Donald William Van Doorn

July 29, 1921 - March 8, 2015

Obituary & Service Info

Donald William Van Doorn

Donald William Van Doorn, 93, of Columbus and Savannah, beloved husband and father, and world-renowned inventor, died Sunday afternoon, March 8, 2015, at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah. 

Born July 29, 1921, he was the son of the late Jan Cornelius Van Doorn and Theresa Kamen Van Doorn.  They had emigrated from Europe, like so many others, to escape the privations of the early 20th century, and to seek new opportunities in the New World.  Both were frugal and industrious, which allowed them to provide, from humble beginnings, all the necessities of life for their children and more, including a college education.  Donald grew up in central Michigan, graduating from High School in Flint, MI. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from The University of Michigan in 1943.  He remained a life-long U.M. “Wolverine” fan.
During World War II, Don served his country as a Lt. (j.g.) Naval Officer stationed at Camp Perry, Virginia from 1944 to 1945.  There he met his future wife, Constance, in 1945, a tall, beautiful young woman from Texas who was attending the College of William of Mary nearby in Williamsburg, VA.  In 1946, they were married in Dallas, TX.  Don briefly worked for a small company in Dallas.  On a warm Dallas day, Don knocked on the doors of Lummus Industries, and was there greeted by A. Clifford Granberry, who recognized him as a talent who Lummus should consider bringing on board so that he could use his high energy to move the company forward.  After meeting with Harold Lummus, Sr. and Mr. A. Illges, Don began his work for Lummus Cotton Gin Company as a design engineer in early 1947.  In 1949, Don and Constance (Don’s nickname for his young bride) relocated with Lummus to Columbus, Georgia, starting their family shortly thereafter in their new home that they designed together, affectionately known as the "Taproot" by the family.  
Don encouraged his children's educational pursuits and faithfully supported them all through college and beyond.  He was present in every season for all of his children.  For his sons, he promoted the Boy Scouts of America, and was beyond proud when they both achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.  He was amused (most of the time) when his children pursued unusual science projects, including a fully-functional ramjet that almost took flight from his front yard!  For his daughters, he and Constance encouraged ballet, horseback riding, and cultivation of the finer arts.  He was pleased to escort and sponsor his daughters through their Debutante seasons.  He was gratified that both sons and daughters did well in competitive swimming events, often driving far distances in his rare “spare” time to take them to swim meets.  He loved and guided all of his grandchildren as well, observing their progress and accomplishments with great satisfaction.
Don was famously frugal, yet adventurous as well; these traits combined with sometimes interesting consequences.  He eagerly volunteered to take his sons and other Scouts on long hikes over rugged terrain, often on the Appalachian Trial, and as far away as Michigan, always leading the pack without complaint with his great long strides, but wearing the least expensive shoes he could obtain.  At the end of the hike, he discovered festering blisters the size of half-dollar coins!  He loved to take the entire family on annual treks to Disney World and made great fun out of camping out all the way there and back—frugality could be both a virtue and enjoyable at the same time.  It was that great frugality that made possible so many other activities and achievements by himself and his family members.
He was steadily promoted at Lummus: in 1955 to chief design engineer;in 1959, to vice president in charge of engineering, with a seat on the board of directors.   In 1961, he served on a senior in-house management committee.  His work with Lummus took him all over the world, traveling, for example, to Europe, Africa and Latin America.  He was one of the first businessmen into China.  When Lummus relocated to Savannah in 1998, Don moved with them; as always, his work was the constant driving force in his life.  Don and Constance had a grand time exploring the famous jewel of Georgia, Savannah.  However, he continued to maintain the Taproot in historic Overlook in Columbus, Georgia; this provided stability and a gathering place for extended family.
Don's first equipment patent came in 1949; he would continue to work for Lummus until his passing, culminating in some 68 patents for device inventions. Throughout this time, his passion for design engineering never waned.  He received his latest patent in May of 2014, and was working on what would have been his 69th and 70th patents at the time of his passing.  He was one of those rare individuals who became more creative and masterful with each passing year, and remained so until the end.
Don was a member of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE).  In 1987, he earned the ASABE Mayfield Cotton Engineering Award.  Don received the National Cotton Ginners' Association 1999/2000 Distinguished Service Award.  His most recent honor came when he received the A. L. Vandergriff Pioneer Award from the Southern Cotton Ginners Association in Memphis, Tennessee on February 26, 2015.  He was universally recognized as the foremost expert in the world in cotton ginning, the “Fabric of Our Lives.”  As he often said, cotton has been used in all of mankind’s essential needs: food, clothing and shelter.
Don felt himself fortunate to work with so many other talented individuals, and to be truly supported by one company for so long.  Shortly before his passing, he mentioned A. Glifford Granberry, A.L. Vandergriff, Billy Thompson, Jim Hawkins, Gales McClintock, DeWitt Beeland, Mark Corey and Steve Marbot.  He enjoyed each and everyone, from Engineering, Manufacturing and Sales, that he worked with over the years.  He said at that time, “Each person contributing in the various aspects of the field of cotton—from seed to cloth—should be shot full of enthusiasm to promote any and all of these aspects.”  He encouraged all of his co-workers and employees to contribute, and the attitude of teamwork.
Don was a member of the First Presbyterian Church, The Columbus Country Club and The Chattahoochee River Club in Columbus, and The Lafayette Condominium Board in Savannah. 
Everyone who had the pleasure to meet him noticed that Mr. Donald Van Doorn comported himself always as a gentleman and with the highest integrity.  His life should serve as a role model to all.  Everyone needs an outlet, however, and for Don, it was cheering always for the University of Michigan Wolverines, and directing (usually through the T.V. set) endless invective towards Coach Woody Hayes and his Ohio State University Buckeyes!
With his beloved wife, Constance, they built a strong, durable marriage (September 15, 2015 would have been their 69th wedding anniversary) that combined the best aspects of the traditional and the modern marriage.  Each had distinctive roles to play, but each had their own “space” in which to achieve independent goals as well.
In addition to his beloved wife of almost 70 years, Constance Elizabeth Carraway Van Doorn, he is survived by their daughter, Alis Elizabeth Van Doorn; their daughter, Elizabeth Van Doorn Grounsell and her husband, Walter Scott Grounsell, III, and her son, David B. Conard, III and his wife, Tiffany; their son, Thomas William Carraway Van Doorn, Sr. and his wife, Amy Horton Van Doorn, and their children, Catherine Elizabeth Van Doorn and Thomas William Carraway, Jr.;  and their son, Dr. John Donald Van Doorn and his wife, Dr. Judy R. Van Doorn and their children, Dorothy Virginia Van Doorn and Georgia Emmeline Van Doorn. 
He was preceded in death by his sisters, Hendrika Hulett and Cornelia Norton.   
The memorial service will be held at 3:00 p.m. Friday, March 27, at the Wilmington River Bluff of the Greenwich Cemetery (adjacent to Bonaventure Cemetery).  For a point of reference, it is just a half mile east from the Bonaventure Funeral Home, 2520 Bonaventure Road, Savannah, GA 31404. A celebration of life service will be held at 3:00 p.m., Saturday, April 25, at the chapel of the First Presbyterian Church, located at 1100 First Avenue, Columbus, GA 31901.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a gift in memory of Don Van Doorn to: The Donald Van Doorn Fund; The University of Michigan College of Engineering; 1221 Beal Avenue; Suite G264; Ann Arbor, MI  48109.  Alternatively, donations to this fund can be made on-line at http://victo.rs/1EqUZBL (link is case-sensitive; follow on-screen prompts to “Proceed to Checkout” and then tribute information already filled out for Donald  Van Doorn).  This fund will be used to provide scholarship support to students at the College of Engineering.  If gifts are received in a sufficient amount, the family may choose to establish a permanent endowment to honor Donald Van Doorn.