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Dr. Donald J. "DJ" CarrelsOctober 1, 1923 ~ February 15, 2017 (age 93)
Donald James Carrels, age 93, resident of Aberdeen, South Dakota, and native of Wabasha, Minnesota, died on February 15, 2017 from complications caused by acute leukemia (cancer of the blood). His decline and death marked the end of a vigorous, purposeful life. He happily worked fulltime as a dentist until age 77, and he performed household and yard chores into his 90s. It was his wish to die in his home in Aberdeen, and his family and others - Lisa, Jodi, Kim, Rachel and others with Avera Hospice/Home Health, and caregivers Kay, Lynette and Kari - helped make that possible.
A wake service will be held Sunday, February 19 at 7 pm at Schriver’s Memorial Mortuary and Crematory in Aberdeen. Visitation occurs from 5 pm to 7 pm. The funeral is scheduled for 10:30 am on Monday, February 20 at Sacred Heart Church. A lunch will follow in the Sacred Heart parish hall. Don requested his body be cremated. Burial will be a family gathering at Sacred Heart Cemetery.
Don was born October 1, 1923, the second of four children to Peter and Marie Carrels, of Wabasha, Minnesota. When he was 11 years old his father was killed in a hunting accident along the Mississippi River near Wabasha. That unfortunate event transformed his life; at that early age he became the ‘man of the house’, working multiple jobs to help support his family. This forged a profound work ethic as well as strong beliefs about the values of responsibility, service and family that characterized how he lived the rest of his life.
Don loved and admired his mother, and he and his siblings knew a lasting and loyal fondness for one another.
Donny was a tenacious athlete, helping lead sports teams from little St. Felix High School in Wabasha to statewide prominence, defeating larger schools from Rochester, Minneapolis and St. Cloud. At the College of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, he participated in football and basketball, though his career as a student there was cut short by World War Two.
His service in that war involved working as the navigator in a B-17 bomber based in England that flew 35 dangerous military missions over Germany. His crewmates became life-long friends. His political views were shaped by what he saw, learned and felt during that war. He remained mostly quiet about his combat experiences until the final decade of his life.
During dental school at the University of Minnesota he met a young lady named Marilyn Drury, also a Wabasha native who was five years younger than him. He purchased a dental practice in Aberdeen, knowing about the community because his uncle had a plumbing business there. He and Marilyn married in 1952 at St. Felix Church in Wabasha. They settled in Aberdeen, and it is where they raised their family.
Despite his father’s tragic accident, he frequently took his sons hunting for geese and pheasant. Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 25 miles north of Aberdeen, was a favorite place. He treated his daughters with the same respect he’d learned from his mother.
Summertime visits to Wabasha were cherished vacations for Don, Marilyn and their children. The kids loved spending time with Grandma Marie in the same house and same town where their dad had grown up.
Don was the consummate health care practitioner, never taking for granted the obligations and opportunities offered by his profession. Dentistry allowed him to earn a good living by working hard, and it was also a means to help others. His career involved doing good deeds each day, all day, including treating and counselling his patients. His children often hear from his former patients who describe their father’s kindnesses and skills.
Don fostered respectful, cordial relationships with the assistants, hygienists and other staff in his dental office. He especially enjoyed and was proficient using his hands, and he was one of a very few dentists doing his own lab work, spending many evenings crafting crowns and bridges and repairing dentures for his patients. He served his profession by volunteering time and leadership to the statewide dental association. In 1975-1976 he was association president.
He was able to mentor his son, John, who also became a dentist, and the two worked productively together for 11 years until Don retired in 2000, after 49 years of fulfilling service. Today, John carries on the family dental practice established in Aberdeen by his father in 1951.
Retirement allowed time for travel, reconnecting with friends, and spending full winters in Sun Lakes, Arizona, where he and Marilyn built a second home in 1997.
He liked to take care of and fix things; duct-taping worn garden hoses and screwing together broken tools to give them added life. He kept cars and everything else, it seemed, for a long time. Christmas was his favorite holiday, and he enjoyed big fires in the fireplace, and hosting large family gatherings. At Halloween he gave those who came to his home in costume a candy bar, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
He served and supported Sacred Heart parish and school and Roncalli High School, in Aberdeen, and in 2000 he and Marilyn were inducted into the Roncalli Hall of Fame. Among his greatest satisfactions was donating dental care to teachers in the Roncalli school system.
He was a model of highly disciplined decency. He could be feisty and determined, but modesty and compassion were fundamental parts of who he was.
He accompanied his wife with pride, pleasure and affection. He and Marilyn celebrated their 64th anniversary last May. As a couple they expressed their love and support to their children and grandchildren.
Providing for his loved ones was his focus to the end. He was the patriarch of his family, and his absence will be mourned as his legacy is celebrated.
He was preceded in death by his father, Peter, and mother, Marie Moser Carrels, sisters Eunice (Muench), Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, Marlene (Cheslik), Des Moines, Iowa, and brother Peter, Indianapolis, Indiana.
He is survived by his wife, Marilyn, of Aberdeen, daughters Susan (Tim) Elchert, Woodbury, Minnesota, and Nancy, Phoenix, Arizona, and sons Peter (Mary), Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Tom, Fort Benton, Montana, John (Colette), Aberdeen, and Michael, Aberdeen, ten grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.
The family requests that memorials be directed to the Aberdeen Catholic Foundation/Roncalli Teacher Endowment fund at 202 S. Main Street, Suite 314, Aberdeen, SD 57401.
Aberdeen Catholic Foundation/Roncalli Teacher Endowment
202 S. Main St. Suite 314, Aberdeen SD 57401