Donald Thompson


Donald O. Thompson, 86, of Clear Lake, passed away peacefully on July 29, 2013 at his South Shore home with his wife of 67 years, Barbara, son, John, and daughter-in-law, Colleen, at his side.  

A memorial service will be held on Monday, Aug. 12, at 11 a.m. at Zion Lutheran Church in Clear Lake.  

Pastor Dean Hess will be officiating, joined by members of Don’s family, Pastors Matt Larson and Kally Elliott.  It will be a Celebration of Life and a witness to God’s glory.

Visitation will be Sunday, Aug.11, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Ward-Van Slyke Colonial Chapel in Clear Lake.

Donald Oscar Thompson was born on Feb. 27, 1927, to Oscar and Erma Thompson at home in Clear Lake.  Don grew up in Clear Lake, worked during school delivering groceries and newspapers and at a meat packing facility in Mason City.  He played trumpet in bands and won a national championship in a band contest.  He interviewed with bandleader, Stan Kenton.

Don enjoyed his high school years at Clear Lake participating in three sports, band, and was dedicated to academics.  Since moving back to Clear Lake he reconnected with many classmates and thoroughly enjoyed monthly Saturday morning breakfast with them.

He was drafted into the Navy in the summer of 1945.  During boot camp, the Navy determined Don should attend NROTC at University of Idaho, where he met Barbara Newell, fell in love and was married.  The two moved back to Iowa where he attended the University of Iowa graduating summa cum laude with a B.S. degree in physics, a Masters and PhD in 1953 and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.  He transferred branches of service becoming a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force and worked at its Cambridge, Mass., research facility for two years.  He was transferred to Tennessee as a part of the Atomic Energy Commission and assigned to the Oak Ridge National Laboratories in 1954. During this time he built the cabin cruiser he launched in 1963, which is still enjoyed by the family on Clear Lake and the Mississippi River.

  Don returned to civilian life in 1963 and worked for North American Aviation Science Center in California for 15 years.  In 1979 Don and Barbara moved to Ames, Iowa, where he was instrumental in developing the Center for Non-Destructive Evaluation (CNDE) and Quantitative Non-Destructive Evaluation (QNDE) at Iowa State University.  Together with his colleagues and staff they developed the center into a world-class scientific organization.  In 1991 Don was honored for his distinguished contributions to engineering and science by election to the National Academy of Engineering of the United States of America.  In 2002 he was one of only 19 foreign scientists to be elected India’s National Academy of Engineering. Don was honored by Iowa State University as one of 150 visionaries that shaped the institution.  In July, less than a week before he died, Don attended the 40th anniversary of QNDE held in Baltimore, MD, where he was recognized as a leader in the development of the global Nondestructive Evaluation community and the founder of Review of Progress in Quantitative Nondestructive Evaluation.  One of Don’s long time colleagues said in his speech “Don ruled with an iron hand, but was compassionate and the best boss I have ever known”.  

In 1999 Don and Barbara returned to Clear Lake to a home they call “The Heritage”, a home they designed and built to give their family a place to share the joy of being together.  Don was an active member of Zion Lutheran Church where he served on the benevolence committee and assisted in Saturday night services by reading the lessons from scripture.  Together with his small group, they installed three crosses on the property of Harmony Ranch along I35, a gift for who pass through Clear Lake.  He enjoyed playing his trumpet in three local bands, The Nonsemble, New Horizon Band and the North Iowa Concert Band.  He loved Clear Lake, its history and its people.

Don had a quiet yet powerful faith in Jesus that was passed on as a significant part of his heritage.  

Don loved his family.  How he enjoyed the frequent visits from his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, each visit ending with a hug and a “Come back soon!”

He also loved his dogs, such good friends.  But as he lived through the joys and challenges of life, it was his wife, Barbara, who brought him his deepest joy and peace.   

Don was preceded in death by his father, Oscar, 1955; his mother, Erma, 1983; and his older brother, Keith, who died at the age of three days in 1924.  

He is survived by his wife, Barbara; three sons, Jim, Steve and John and their spouses; nine grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

Don sought to use the gifts and talents God had given him to the fullest.  He honored that in others.  He will be sorely missed, but the legacy he leaves will always be a bright shining light, and inspiration to his family, friends and colleagues.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorials may be donated to Zion Lutheran Church or the Donald O. Thompson Memorial Scholarship Fund, Iowa State University Foundation, 2505 University Boulevard, Ames, Iowa, USA 50010.

Ward-Van Slyke Colonial Chapel, Clear Lake, was in charge.

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