi) Smith from Seeley Lake, MT, plus numerous cousins, nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his mother, Marie Wise, step-father Lloyd Wise, father Harry Burnham, step-mother Velma Burnham, and sister Nancy Blake.