Dad Didn’t Dilly-Dally: Remembering Don Torell

I remember Dad as a handsome, strong, young man in his thirties, striding down our lane in Whites logging boots, blue jeans, and a dark green US Forest Service jacket. His walk toward me was brisk and purposeful. First my hug, but then he had chores to do and thoughts to think. He didn’t dilly-dally.

From left, Al Murphy, Vic Tuck, and Don Torell at the UC Hopland Field Station.

He was born in Montana in 1926 to Ted and Irene Torell. Ted was a diesel mechanic and Irene, a cook in logging camps. Both Don and his brother Ray were raised in Lolo and Missoula where he learned to love fly fishing. He could never pass a river without saying, “Man! I bet there’re a lot of trout in there!”

Don studied at Montana State University in Bozeman and headed for UC Davis determined to do two things: earn his Masters in Animal Science and marry the secretary of the Department. He did both.

He proposed to Rosemary Miller on their third date, they married in 1950, he completed his studies, and they moved to the Hopland Field Station. He worked there until the end of his academic career in the seventies. They were married for 61 years.

Together they adopted and raised my brother and me, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and lived a full life. They were strong supporters of Ukiah First Baptist Church, Mendocino County Farm Bureau, and Farm Supply. Longtime members of Mendocino Woolgrowers, they worked every fair, attended countless meetings, and helped put on the annual Woolgrowers BBQ in Boonville.

Don, grandson Zeb, and Rosemary

Dad was an animal scientist: a brilliant Fulbright scholar who invented plastic raincoats for newborn lambs, and devised a way to determine what sheep were eating on the range – the Esophageal Fistula (a removable plug that could be replaced with a collection bag to examine what they ate). He was an inventor and the holder of several patents. He taught Teri to ask why because he was always looking for answers.

We lived in Uganda, Kenya, and South America, and he traveled to Australia, China, and elsewhere to research and teach. He was a 4H Leader, California’s Sheep Man of the Year, and served as President of the California Woolgrowers. He was on the Board of the American Sheep Industry Association, and served on the planning committee of the annual Bank of America Livestock Symposium in Fresno.

Shortly before he retired Dad and Mom began to breed and supply sheep used for research in medical research schools. Their sheep were used to achieve huge medical breakthroughs in intrauterine surgery that saved the lives of human babies. They raised Quarter Horse-Thoroughbred crosses, dreamed of breeding at least one really good race horse, and were convinced that American Lamb was the best bar none. Dad wouldn’t like that I’m cooking a leg of lamb from Australia this Easter – he was always trying to figure out how to increase American lamb production.

When it got to be too much for Dad and Mom, they sold the ranch in the 90s and moved to Central California without looking back. Despite their love for Mendocino County and the home they had made there, family was most important and Rosemary was thrilled to be off the ranch where dogs didn’t ruin flower beds anymore. Don planted a lot of flowers to make it up to her. They spent the last chapter of their lives in great peace, content with their lives.

When Rosemary passed away almost exactly a year before he did, Dad missed her a lot, but up until the last few months of his life he wasn’t ready to go. Ultimately a series of strokes, his increasingly wandering mind, and a feeding tube wore him down. Dad passed away on Saturday, November 3rd, 2012.

I miss him every day, but I’m glad that he’s out of that crummy long term care bed, has escaped his feeble body, and is with Mom. Characteristically, as he lived his life he passed from it. When he was ready, he didn’t dilly dally. He just went.


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