It was the summer of 1954, and Don Osborne was interning at a dairy in Peoria, Illinois, when he spotted Connie Jerusha King.
Connie, who had been touring the dairy as part of an economics class, got a call that night. Don had asked another student for Connie’s number. She blew him off, saying she was busy.
“Well, Don didn’t stop calling me,” Connie said. They soon met for a root beer and, two years later, got married.
It was that kind of persistence and determination that exemplified the kind of life Don lived, both personally and professionally, Connie and their son Damon recalled this week.
Don died Dec. 23 following a several-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 85.
Don was best known as the owner of Houchen Bindery Ltd., a book-binding operation in Utica, Nebraska, a small town west of Lincoln and 90 miles from Omaha.
But his career didn’t start in books. It started in cows.
Don was born in Gladbrook, Iowa, and grew up working at a local dairy. He went on to study the dairy industry, graduating from Iowa State University in 1955.
He worked various production and sales jobs at dairies in several states, and owned a dairy in Davenport, Iowa.
After 20 years in the dairy business, Don, always seeking a better life for himself and his family, decided to change course, trading one challenging business for another.
Don bought the bindery in 1977 after seeing an advertisement in The World-Herald. He didn’t have a background in books or binding.
“He wanted to keep his children in Nebraska,” Connie said of his motivation for buying. “That was his goal, to keep his family close. He kept three of them here.”
But all of the Osborne kids and grandchildren worked in the bindery at some point.
Damon Osborne said his dad was never too proud to take on menial tasks and would work long into the night to make up for time he spent running to his kids’ recitals and ballgames.
Don helped expand the bindery by acquiring 15 other regional book binderies over the years. And under his leadership, Houchen became nationally known in the binding industry, Connie said.
“I don’t think I ever saw him sweat about it,” Damon Osborne said. “Work was not work for him. It was enjoyment.”
Don loved working in a small town and giving people jobs. He gave many kids their first jobs binding textbooks in the summer.
Don told The World-Herald in 2013 that when he bought the bindery, he intended to move it closer to home. But the company’s then-eight team members — the Osbornes don’t use the word “employees” — didn’t want to move. The bindery stayed, and the Osborne family, while maintaining their full-time residence in Omaha, became ingrained in Utica.
“You have an obligation to the people in our company, and you have an obligation to the town,” Don told The World-Herald.
Several former employees posted on social media about Don’s passing. “Best employer I have had,” one wrote. “By far the best boss I had,” said another.
“Don believed in me before I believed in myself,” said another yet.
Don officially retired in April. The business has since merged with four other binderies and remains in the family. It will continue operations in Nebraska.
Don had Parkinson’s for about five years, and his family last spring participated in a walk to bring awareness to the disease. Their slogan was “give it heck.”
In addition to Connie and Damon, Don is survived by daughters Kim Osborne Salistean and Tami Osborne Pederson, son Landon and numerous other relatives. Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday at Dundee Presbyterian Church, 5312 Underwood Ave.