Don Upham, a longtime resident of Los Alamos, passed away suddenly in Santa Fe on February 1, 2023, due to complications resulting from a fall. He was 90 years old.
The youngest of seven children, Don was born at the height of the Great Depression in 1932 to Clifford and Marie Upham on a farm near Buchanan, Michigan. As with all in his family, he helped with the day-to-day running of the farm when not in school. A voracious reader from a young age, he had an innate curiosity in all topics and spent one summer of his youth reading each volume of the family encyclopedia from cover to cover. (This would serve him well later in life during games of Trivial Pursuit, where he seemingly knew every answer – even to the most obscure questions.)
Don attended a one-room country school for grades 1-8, but was skipped ahead a year when the teacher proclaimed she had “run out of things to teach him”. After graduating high school at age 16, he worked for a few years to save up for college. He then attended the University of Michigan, where he obtained a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering.
While at the University of Michigan, Don met the love of his life, Joan Lovell, on a blind date. Their relationship blossomed, and they were married a few years later in 1957. In 1959, Don accepted a job at LASL in GMX division, so he and Joan moved to Los Alamos.
Over the next decade, Don and Joan welcomed four children – Michael, David, Bryan, and Janet. Don taught all his children how to play sports, fish, camp, play chess, and more. At one point he made a forge out of spare parts from Lab salvage, and everyone learned how to do sand casting with molten aluminum in the backyard sand box. Don was also a tremendous supporter of all his children’s activities, as he and Joan never missed a swim meet, softball game, band concert, school play, scouting event, etc. He was a tireless volunteer at Aquatomics and High School swim meets, and drove his family throughout the southwest in support of swimming and other school events for nearly 20 years.
In 1968, Don was the design chairman for Barranca Mesa Pool, and he produced the final drawings that were used in its construction. He then provided construction oversight leading up to opening day in the summer of 1969. Don also volunteered hundreds of hours in support of modernizing the original LAHS pool, where he built and installed new starting blocks and assembled a much-improved PA system.
While working at the lab, one of Don’s proudest moments came when the Berlin wall came down, as he was eventually able to travel to Moscow and even train Russian counterparts who traveled to Los Alamos to learn best practices in nuclear safety. He also got to work with Navy dolphins on one project, an experience he treasured.
Don was pre-deceased by his parents and all his siblings. He is survived by Joan, his wife of 65 years, sons Mike (Diane) of Colorado Springs, Dave (Sheila) of Aptos, CA, and Bryan (Lori) of Virginia Beach, VA, daughter Janet (Sony) of Albuquerque, plus eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Don was loved dearly by his entire family.
A private family ceremony will be held in the spring. The family asks for people to donate to their favorite charity. The family has chosen Rivera Family Funeral Home of Los Alamos for the gentle care of Mr. Upham. Please visit www.riverafamilyfuneralhome.com to post a goodbye, memory, or picture for the family to enjoy.