-- Editor’s note: Every life has a story. In this column, we pay tribute to people who have died recently.
Queensbury resident Donald Edward Higley may have been born and raised as a flatlander in Nebraska, but he found his "peak" experiences on the slopes of the northeast.
Don, as he was known to family and friends, died April 4 at age 86.
He was not only a friendly face greeting customers at his son’s business, The Sports Page, but was also an unwavering ambassador for the sport of skiing.
Don spent his career selling sporting goods, first for a company in Manchester, N.H., and then in Glens Falls. He came to the area in 1959 as a manufacturer’s representative for Profile Skiwear and Conroy Gloves.
After Don retired as a manufacturer’s representative, he worked with son Gary Higley at the Sports Page for about 20 more years. He came in last fall to help when Gary was hospitalized with Lyme Disease.
"He was very important. He had people skills. He was always out front. It was very much a part of his life," said Gary.
For all of Don’s varied interests, skiing was most important to him, Gary said.
He was president of the West Mountain Ski Club and the Southern Adirondack Junior Racing League, which promoted racing for the 8- to 13-year-old age group. He was also featured in a 1968 article in Sports magazine that paid tribute to his involvement with junior ski racing.
Queensbury resident Rod Bishop got to know Don after his sons wanted to race as part of the West Mountain Ski Club in the early 1960s. Rod credited Don with "making everything happen" in his quiet and unassuming manner.
Don also served as a chairman of the New York State Junior III and IV racing programs. He earned credentials to officiate at events, which led to one of the most prestigious moments in his life: working as a timing referee at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid.
For Marilyn, who served as a volunteer during the Olympics, her job was not quite as glamorous working as the only woman among a group of men to prepare the downhill race course.
"She actually had to sideslip and snowplow the course to push all the snow off the course with her own skis," Gary said. "She came in with legs burning and said she would never do it again."
Gary said his father’s enthusiasm would have you believe he was a lifelong skier, but actually he didn’t pick up the sport until he was in his 20s.
Don quickly came up to speed in the sport and supported his family in their ski endeavors.
Sons Gary and Bob excelled at skiing, and Don and Marilyn were there to support them at every race. Gary said his parents would even "adopt" other young racers whose parents didn’t travel to the weekly meets, cheering for them along with their own kids.
Gary credits his father and mother’s involvement with helping to establish organized ski racing in the area and said the couple worked together on everything.
"My parents weren’t afraid to tackle a project to get something going," Gary said.
Daughter Carol Higley Benante, of Virginia Beach, said she raced, but not to the extent of her brothers. Still, her parents showed their support of her and her friends by setting up guidelines to earn a Girl Scout merit badge for skiing, which they eventually opened to other troops in the area.
"My mom and dad did everything for us, and they were very unselfish people. They didn’t dwell and gloat on their own accomplishments, but boy did they dwell and gloat on our accomplishments," Gary said with a laugh.
Don not only had a passion for skiing and the outdoors, but was always one to immerse himself in his community, his family said.
"He shared the love of skiing with everyone, from equipping them with outfits to teaching them how to ski and supporting the ski racing industry," said daughter-in-law Lori Higley, who is married to Don’s son Bob. She added that when her in-laws moved to the area, they encouraged people to embrace the outdoor activities the Adirondacks had to offer.
"’The mountain’s out there, you just have to go to it,’ he would tell people," Lori said.