Donald W. Bolster, 90, Warren

Veteran, sailor, lover of life and adventurer

Posted 7/13/20

Donald Walter Bolster of Warren passed away on July 7, 2020 at Hope Hospice in Providence, just two months after his 90th birthday. He was born April 10, 1930 in Cleveland, Ohio, six months after the …

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Donald W. Bolster, 90, Warren

Veteran, sailor, lover of life and adventurer


Donald Walter Bolster of Warren passed away on July 7, 2020 at Hope Hospice in Providence, just two months after his 90th birthday. He was born April 10, 1930 in Cleveland, Ohio, six months after the Great Depression hit. He had two older brothers, Jack 6, and Bill 3. Four years later, their sister Mary was born in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, when they lived there briefly. They watched their very decent parents apply themselves during hard times to provide a living for all of them. Their father George was born in 1891, across Lake Ontario in Cobourg, Canada. His family immigrated from Ireland in the mid-19th century, probably during the ‘Potato Famine’. He fought in World War I, then became a rug buyer. I can still remember him saying, “Dirt is the death of rugs” because it breaks the fibers as it gets walked on. My Dad was the same way, always offering a helpful hint, or an idea of how to do something or do it better.

Their mother, Mary Florence Potts, was born in Cleveland in 1899, where she eventually met and married George. Her family had immigrated to Canada and Cleveland from Ireland, Scotland and France. George and Florence moved from Cleveland to Kentucky, then back to Toledo, Ohio for a few years and then to West Hartford, Connecticut, all assumedly for employment opportunities. George sold fine rugs and Florence sold fine women’s clothing. They hosted the whole family there for many Easter Sundays.

Dad remembered during World War II, the lot next door was still empty, so they made a ‘Victory Garden’ there. He remembered his two older brothers going off to fight in the war, so he got to spend a lot of time with his younger sister Mary. He fondly remembered how the two of them would set the dinner table together every night, and they were very close throughout their lives.

Whatever sparked his interest as a kid, Dad would ride his bicycle to a concert theater in Hartford to usher and take in the symphonies and the shows. This arrangement still exists today in concert halls, where ushers get to see the show as payment. Dad learned many of the classics and the big musicals when they came through town. He developed a life-long interest in theater and music from this time.

After high school, he and a friend ‘Sage’ went on a cross country adventure to at least New Orleans. Although we were never told of the details of that adventure, only that, as Mom said, “He sewed his wild oats.”

Dad joined the Army in 1951, during the Korean Conflict. He was smart enough that they sent him to do code work with the Signal Corps in Salzburg, Austria, where he also learned German. One of his favorite stories was that he befriended an Austrian family who invited him to Christmas dinner with the condition that he learn “Silent Night” in Austrian, which he did and remembered for the rest of his life. When he went on furlough, he was able to visit Paris and London with his Army buddies, and picked up some Irish tunes in the pubs. We have great pictures of him in front of the Eifel Tower in his uniform with a cigarette, like a GQ ad, as well as pictures that he took from the top looking over the city.

After his Honorable Discharge in 1953, he was able to get the GI Bill, which helped him pay for college. Again, he applied himself and completed four years of college in three, earning his degree in marketing with honors at Babson College of Business. He also worked through school to pay for half of it, and as a result, he was able to graduate in 1956 with no debt. His first resume shows him working several jobs from hospital orderly to riflery instructor to testing electric switches, until his stellar sales work landed him his first job in the marketing world.

That same year, he proposed to my Mom, Beverly Ann Johnson, who he had been dating for a couple years. Her first love letter to him in 1954 included, “God knew I needed someone, so He sent me you, to love and cherish always, all my lifetime through. He wove your wondrous smile, from a sunbeam in the skies, then picked two bright and shining stars, and placed them in your eyes.” When he proposed, always the romantic, he wrote her a poem which included, “Come a little closer dear, I’ll tell you a tale that you should hear. It all began when I came down, to see a robe around a frame, in “George Washington Slept Here”. I fell in love right then and there, here was the girl for whom I should care.” They both loved the theater and when they moved to New York City after getting married, they went to see the original Broadway production of “My Fair Lady” with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews.

Her father the pastel painter, Gilbert Davison Johnson, had roots going back to Boston in the 1630’s, and the founding of America. His ancestor fought in the Revolution, his grandfather fought in the Civil War and he fought in World War I. We were told years later that my Mom and Dad had dated for a while, that she went off and married someone else, then quickly divorced, and then got back together with my Dad. They were married in January 1957 in Canton Center, the small town in Connecticut where she grew up. One year later, I was born in Hartford, and two years later my brother Gilbert (Gib) was born in Syracuse, New York, where they had moved for a job opportunity for Dad.

In 1960, Dad got his first big job in advertising in Providence, so they moved to Rhode Island and rented a small house in Barrington. They joined the theater group, The Barrington Players, and performed many of the big musicals, like “Guys and Dolls” and “Oklahoma”. In a couple of years, they bought their first house, that needed a lot of work and slowly got it redone. It had a small cottage where Mom’s parents lived and that is where I watched my grandfather work on his pastel paintings. In 1963, Mom’s mother, Gladys Wooley Hyde, passed away and then in 1967, her father committed suicide. It was my Dad who found him. We had a house fire and I was badly burned as well, so Mom wanted to leave that house. In 1968, they sold it and bought a small ranch house off New Meadow Road. The next year, they had their third son, Jay and wanted a bigger house again, so they moved to Evergreen Street off Martin Avenue, right near the old Bill’s Market. I remember walking up the street to buy cigarettes for my parents, but they quit soon after.

Mom and Dad took us camping on the coast of Maine every summer. Gib and I were Cub Scouts and Mom was a den mother. Then we joined the Boy Scouts and Dad was always involved and helping out. We went on countless camping trips, hiking the Long Trail in Vermont, hiking the White Mountains in the winter, plus canoe, boat, bike and ski trips all over New England.

Dad bought his first boat, a 12-foot wooden sailing skiff that he named “ITSASTART” that we fixed up and sailed in Hundred Acre Cove. A couple years later, he bought a 22-sailboat as a kit which we all worked on and enjoyed sailing around Narragansett Bay for many years. Five years later, they had an opportunity to buy a small house that was built for a sea plane pilot on Adams Point, that also needed a lot of work. Across the street lived Pret and Peggy Gladding, who owned Gladding & Hearn Shipbuilding in Somerset, and who became best of friends. They had a custom-built 35-foot Dickerson sailboat named “TIDINGS” that they sailed up and down the New England coast, and my parents and brother Jay sailed with them many times.

Dad’s mom Florence passed away in 1976 and his father went into a nursing home. Dad would drive every weekend from Rhode Island to Connecticut to visit with his father, who passed away in 1978.

When Pret Gladding passed away, Peggy sold TIDINGS to my parents, knowing they loved the boat as much as she and Pret did. Gib and I had gone off to college, but my parents and Jay enjoyed that boat for many years. Eventually, Mom got Parkinson’s Disease and they had to sell the boat. They also sold their house on Adams Point and bought a smaller house in Bristol.

Around 1980, Dad had had enough of “making other people money” as he called it and started his own advertising business, Bolster & Associates, which he had for over 20 years. He eventually retired from advertising, with quite a portfolio of ad campaigns and list of awards. He started gardening again, which he hadn’t done since the ‘Victory Garden’ days. He enjoyed the small pool they had, and when Jay got married and had children, Dad enjoyed having grandchildren. He organized two family reunions for his siblings, their spouses and kids, and those events meant the world to him. Soon after the second one, his oldest brother Jack died and two weeks after that, Jack’s wife Jacqueline died. I remember Dad at Jack’s funeral telling those gathered with tears in his eyes to host a family reunion before it’s too late.

Dad was a wordsmith and a marketing whiz. He would say that anyone can make a nice-looking ad, but where do you run it and how often? How big should it be, black and white or color? Should it have artwork or just type? Should it run in newspapers or magazines, and which publications? What about TV or radio and what time slots? A business could spend a lot of money on ads and completely miss their target audience or they could nail it right on the head. That was what my Dad was brilliant at, figuring out through research, focus groups and analysis, how to get the most bang for the client’s buck. He would work out the strategy and catch phrases, which was his forte. Then he would hire the required talent, the photographers, artists, writers, graphic designers, etc. to create the actual ad campaign.

Mom died in 2007 after reaching their 50th wedding anniversary and a 17-year run with Parkinson’s Disease. Dad remarried a year later to an old family friend, Dorothy Rockwood, and they soon moved to Laconia, New Hampshire. They lived there for about 10 years and travelled to Europe, Canada and elsewhere. He developed Dementia and I interviewed him about his family’s history. In 2018, they moved back to Warren, Rhode Island to live with me, so I could take care of them. Dotty passed away a year later and two years later, after reaching his 90th birthday, and establishing a community of many new friends in Warren, Dad passed away.

Don Bolster was raised by two loving and generous parents, and he lived his life the same way. He did it all. He joined the service, went to college, worked many jobs to get ahead, married his sweetheart, raised a family, started his own company, enjoyed the outdoors, fixed up several houses and boats, made life-long friends, and excelled at all of it. He was a great father, and even without a lot of means, took us kids everywhere and exposed us to all kinds of places and experiences all over New England.

Dad was not a ‘foodie’, like his three sons turned out to be. He was a ‘meat and potatoes’ guy and would be just as happy with a good steak and a baked potato as with hot dogs and beans. He grew into vegetables and salads with influence from his wife and kids. He would want to be remembered by how people genuinely remember him, always family-oriented, gracious, grateful, generous, loving, witty, sweet, kind, romantic and true to his better nature. He leaves two sons, Davison of Warren and Jay of Portland, Maine, daughter-in-law Susan (Lukasiewicz) and their daughter Quinn, along with many nieces and nephews around the country plus their children. He is predeceased by his two wives, Beverly Johnson and Dorothy Rockwood, his son Gilbert, who passed away suddenly in 2017, and his granddaughter, Jay & Susan’s daughter Hope, who passed away from cancer at age 6 in 2015. Don Bolster leaves big shoes to fill, and if anyone needs a role model, someone to look up to, he would be a perfect candidate.

His wish was to be cremated, and his ashes spread in the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, as his wives Beverly and Dorothy were. There will be an outdoor memorial service at Colt State Park in Bristol, RI sometime in August. In lieu of flowers, please make any donations to Hope Health Hospice Center, 1085 North Main Street, Providence, RI 02904.

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