Dick Donovan was a hard worker. No one will ever question that fact about him. In his 41 year working career, he always had at least two jobs going. But these jobs — well, they were a bit on the unusual side.
Born in Helena, Montana, he started life as a city boy but his dad saw to it that he learned about public service early on.
“In WWII, I was 11 or 12, there was a war bond effort in the city. They had a contest come up for the young people to sell war bonds and stamps. There were 125 entrants and I came out having sold over $5,000 worth of bonds and stamps. My first place prize was a $25 — $18.75 cost — war bond.”
That effort made him think about the war more and so he would help his dad.
“Since my dad owned a trucking company, he picked up and hauled scrap materials that went into the war effort. I rode with him when we were picking up things and one of the things was 6-inch tall rubber dolls of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which Walt Disney was selling. In one day my dad and I, in our little ole Chevrolet pickup, picked up donations of a pickup full of those dolls that went in for rubber for tires for military vehicles.”
Halfway through sixth grade, his family moved to a ranch — no electricity, no telephone, no indoor plumbing.
“My dad and I fed cattle there behind a team of horses in temperatures as low as 48 below zero,” he said.
In school, he was involved with 4-H and in high school took mechanical drawing, map reading and aeronautics.
“We built planes, launched them, flew them, with the models having up to 8-foot wing spans,” Dick said. “We put in 25 cents every week. At the end of the school year we went on a charter flight from Helena to Great Falls and toured Malmstrom Air Force Base.”
The day after Dick graduated, he went to work for the federal government in the Department of Agriculture starting a long career in public service.
When the military called, it was into the Air Force he went. With his background, was there any doubt?
When he tested out with high scores in warehousing and mechanical, one would think that’s where he would be sent. Not Dick.
“After my basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, I was flown with 270 others from around the country to Augusta, Ga., to a military police replacement training center. We were the first group ever of Air Force personnel to go through there,” he said. This was during the Korean conflict.
After his Specialized Combat Air Police Training, he was led to believe he would be going to Korea to protect air bases. His security clearance was as high as the President’s and he ended up being sent, along with 270, to Rapid City, South Dakota.
“We were just outside the air base in what would have appeared, at first glance, to be a prison because there was a perimeter fence, and inside the perimeter fence was a perimeter road with a fence on both sides. A little further in was a third fence that had all these big lights in sections around. This third fence had big insulators and it didn’t take long to find out that the fence was electrified. This fence has 20 odd sections carrying 3,200 volts of electricity. If you happened to make contact between two sections, just to grab on you’d have 6,400 volts of electricity hit you.”
He was guarding nuclear missiles.
“If I was on patrol duty, I reported to duty with a .45 caliber hand gun, a .45 caliber sub-machine gun slung over my shoulder. In the back of our half-ton pickup patrol unit — always two persons to a vehicle — was a pedestal mounted .50 caliber machine gun,” he said.
It was here he saw his first UFOs, (were they checking out the missiles?) seeing more in later years in Montana.
After two years Dick was back in Montana. His day job was with the telephone company, going through a pole climbing school. One morning he checked the thermometer, reading it at 28 degrees below zero.
“Union regulations prohibited putting us on a pole until it warmed up to 15 below zero,” Dick said.
Donating his time on Friday and Saturday nights, he put about 200 hours a year in with the Lewis and Clark Search and Rescue in Helena, as one of the founders of the organization.
Moving to Great Falls, he went into the sheriff’s office with a letter of introduction from Lewis & Clark.
“I was there 20 minutes, was mugged, finger printed, signed an oath of office and put to work that night,” he said, with a quiet chuckle.
In what looked like a station wagon, Dick outfitted it to fit any purpose. Special lights towered 13 feet up, two radio antennas for better reception, two gum ball machines on top, and he could throw a switch lighting up a 50-foot diameter.
“I had everything in there to handle from a childbirth to a death,” he said with pride. “I was the first EMT in law enforcement in Montana.”
From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to Coroner and Deputy Coroner in up to 11 other counties in Montana.
“I have ordered and stood in on over 1,500 autopsies and signed off on 4,000 deaths,” he said.
Then, for nearly 24 years, he specialized in child abuse investigations, getting intensive training in the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department and LA police Department.
“In one afternoon in LA, my partner and I took 23 youngsters from parents to put them in protective custody. I can handle adult autopsies all day long but when you stand as many times as I have over an infant, a baby . . . “ he said, unable to finish the sentence.
When two instructors in forensic hypnosis came to town, he eventually landed in the school and became a forensic hypnotist, Montana being one of two states who accept hypnosis like polygraphs.
Using his hypnosis technique he was able to help a young woman, who had been sexually molested with no recall of the rapist, to describe the man. It took five weeks of careful work, never any leading questions or suggestion. In essence, he merely gave her her memory back and she did the rest. She gave a description which matched up with a previous sexual predator.
First spending a few winters in San Antonio, some smart cousins wintering in the Valley enticed him to visit.
“The road goes both ways,” he told them with a laugh. Nonetheless, he headed on down to the Valley and fell in love with the palm and citrus trees. Moving to Citrus Mobile Park, he settled in over 14 years ago.
He loves the music down here and has been vice-president of the park association for the last three years.
A major time out was called for in 2005 when during a check up it was discovered Dick had nine blocked arteries and was air lifted from Helena to Denver, Colo. “Dead man walking” would have been a good name for him. Today, there’s no sign of any residual of that day.
“It’s been a real ride,” he said, contemplating his eventful life. “I’m the luckiest damn guy on the face of the planet!”