I learned yesterday of the passing of an old friend, Don Menard. Don was 92 years of age.
I met Don many years ago when he joined the Baton Rouge Model Railroad Club. We quickly became friends as he became involved in the wiring aspects of the club layout (which I was heavily into). Don founded and owned an electronics parts and equipment business, Menard Electronics, which catered mostly to the Petro-Chem industry in this area, so he graciously provided our electrical/electronic supply needs from his business.
Eventually both of us moved on from the BRMRC, but later joined in with the group of operators at the late Lou Schultz’s layout over in Covington. Don always rode over there with a few other friends and me. He was a prolific operator, and he loved running manifest freights, and especially fast passenger trains. He probably moved more trains over the line during a given session than any other operator, despite his being the oldest operator in the crowd!
Don was a WWII veteran. He was the radio operator with a B-17 crew flying out of England. On one fateful mission his plane was shot down and he parachuted to earth. Unfortunately he was taken prisoner by the Germans and spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp. He shared many stories with me about his time in the U.S. Army Air Forces. My dad was also a former airman during WWII, having been a gunner on a B-24, so between his stories and Don’s, I always had a great first-hand recounting of the 8th Air Force air war in Europe. Don was active in a POW group, as well as a group of folks from his old bomb group.
He also loved flying and he held a private pilots license. I was fortunate to fly with him a number of times. I would get a call early on a Saturday morning and it would be Don. “Want to go to Cook’s today?”, he’d ask. Cook’s was a hobby shop up in Shreveport (a couple hundred miles from Baton Rouge). “Sure”, I would reply. He would direct me to meet him over at the airport, and off we’d go! Upon arrival at the airport in Shreveport, we’d take a taxi to Cook’s, spend an hour or so browsing and purchasing, then head back to the airport and home. One thing I learned about pilots and flying: any excuse to go somewhere in the plane is good enough.
Both Don and his wife’s health had been declining in recent years, so his children moved them to Houston so they could spend their remaining years near them in a senior’s home.
Don was one of the good guys down in this area, and I don’t know anybody that didn’t like Don. I know he will be missed by all that knew him. I have missed him greatly ever since he moved away to Houston.
Rest in peace, my good friend.