Don Thiltgen was born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa. In junior high he played football, basketball and loved track. He lived two miles from school, so after practice he walked home, but most often times, he ran to increase the strength in his legs. When he got home from school, his job was to prepare supper.
About that same time, he remembers reading about a young female black athlete named “Wilma Rudolph”. Wilma was setting records at the 1960 Olympics. The real story was that she was stricken with a fever as a child and had physical difficulties as a result. Don endured a similar fever and was inspired by her. Wilma received 3 gold medals and overcame her difficulties. She once stated, “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”
In junior high, Don held a school hurdle record and three years of high jump records. At the time, his parents never attended a single game or meet, but he was determined to excel. Don’s sophomore year arrived, he was 16 and needed transportation. In order to get that he needed a job. He quit football mid-year much to the coach’s dismay! He originally had aspirations to go to college, but soon came to a realization that was not in his future at this time. He finished high school and joined the United States Air force serving in Vietnam. He retired after 32 years at John Deere.
Throughout Don’s life, he has had many ups and downs, making him wanting to provide a student with opportunity to build their future. He is offering this scholarship to an ambitious struggling student athlete.