Don Warkentin: A celebration of his life brings tears and laughter in Golden Eagle Arena

By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Don Warkentin: A celebration of his life brings tears and laughter in Golden Eagle Arena

Friends, family and co-workers gathered on a bright and pleasant winter day to pay homage to Don Warkentin, who passed away unexpectedly on Monday, February 1 following a visit to a friend. Hundreds of mourners “celebrated” Warkentin’s life with a mixture of laughter and tears in a nearly hour and a half ceremony at the West Hills College Lemoore Golden Eagle Arena, a facility the likeable former college president helped to build.

South Valley Community Church Pastor Jeff Christiansen led the remembrances, citing a long history of a man who gave much of himself to his community and his country, citing his early beginnings in Reedley, where he was born, to his early desire to become a dentist, to his service as an Army officer in Vietnam, where he earned two Purple Hearts for wounds received in battle, the love for his family, and finally his career in education that culminated with the West Hills College presidency.

Christiansen was backed by the church music program, as they sang “The Old Rugged Cross” and a stirring version of “Amazing Grace.” They ended the ceremony with a rendition of one of Warkentin’s favorite hymns, “Oh, Happy Day.”

“He loved this place,” said Christiansen of Warkentin’s commitment to West Hills College Lemoore, where he served as president before his recent retirement on December 31. “He loved making this building a reality.”

Warkentin’s friend of 43 years, Bob Clement, spoke fondly of his longtime friend, whom he met for the first time in 1973 when the two were teachers at Lemoore High School. “For Don, students always came first,” said Clement. “He always got out to meet them. The women’s basketball team always had a special place in his heart.”

He recalled that Warkentin, just two short years ago, was named the community’s Citizen of the Year. “It was well deserved,” said Clement.

An emotional Brooke and Stephen Warkentin, Don’s children, gave a sometimes poignant, often humorous account of their father’s attempts to teach them sports. “Dad really wanted us to take up sports,” said Brooke. “Dad was our rock. He was our foundation. Every bit of advice he gave us, it was spot on. He was never wrong.”

Former Lemoore High School counselor and longtime winning girls’ basketball coach, Karen Wood, credited her former high school athletic director for opening doors for girls in sports. “I wanted to thank Don Warkentin for what he did for girls’ sports,” she said. “He gave the women’s sports coaches respect and dignity. He gave us equal opportunities and he made us feel that girls’ sports were as important as the boys.”

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