Don Westlake to Present “More Precious Memories” at Wheaton Park District
CONTACT: Brett Peto
Wheaton Park District
March 13, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wheaton, Ill.—Don Westlake, 87, of Wheaton has 46 stories to tell, from making it through basic training in the U.S. Army to marriage, professional life, and more.
He’ll share several of them at his presentation of “More Precious Memories” on March 22, 1-2P at the Wheaton Park District’s Mary Lubko Center (208 W. Union Ave., Wheaton, Ill.).
“I’m nearly 90 years old, so I may start off with ‘So Now That I’m 90,’” Westlake said. “I talk about what it’s like to get up in the morning and face the day when you have all the aches and pains of a ninety-year-old, and the fact you no longer need an alarm because you have nothing scheduled for early in the morning. Something very lighthearted.”
After retiring in 1984 from his career as a metallurgist—a scientist who studies metals—at Argonne National Laboratory, he helped his wife revise two textbooks on parenting and marriage and started performing small readings of his poetry, including a few at the Mary Lubko Center.
Three years ago, Westlake approached Mary Lubko Center Manager Linda Dolan to pitch a presentation of the memoirs he had been composing. She said yes.
“Well, 60 people showed up to hear this old man read his memoirs,” Westlake said, laughing. “So she asked me again and 50 people showed up. So she asked me again.”
Westlake was drafted during the Korean War and went through basic training at Camp Breckinridge in Morganfield, Kentucky, where he joined the 101st Airborne Division.
“Before we even got assigned to a company, they were pulling people in the morning to go and do little jobs around the camp,” he said. “So I got assigned to a group one morning and the fellow took us to a shed. We picked up shovels, rakes, [and] brushes, and we marched off. We got to the site, which was a barracks being used as an office, and there was a little fence.”
It was their job to wash the fence—except another group further along was already whitewashing it, which Westlake pointed out to his noncommissioned officer.
“He said, ‘I don’t question my orders, I follow my orders.’ The other group finished their job of whitewashing the fence and we finished our job of washing off their whitewashing,” he said.
Receiving his orders after 16 weeks of basic training “was the third happiest day of my life.”
“My orders were to go be a chemist in Maryland,” said Westlake. “They were making war gases, phosgene, mustard gas. I had an extremely dangerous job, but nobody was shooting at me.”
Once the war ended, Westlake obtained his doctorate in metallurgy and resumed his young career where it had started: Argonne National Laboratory. His specialty was investigating the interactions of hydrogen and metals, spending 25 years on 120 published papers.
“I had one colleague who was not a Scotsman, but he liked the idea of being a Scotsman, so he changed his name to Stuart. He started wearing a kilt to work,” Westlake said. “I also had a colleague who was Japanese and very excitable. He ran everyplace he went, even in the building, down the hall. One day, he was walking in the hall when he heard an alarm.”
Fearing it was a chemical spill, Westlake’s colleague ran outside to the designated spot.
“He’s standing out there wondering what’s happening,” said Westlake. “Eventually he decided it was his duty to go back inside and try to help people. He went back in the building and people were walking about like nothing had happened. He started going back to his office and as he went down the hall, he passed Stuart’s office. Stuart was in his office playing the bagpipes.”
Westlake’s daughter Dawn is an independent filmmaker whose latest work is based on “Scrappy,” one of her father’s poems, and will be shown at the presentation.
“It’s 17 movies she’s done, and three of those have been from my writing,” he said.
There are more stories in Westlake’s mind, waiting to be written, because “as a little kid, I listened to adults. I didn’t have very much to say, but I still love listening to people tell stories.”
“I don’t have a bucket list like a lot of people do, because I feel like my bucket is overflowing,” he said. “My wife and I traveled a lot. We’ve been on every continent except Antarctica, and I have just taken thousands of pictures. I don’t have any more traveling goals. I don’t have long-range goals. But I’m just enjoying life as it is, right now. I go to sleep every night with a smile.”
To register for “More Precious Memories,” visit webtrac.wheatonparkdistrict.com and enter code 137129 or call 630.665.1415. $5 per person, with a dessert reception sponsored by Ardent Care Health Group following the presentation.
Don Westlake, 87, of Wheaton, Ill. will present several of his memoirs at More Precious Memories on March 22, 1-2P at the Mary Lubko Center (208 W. Union Ave., Wheaton, Ill.). Westlake took infantry basic training in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, studied dangerous gases at the Army Chemical Center, worked as a metallurgist at Argonne National Laboratory, and now writes poetry and memoirs in retirement. Photo courtesy of Don Westlake.