BY RICK WATSON
DORA - Don Wilson graduated from Dora High School (DHS) in 1953, landing a job in Huntsville in the high-tech field before the term became part of the vernacular.
He did well in his industry, but he never forgot his roots. In fact, he and his wife of 37 years, Patti, have done much to plant new growth for the future by funding a scholarship for Dora High students.
Wilson was born and raised in Dora. His parents were Lillian (Lil) and Glinn Wilson, and they too graduated from Dora High School.
During Wilson senior year at DHS, he decided to attend Auburn University, submitted his application and was accepted. He wasn’t sure he’d have enough money to enter, so he worked three jobs that summer. He called just before the fall term was to begin to confirm his registration, but he’d waited too long to get into an Auburn dormitory. He was registered to start fall quarter at Auburn, but no place to stay.
When he got home in Dora from work, where his mother, father and family were living in the Grant house with his grandmother and aunt, he told them he had no place to stay at Auburn. When Mama Grant heard that he may not be able to go that fall, she said to give her a few hours to help with the problem.
She got on the phone to a nephew who owned a business in Auburn and told him to find her grandson a place to live and call her back within the hour. His grandmother's nephew found a boarding home called Jake’s Joint and that’s where Don lived at Auburn. Most of the young men staying at Jake’s Joint lived in Huntsville and some worked at THIOKOL Corp. during summer break.
When Wilson graduated, one of his Jake’s Joint friends told him he had a job and an apartment ready for him in Huntsville. This started a 37-year career at Thiokol, the most exciting and challenging job a person could imagine.
Several years ago, the Wilsons were home in Dora for a visit and drove through the old part of town, which is practically a ghost town these days. They thought about the future of the young people who lived in Dora and decided to start a scholarship in honor of his parents, Glinn and Lillian Wilson at Dora High.
He contacted the principal at the time, who helped Wilson get the ball rolling the first year, 2013. The next year he approached the Dora High School Alumni Association, who now helps the family manage the scholarship.
“Our second scholarship in 2014 was selected by the Dora High Alumni Association and was being managed by Bobbye Wilson Wade,” Wilson said.
When Paige Abner became principal at Dora, she was instrumental in helping with nominees for the Wilson Family Scholarship. For example, in her second year, Dora High students had the highest ACT scores in the county in 2016. The school repeated that accomplishment in 2017. This was instrumental in the selection process, according to Wilson.
While the Wilsons were happy with the quality of the students that received their scholarships, one of their preferences was for students planning to be engineers. At that time, no DHS seniors who were applying planned to pursue engineering. The Wilsons said this deeply concerned Abner, and she got approval from the county school system to add a pre-engineering course to the Dora High curriculum.
“It was about this time that Don decided to give her the nickname ‘Super Star,” Mrs. Wilson said. “She has done wonderful things for DHS over the past few years and is more than deserving of the name.”
“Meeting Don and Patti Wilson in the spring of 2016 was a turning point for me,” Abner said. “To have alumni who choose to continue to support Dora High School in such a big way is admirable, but for them to adopt me the way that they have is invaluable.”
Abner went onto say that the belief and trust that they communicate to her keeps her going and makes her want to do even more to ensure success of the school and in the community.
The Wilsons also said that Floyd Burton, the president of the alumni association, has done a great job selecting candidates for the scholarship award.
“I believe that Floyd's attention to our scholarship needs has created interest in other families in the area, and for the past two years scholarships have significantly increased at DHS,” Wilson said. This past reunion, there were 11 scholarships awarded that were funded by different families and organizations in the area. This is a significant increase since the Wilson’s began their scholarship, which they intend to continue for many more years.
Mrs. Wilson says that if her husband precedes her, she will continue the Wilson Family Scholarship program for as long as she is still here.
Wilson’s daughter, Jana, attended DHS before moving to Vermont and has made the scholarship presentation the past several years, in honor and memory of her grandparents.
The family has been so pleased with the alumni association management of their scholarship program at DHS that they added a Phase II scholarship, which is awarded each year to the outstanding prior Glinn and Lillian Wilson Family Scholarship recipient who has maintained a specific grade average, who has financial needs to stay in school and still wishes to continue their college education.
“During the last two years, we have awarded this Phase II scholarship to Cole Smith and Keola James,” Wilson said.
Several of the recipients of the Wilson Family scholarships did well in college and afterward.
“One of the scholarships had a positive impact not only on the young man but also his entire family,” Mrs. Wilson said. “When the young man’s grandfather related the story to the Wilsons, it brought tears to our eyes,” she said.
“You sometimes never know how much a small gesture can impact the lives of others,” Wilson said. “These scholarships have produced significantly more rewards to us than we ever could have imagined at this time of our lives."
In 2016, Wilson was awarded the Dora High School Alumni of the Year by the Alumni Association. He had struggled with Parkinson’s disease for seven years and sometimes had problems speaking.
Floyd Burton asked Wilson to say a few words. “There's no way I can do this,” he remembered.
He asked his wife to go with him and be his voice.
“While walking to the podium I thought about the song, ‘Jesus Take The Wheel,’" he said.
When he got to the podium, decided to give it a try.
“My voice seemed normal, and I was able to give a good synopsis of my history, from DHS to AU, to Thiokol, becoming a rocket scientist, and director of marketing,” Wilson said. Patti kept whispering to him, "Tie in Dora High School! Tie in Dora High School!" So, Wilson closed his award acceptance speech with a comment directed to the high school seniors.
“I am living proof that you can graduate from Dora High School and become a rocket scientist,” he ended.
Sometimes wonderful things happen when you least expect them.