Don Atkinson was born on April 2, 1934, in Chicago, Illinois, and died in his East Fork home in Ketchum, Idaho, on Dec. 27, 2023.
Don’s parents, Chuck and Floss Atkinson, moved to Picabo, Idaho, in 1936 when he was 2 years old. Chuck and Floss managed the Picabo General Store for the Kilpatrick brothers, and Don spent his childhood working for the K-K ranch in Picabo and participating in 4-H in Carey. During his years in 4-H, he won several grand-prize beef championships. The family stayed in Picabo until he graduated from Hailey High School in 1952 and they moved up to Ketchum.
Don attended University of Idaho and was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity as well as the Army ROTC program. He graduated in 1956 with a degree in Accounting and Finance and went directly into the Army as a 1st lieutenant. He then went into the Army Reserves and left as a Captain.
Don returned to his home in 1958 to work with his parents and brother in building the newly established Sun Valley Shopping Center. In 1960, he met Ms. Judy Hellyer from California and asked her to the Hailey Fourth of July Rodeo. Six months later, on Feb. 3, they were the first couple to be married in the newly remodeled Episcopal Church in Sun Valley and celebrated at the Trail Creek Cabin. With their first child on Don’s back and Judy pregnant with their second, they skied into East Fork and put down four stakes for their new home. Those four stakes for a house grew into a home with their three children: Chip, Whit, and Tory, and is where Don and Judy have lived ever since.
As Sun Valley and Ketchum gained popularity and visitors, the Atkinson family moved their burgeoning business into Giacobbi Square and changed the name to Atkinsons’ Market in 1968. Under Don’s management, they expanded to Hailey in 1977 and he became the president of the company with his brother until they both retired and sold the business to the third generation in 1998.
Don grew up learning the importance of hard work and working together from his parents. These qualities no doubt contributed to the success of a family grocery store that is now moving into the fourth generation. Both he and Judy knew that without the support of their community this kind of success wouldn’t be possible. They worked hard to build a business and they worked hard with their community to do so. After the Giacobbi Square fire in 1983, Don put tents out where the current Town Square is for grocery items and produce. All the specialty items were set up in La Petit Atkinsons’. The employees stayed on and the community stayed fed. Anything they were able to give went back into the community.
Don, with several other Blaine County businessmen, helped start Mountain States Savings, a local savings and loan bank. He loved sitting on the board, and helping finance local businesses and homeowners. Mountain States Savings eventually (through purchases) became the local branches of Bank of America. He then served on the board of Bank of America of Idaho for many years. He served as the Blaine County Fire Commissioner and sat on the Board of Directors of the Idaho Community Foundation. Whether it be his employees, his friends, or his family, everyone looked to him as a pillar of the community and would go to him for advice knowing they could count on him. He always acknowledged that people were good to him and he tried his best to reciprocate.
Besides his business and the people behind it, his love for the valley was in all the activities it had to offer. He loved to ski, hike, hunt, fish, golf, trap shoot, and just be outside. He was a jack of all trades who would try anything and commit to learning everything. As a teenager, he was an All-American Trap Shooter, and later in life he was a dedicated member of the Shoshone Indian Trap Shooting Club. Above all, he loved to fly his planes to places like Baja, Alaska, and Glacier with all of his pilot buds. At home, he loved getting up early on a Sunday and “just” flying, visiting all the small airstrips scattered throughout central and southern Idaho. One of his favorite reasons to fly was to take his grandchildren over the valley he loved so deeply and land at Smiley Creek for sourdough pancakes. When all his grandchildren were old enough, he bought them shooting vests embroidered with their names and took them out to the shooting range to learn. He loved to share his knowledge and skills with his children, and later, grandchildren.
One activity where the kids were left at home was his legendary annual Elk Camp on Flying B’s Root Ranch in the Frank Church Wilderness. Don, Nick and Bud Purdy, Jim McLaughlin, and Robert Gardner would spend a week every year to fly out, cook, drink and sometimes hunt elk together. To Don, just being outside with his best friends was as good as it got (though the one elk he couldn’t pass up sits above the doors at the Ketchum Atkinsons’).
After retiring, Don and Judy spent their winters on Maui golfing, enjoying the warm weather, giving their family a great excuse to come visit, and as a framed score card in their home proves, getting a hole-in-one on the golf course.
When Don and Judy were asked to be the grand marshals of the Wagon Days Parade in 2009, Don insisted the honor belonged to the Atkinson family as a whole rather than just him and Judy. That is who Don was to his core. He believed the life he had built was possible because of those around him, especially his family. His family was his greatest pride and will be his lasting legacy. He knew he lived a good life and wouldn’t have asked for anything more.
Don is preceded in death by his parents Chuck and Floss, his brother Stan, and his daughter-in-law Monica Cornelissen. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Judy; his children Whit (Susie) Atkinson, Chip Atkinson, and Tory Atkinson (Sean) O’Connor; his grandchildren Peter (Kasey) Atkinson, Jon (Maia Monell) Atkinson, Morgan Atkinson, Matt O’Connor, and Andrew O’Connor; and his great-granddaughter Penrose Jean Atkinson.
The family would like to extend deep gratitude to Miriam and Karina for their exceptional and loving care in the last years of his life, and Pam for her tireless care in his final months.
In memory of Don, donations may be made to Hospice of the Wood River Valley or Ketchum Community Library.