Donald M. “Don” Sawtell, 83, of Westminster, died peacefully in his home on Friday, December 25, 2020, due to complications from bladder cancer, with his family by his side.
Born in Ware, Massachusetts, on August 18, 1937, he was the son of the late Joseph O. and Margaret W. (Carter) Sawtell. He graduated from Barre High School with the Class of 1957. He was a United States Army Veteran serving from 1957 to 1960. When Don enlisted, he had two requests: he wanted to drive a tank, and he wanted to see Germany. He got his request and became a tank commander in Amburg, Bavaria.
After leaving the Army, Don worked for Starrett Precision Measuring Tools, living briefly in Los Angeles, California, before returning home to his beloved New England. He began work as a lineman with Massachusetts Electric Company, which he loved as it gave him the opportunity to work outside. Don worked with Massachusetts Electric for over thirty-five years until his retirement in 1998.
Don met his wife Sharon on one of the earliest computer dating services, Date-A-Mate. Returning home from his first date with Sharon, he announced to his mother that he had just met the woman he was going to marry. Don and Sharon celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary together in July 2020. They purchased their “forever home” together in 1970 on a beautiful pond in Westminster, and welcomed their daughter in 1973.
Don was an avid outdoorsman, a lover of books and film, and history buff. He learned to hunt and fish in the woods and streams in Barre, Massachusetts. He loved the bow and arrow, and along with his trusty Weimaraner hunting dogs, would provide venison for the family. Early in their marriage, Don and Sharon fished in the Canadian lakes. But quickly they discovered one of their favorite pastimes, deep sea fishing out of Chatham, Cape Cod. One of their proudest days was when they reeled in over 1,000 pounds of cod in a single day. Don was meticulous about the quality of his catch, and sold his cod commercially to local restaurants. His deep-fried codfish balls are the stuff of legend.
Don was a champion marksman, and was a member of the Westminster Rod and Gun Club and the National Rifle Association. He shot Revolutionary War muskets and Civil War carbines and pistols. He won first place at the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association Championships in 1990 with a smoothbore musket. This is one of the most challenging guns to shoot, since they lack a rear site which makes them difficult (if not impossible) to aim, and there are no rifling grooves inside the barrel, so the trajectory is highly inaccurate.
Don was a member of the North-South Skirmish Association (NSSA) and the 10th Massachusetts Battery Company. These groups shoot Civil War guns in team and individual competitions, both locally and nationally, while wearing authentic Civil War dress. He won many gold, silver, and bronze medals at the North-South Skirmish Association’s National Championships, shooting his carbine and pistol and also participating on the cannon team. Don served as Commander of the Battery and volunteered whenever there was work to be done when they hosted events or travelled for competitions.
Don loved antique automobiles, and one of his most prized possessions was a 1914 Model T Ford. Don and Sharon drove over 35,000 miles together in their Model T. A Model T can get to speeds of 40 miles per hour, but Don preferred puttering along winding dirt roads at exactly 24 miles per hour. An antique car that continues to be used requires endless upkeep, and Don spent many happy hours polishing the brass lights, tinkering with the intricate engine, and of course, changing many tires.
Don was a member of the Yankee IngenuiTs Model T Club, the New England Brass and Gas Club, and the Horseless Carriage Club Association. Don and Sharon went on countless tours in their Model T with these clubs, travelling throughout the United States. One of their favorite trips was in 2008, when travelled with friends to Richmond, Indiana to the Model T Ford Club of America’s 100th Anniversary Model T Ford Party, to celebrate the invention of Don’s favorite car.
Don was an avid reader, and always had three or more books going at the same time. He loved reading Civil War history; World War II history; books about steam locomotives, tanks, airplanes, and cars; biographies; and non-fiction science and nature books.
Don was an amateur photographer and videographer. Some of his favorite subjects were New England winter landscapes and historic churches. He had an amazing eye for detail, and was an expert at creating video montages with perfectly timed music. He produced wedding videos for friends and family, and enjoyed making sure that he captured every moment of the special day, often sneaking behind the scenes to get candid, personal shots. He loved new technology, and was an early adopter of all new video and camera equipment. In the 1980s, his video equipment was so cutting edge that he was often assumed to be a member of the press! His video of Model T skimobiles plays on a consecutive loop in the National Model T Ford Museum in Richmond, Indiana. In his later years, he enjoyed experimenting with 3D video, and took amazing shots of the family trip to Italy in 2013.
Don loved to travel throughout the United States and Europe. Don and Sharon travelled to almost every State in the U.S. in their camper, and would often bring the Model T along so that they could find some fun backroads to explore. The peaceful valleys of Vermont were one of their favorite haunts. Don and Sharon’s first trip to Europe together was in 1980 when they spent three weeks travelling from Switzerland to England. Don and Sharon visited Poland with Sharon’s wonderful Polish family in 2001. Don and Sharon travelled to Shanghai, China, to visit their daughter and son-in-law who were living there in 2008. And they enjoyed a wonderful river cruise from Budapest, Hungary to Amsterdam, Netherlands in 2016.
Museums of all types were Don’s favorite, from his beloved Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., to quirky roadside Americana museums. He knew how to spend his time in a museum, reading all of the plaques and absorbing every detail. No museum was too small or too out-of-the way for Don, whether it was a clock museum or a museum about popcorn.
Don’s favorite meal of the day was breakfast, although for him breakfast usually occurred at 11:00 am. He would grab his dog and hop in the Model T to visit one of the many local breakfast joints in the area. He knew the names of all the staff, always asked about their families, and loved being greeted by name when he walked in the door. Everyone knew that he would always take a bit of the choicest morsel at the end of the meal, wrap it in a tissue, and give it to his dog waiting patiently in the T for his master to return. During the coronavirus pandemic, Don and Sharon were especially grateful to the local restaurants who provided safe, outdoor dining areas for the elderly. They would spend hours together talking, eating, and enjoying their time together.
Don is survived by his wife of 50-years, Sharon (Burtman) Sawtell of Westminster; his daughter, Carrie L. Sawtell and her husband Adam Ryczek of Bloomfield, CT; two brothers, Joseph Sawtell and his wife Yvonne of Oregon City, OR, and Carter Sawtell and his wife Jean of New Portland, ME; two sisters, Joyce Kennedy, and her husband Lowell of Raleigh, NC, and Margaret Farwell and her husband Norman of Chelsea, MI; and several nieces, nephews, and cousins.
Services will be private and held at the convenience of the family.
Memorial Contributions may be made to the Salvation Army, Massachusetts Division, 25 Shawmut Road, Canton, MA 02021 or on their website at (www.salvationarmy.org); to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Avenue SW120, Boston, MA 02215 or on their website at (www.dana-farber.org); or to Care Central VNA and Hospice, Inc., in gratitude for the compassionate care they provided while Don was home on hospice, at 34 Pearly Lane, Gardner, MA 01440. Please reference in memory of Donald M. Sawtell.
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