Most RVers say that friendships are the most important aspect of living the RVing lifestyle. That is certainly my statement. I have friends across the United States that I would never have known if I had not been an RVer.
Donald Payton is one such friend. On a Saturday morning, June 7, 2014, he left this world as we know it without saying “good-by,” even to his beloved Charlene. However, the memories of his wit, his laughter, his wisdom—and most of all, his friendship–will remain with me forever. My late husband, James Paul, and I met Donald and Charlene Payton on our first visit 30 years ago to Treasure Lake, our membership resort in Branson, Missouri. We talked often when we were in the park; sometimes going to activities at the clubhouse or out to dinner. However, years passed and our friendship deepened as we shared common sorrows, trials, and disappointments. Together we lived through the deaths of two mothers, three sons, and even James Paul. Yet our laughter and joy in days together out-numbered the difficult times. We once discovered people following us around a shopping mall because we were having so much fun.
Donald “adopted” James Paul’s mother, Polly, as his own—and she loved him like a son. At Christmas time, she made sure to send Donald a tin of her famous peanut brittle, and he made frequent phone calls—and a few visits—to her home in Arkansas. For weeks after one of his calls, we heard over and over, “Did I tell you that Donald called me?” We were together primarily in Branson, but we also took weekend RV trips to Mountain View, Arkansas, and Roaring River, Missouri. Donald loved beans, cornbread, and pie. Once in Mountain View, we bought a whole pie at a restaurant and took it to our campsites. To Donald’s amazement, since he lived in the city of Springfield, the restaurant proprietor said, “Just return the pie tin tomorrow.” And we did. Mountain View is that kind of town!
I had known Donald two years before he revealed that he was a playwright with over 75 published plays to his credit. In fact, he had never received a rejection—astonishing to me as a writer. At that time I annually attended Professionalism in Writing, a conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I suggested that Donald apply to the conference as a teacher of playwriting. He did, and I took a chair in his class. Perusing a table covered with his play books, I spotted “Rest Assured.” Excitedly, I told Donald that I had played “Jessica” in that play in my senior year of high school. Years later, he revised the play and gave me a personalized copy.
He wrote his first play, “Bobby Sox,” in high school and talked one of his teachers at his tiny school in Plato, Missouri, into producing it as the annual senior play. The only hitch? He had written only the first act and the teacher expected three. So he hurriedly wrote two more acts and it became widely produced nationally in the 1940s and 1950s. His most popular full-length plays, besides “Bobby Sox,” are: “Rest Assured,” “Just Ducky,” “Suitable for Hanging,” and “They Run in Our Family.” Donald’s humor and imagination highlighted each script. When out for an evening, he often made up scenarios about people he spotted in a restaurant or on a sidewalk. One of his favorite lines in a song he composed in his head as we filed into a Branson theater—“PlantIn’ beans and turnip greens and thinkin’ of you”—came up often in conversations. Incidentally, Donald never updated his writing machine even to an electric typewriter, much less a computer. He tapped out all his plays, columns, and articles on the keys of an old manual typewriter. In addition to playwriting, Donald had a special talent for poetry. His work was featured in many places over the years, and he was selected by the Missouri General Assembly as the Poet Laureate of the State Legislature. After moving to a retirement community in Springfield, he enjoyed organizing and participating in “Reader’s Theatre” as entertainment at gatherings at their lodge.
Our friendship with both Donald and Charlene solidified when James Paul accepted a position on the board of directors at Treasure Lake while Donald served as board president. The two men complemented each other—James Paul, the practical hands-on businessman who had abilities to figure out mechanics, maintenance, and the general “lay of the land.” Donald’s forte lay in public relations, public speaking, and a vision for the membership resort. After graduating from Southwest Missouri State College, which was changed to Missouri State University (MSU), he had been the first sportscaster at Springfield television station KYTV. He and Charlene met while they both worked in television. He was also a writer for Springfield Newspapers, Inc. for two years.
In 1956, Donald established the Office of Information Services, Publications and Alumni Relations at Missouri State. He oversaw the informational aspects of that operation until his retirement in 1987.
Don continued to contribute to his alma mater, writing a column entitled “Payton Place” which appeared in the school’s alumni magazine for over 40 years. In retirement, he was a member of the 2002 inaugural class of the school’s Wall of Fame to honor outstanding contributions on behalf of MSU students. He was a 2003 recipient of the Alumni Association Award of Appreciation. Donald and Charlene continued to enjoy Bears and Lady Bears season basketball tickets into the current day at John Q. Hammons Arena.
Donald was a long-time fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. Earlier this year, he celebrated the 60th year of his attendance at the game May 2, 1954, when Cardinals’ great Stan Musial hit five home runs in a doubleheader against the New York Giants in old Busch Stadium. He was a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He delighted in sharing his love of baseball and basketball with his sons and great-grandson.
Austin Miller, his great-grandson, says: “My great-grandfather—emphasis on ‘great’–was the inspiration of my life. He was always positive, telling his “pa” jokes, which were really corny, but made everyone laugh! In the last picture I have of him and me, he is making his famous ‘pa’ face after telling a really bad joke!
“My grandpa won at the game of life. He couldn’t have done anything different. Some of my friends have asked what he did. The accomplishments and endeavors mentioned at his memorial service were only about one-tenth of the amazing things he did in his life. I was blessed to have him as my great-grandfather.”
Despite failing health and difficulty in walking, Donald and Charlene never gave up their day trips—or even longer adventures to their favorite spots in San Diego, California, and Gulf Coast towns in Florida. In November 2013, they made a five-day road trip to visit Lee and me in Campbellsville, Kentucky. The day we spent visiting the historical towns of Lincoln, Bardstown, and Greenville was the last time we saw Donald. However, we hold dear the memories of his comic quips, his laughter, and the stories he spun.
A friend to Donald and Charlene summed up Donald Payton best on her Facebook post: “Don was a great man. His wit and humor, his love for life, family, and community sets an example for all of us who loved him. He was—and is–a legend.”Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
Try the RV LIFE Pro Bundle FREE for 7 days
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com