Donald Staebler and The Barn Raisers director Kelly Rundle of Fourth Wall Films.
In October of 2015, about the time Ann Arbor, Michigan was beginning to show its fall colors, we had the privilege of meeting Don Staebler. He was 104 years of age and eager to show us the family farm where he lived since he arrived there in 1912 at the age of two.
He sat for an early afternoon in-depth interview for our documentary The Barn Raisers, and shared his life experiences. He was pretty tired by the end of the discussion. But when it came time to get his walker, step out of the house and cross the busy road to the heart of the farm, he was energized and ready to go.
It was obvious that he had pride in the farm--a pride that was passed down from his own father, Albert. Memories of the building of the barn were crystal clear in his memory and he could not wait to take us on a personal tour of every inch of the structure.
"In the spring of 1922, they got started--three carpenters, and all of them local--with the understanding it had to be done by harvest time. No machinery. They had absolutely nothing but hand-tools," Don remembered about the barn builders his father hired. "And they did it!"
Don stopped below the hay mow, balancing against his walker and peered up. He urged Kelly to climb up to see where he built caves as a 10 year old. The barn seemed to revitalize him and we could sense his desire to go up there one more time and see his old 'playground'.
The documentary premiered at the Putnam Giant Screen to a sold out crowd in January. It is in the early stages of exhibition and is receiving excellent reviews and word-of-mouth, and packing the venues in which it plays. Invitations to film festivals have begun to come in. And the part of the film that seems to resonate with audiences is Don's story. Viewers walk away with his words stirring in their minds... "You can't have a farm without a barn."
We received word from his family that Don passed away on March 1st, 2017 at the age of 106.
We are truly honored to have met Don and to have spent an enjoyable afternoon with him listening to his stories. The wonderful thing about the film is that our time together is preserved, and Don is alive and well on the screen whenever The Barn Raisers plays. ...and, he is very happy to take all of us on a tour of his farm and the memories stored in the barn.
Donald G. Staebler 1910-2017
Donald G. Staebler, age 106, passed away at the Ball Pavilion of Brevillier Village in Erie, PA on Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Donald was born in Superior Township, Washtenaw County, near Ann Arbor, Michigan on August 18, 1910, son of the late Albert J. and Ella (Goodell) Staebler.
Until very recently, Donald lived on the family farm in Ann Arbor, beginning in 1912 when he moved in with the family at age 2. Donald was preceded in death by his wife Lena (Severance) Staebler in 1991. They were married on August 21, 1935 in Grass Lake, Michigan, Reverend Brunger officiating.
Donald attended the Frains Lake one room school house through 8 th grade, and afterwards Ypsilanti High School, graduating in 1929. He attended Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) graduating in 1934 with a BS in Industrial Arts, and a life Certificate to teach.
He taught industrial arts and was principal at Eaton Rapids High School, MI, after graduation. While there, he was a member of the Eaton Rapids Kiwanis, and served as its president for a year. In 1942, he became a maintenance instructor at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, working for Ford Motor Company, under a contract with the Army Airforce Technical Training Command.
From 1945 to 1946 he was an instructor at the Warton Army Technical School, Lancashire, England, set up to provide technical and industrial training for American servicemen prior to return to civilian life. Upon returning home, he worked with his father on the family dairy farm until 1952, when he purchased the farm. In 1961, he sold the dairy herd, turned the farm to raising beef cattle, and began a career as a Technician Supervisor at the Eaton Corporation Research Center, Southfield Michigan, retiring in 1975.
After retirement, he remained on the farm, raising beef cattle. In 2001 he sold the farm to Washtenaw County for future use as a park, retaining a life lease to live there.
In addition, Donald taught auto mechanics in the Adult Education Program at Ann Arbor High School 2 nights per week from 1946 to 1958. He served on the Superior Twp. Planning Commission, Board of Review, and Zoning Board of Appeals from 1948 to 1978 . For a few years, he was chairman of all three.
He was also a long time member of the Dixboro Methodist Church, Ann Arbor, MI, and for a while served as Superintendent of Sunday School, and Secretary of the Finance Committee.
Donald had a lifelong love of wood working, and continued for many years to make furniture in the shop he built in 1946. He loved to travel, and for many years enjoyed seeing the corners of the United States with Lena in the travel trailer he built. He also was dedicated to preserving the family history, and the history of the farm, writing many stories of his experiences there.
Donald was preceded in death by brothers Lloyd Staebler of Erie, PA, George Staebler of Centralia, WA, and Melvin Staebler of Orange, CA, and sisters Helen Kranish of Merced, CA and Ruth Hileman of Tucson, AZ. He is survived by sisters-in-law Stellajoe Staebler of Centralia WA, and Mary Ciminnisi Staebler of North East, PA, who had been Donald’s faithful caregiver for the last 20 years, Mary’s extended family who adopted Donald as their own, and Donald’s 10 nieces and nephews and their families spread across the country, who knew him fondly as their beloved Uncle Duck. Interment will be held at the Dixboro Oak Grove Cemetery, and a later memorial service will be held at Dixboro Methodist Church, Ann Arbor MI, 11 AM May 13, 2017.
In lieu of flowers, tax deductible donations may be made to the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, which can be abbreviated as WCPARC on the check. Be sure to write “Staebler Farm County Park” on the comment line.
Our sincere gratitude to Chuck Bultman for arranging our filming of the Staebler barn and the interview with Don Staebler. Our deep gratitude to Don's family for their support and to Joe Staebler for providing us with historic family photos for use in The Barn Raisers.