Memorial Update: Donald Domke

 Memorial services for Donald Domke will be held at 11 a.m. on Fri., Dec. 20 at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Igo. A reception will follow at  1 p.m. at the Riverview Country Club.

 In lieu of flowers memorial gifts can be made to Mercy Foundation North, Cardiac Services, 2400 Washington Ave., Redding, CA, 96001, or “Plant a Tree Program” at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, 844 Sundial Bridge Dr, Redding, CA 96003.


Donald Domke of Redding died Tuesday, one day after his 89th birthday.

He was born in Redlands on Nov. 25, 1924 to Harold and Inez Domke.  He spent his childhood in various Southern California towns, like Summit and San Bernadino, because they were Sante Fe Railroad towns and his father was a “railroad man”.

As a young child, Domke tap-danced so well that he often joked how his mother “roped him” into performing at her Job’s Daughters luncheons. Later, he played tennis in high school, a sport he continued into his 80s.

Domke began his California Department of Forestry career in San Bernadino at 17 by saying he was 18, the legal age to become a firefighter. Two years later, as World War II was heating up, he was drafted into the Army where he was a Staff Sergeant in the European Theater and spent time in France and Germany, as well as England, where he was a crash-crew fire captain.

After serving in the military, he returned to CDF. In 1953 he married the love of his life, Doreeta Donathan. In 1956 Don was transferred by CDF to Redding, where he and Doreeta built a home and raised their three children.

Domke was a fire control officer, and was awarded the Lewis Moran Award in 1987 for Lifetime Achievement in the California Department of Foresty. When he retired from CDF after 47 years, he had the distinction of holding a State of California record for the longest employment.

In addition to his achievements within CDF, he was perhaps most renowned within his field for the pivotal part he played in creating the inmate fire-fighting crews and camps throughout  Northern California.

At CDF, Domke’s  fire crews called him by his initials – DAD – much to the surprise of his own children.

He had a dry sense of humor, and although he was quiet, his facial expressions spoke volumes. His family recalls how, when Domke did speak, people learned to listen, because he would not repeat himself.

Domke worked hard, but he played hard, too.  In the early years of  moving to Redding, Domke was an active member of the 20/30 club. He was also a member of the Elks Club, and Riverview Country Club.

Golf was one of Domke’s favorite things to do, and until about six months ago, he played 18 holes of golf every Tuesday and Thursday. Also, whether it was fishing almost every Wednesday with a friend in the Sacramento River, or summers in Trindad, Domke loved to fish.

He was also a fan of watching sports on TV. Some of his favorite afternoons were spent watching golf, the 49er’s or the Kings on the couch with family (or not).

He coached son Ross’s baseball teams, and was also active in his son’s scouting activities. In fact, Domke served as the Troop 72 treasurer for many years, even after Ross achieved his rank of Eagle Scout and had moved beyond scouting.

Domke loved being outside,which explains why he was so miserable the two years he had a desk job with CDF.

After his own children grew up and left home, he and Doreeta backpacked for many years, often in the Trinity Alps.

Domke passed on his love of the outdoors to his grandchildren by taking each child on the Domke family’s renowned “Camping Trip” when they were 5. Each grandchild eagerly awaited their turn.  The Camping Trip was “just Grandpa.”  No parents. No Grandma.

His grown children now recall their life-long belief that their dad could do anything, fix anything, build anything, figure anything out. Even well into adulthood, they knew that if they had a garden question, a house question, a plumbing question — any question — the solution was simple: Call Dad.

Domke’s family says that what stood out about him was the attention he paid to every detail, which may be why he read every instruction manual; he needed to understand things from beginning to end.

He was an avid gardener, and he planted a garden every season, along with a berry patch and a small orchard of fruit trees, and always more tomatoes than were necessary, despite Doreeta’s annual plea: “Donald, not so many tomatoes this year!”

With the garden came birds, which he encouraged with many varieties of seeds in different holders throughout the yard, and year-round hummingbird feeders.

Domke may have been a man of  few words, but he had many talents.

For example, he was an amazing dancer, obvious to anyone lucky enough to watch Don and Doreeta swing dance, where they wowed every wedding or event where dancing was an option. His kids say their dad was smooth, and had the moves.

Don and Doreeta Domke

He was also a gifted artist. He painted the border on the ceiling of  The Toy Shop, long gone now, then across the street from the Cascade Theatre. And some who lived in Redding in the late ’50s might remember a giant mural Domke painted on the back of the shop, of big clowns, so large that the mural was visible from Pine Street.

His adult children describe their father as a man “ahead of his time” when it came to sharing parenting duties. He packed kids’ lunches, made their breakfasts and made dinner most weeknights. And when it came time to teach his children to cook, he provided a limited but trusty menu selection: tuna over rice, hamburger patties, oven-fried chicken and homemade mac’ and cheese.

He was known by his grandkids for his famous Firehouse Hotcakes and Sourdough Waffles. His culinary legacy was Pork and Bean Sandwiches.

Perhaps most prominently after his retirement, he was known as the “man behind the woman” — his wife Doreeta.  He tended bar when Doreeta hosted the monthly Rotary Fireside meetings and he grilled ribs for Rotary barbecues. He had dinner waiting for her the years when she worked late at the television station, or when she was at Turtle Bay working on the auction, or when she was canvassing for her favorite candidate, or bell-ringing at Christmas.

He was her silent partner.

Donald Domke is survived by his wife Doreeta of Redding; daughters Denice Seals of West Sacramento, and Kelley Forseth of Portland, Ore., and son Ross Domke of Rome, Georgia.

Domke also leaves 10 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his father Harold, mother Inez, and sister Billie Lohman.

Memorial services are pending.

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14 Responses

  1. Not until this fine tribute was the origin of Sugar Pine and other CDF/CDC camps known. Their value to those there, the general community and the broad resource can not be encapsulated here. I regret never having opportunity to speak with Don about this wonderful institution he created. He was a fine person and his family will miss him as will the people who both knew him and those who did not but benefit by his being here.

  2. Mr Domke sounds like sounds like a wonderful man, who will be missed by many, i wish i would have had the chance to meet him… RIP fine Sir and condolences to family and friends….

  3. What a gift his life was to this community and all who knew him.

  4. Avatar Denice Seals says:

    Thanks for this Doni. What a guy…



  5. Avatar kelleyforseth says:

    Thank you Doni for writing such a beautiful tribute to my Dad. As Mom and I sit here this morning with our coffee reading this we can't believe what a rich long life they had together. One of the things he and Mom loved most was traveling in their motorhome – 47 states and most of Canada. They traveled either just the two of them or with their longest closet friends Bill and Elaine. And their most special memories were when they could steal a grandkid or two and show them the country! Dad was the captain of that motorhome and loved the time he spent with Mom creating memories!

    Thank you for capturing his life so well! Happy Thanksgiving

    Kelley and Doreeta

    • Avatar Nancy Scott says:

      HI Kelley, remember me? Your dad and my dad worked together a long long time ago. I am soo sorry to her about your dad… I bet my dad and a lot of other CDF'ers who are no longer on this earth met Don at the gates and welcomed him into heaven!!!! I will try to make it to the service… I called Rob who is a pastor in Oroville to let him know and to pray for you and your family. Please tell your mom also!!!

  6. Doni Chamberlain Doni Chamberlain says:

    Oh, Kelley, I cannot take credit. I just used the great details you provided to form it into Don's life story. Rarely have I seen two people pack so much into 60 years together, right up until May, with Don and Doreeta's European trip, and your visit to Joe and Marie in Prague. Hard to believe that was just six months ago. What a rich legacy your family has, one that lives in my children's and grandchildren's DNA. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

  7. Avatar Ross Domke says:

    Thanks Doni for such a wonderful tribute.

  8. Avatar Brittany Whitmore says:

    Great man, beautiful legacy. So sorry to hear of his passing. Don will be missed and rembebered by many. All my love to the family.

  9. I smiled all the way through this. Thanks so much for this loving tribute to Don. What a prince of a man he was.

  10. I'm very sorry for your loss, dear Domke family. I've enjoyed knowing Don over the years, and I know he'll be missed dearly.

  11. So sorry for your loss of a fine man, and one to look up to. You have been a very luck woman to have such a guy around to share life with.

  12. Avatar Nicole Estes Camp says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man! I had the privilege of going on a few of those trips and loved every minute of it. Yes, Don was quiet but with a twinkle in his eye and a raise of his brow he could deliver a hysterical one-liner. Teaching me to play card games was an evening full of those one-liners. I love the Domke family and am grateful to have known Don — such a strong, amazing, family man. He will be missed!