The Heart of Kernersville: Don Canaday

By NJ Clausen

Just as leaves change color in the  fall, this month I would like to introduce you to a man who changes discards into usable equipment or works of art… Don Canaday.

Don was born in Iowa and raised with his two brothers and one sister on a 380-acre farm. The family grew corn and soybeans and raised cattle. The family worked hard and played hard. Don spoke of the 80 acres of timberland where they would go hunting, and of a nearby gravel pit where he would swim with family and friends. Don was involved with the 4-H Club and the Future Farmers of America (FFA). At his church, he was in the choir and part of youth fellowship. 

When Don was 8 years old, his mother would pack him a lunch and take him to the gravel pit, which was also a farmer’s dumping area, and he would stay there all day until his mother picked him up around 5PM. During that time Don would collect pop glass bottles which were worth 2 cents each and when they went up to being worth 3 cents each, he thought he was a millionaire! If he was fortunate enough to find an unbroken gallon bottle that had held root beer, that was worth 35 cents– big money! Don would spend his money at the fair in August. Don remembers showing club calves (which weigh about 400 pounds) at the fair and one year won a blue ribbon. He recounted how his brother picked out 2 calves for his children, and that one became grand champion, and the other one was reserve champion… an almost unheard-of occurrence from one herd anywhere in the world.

Don has always enjoyed creating different items all his life and remembers the first big project he made from planks his father let him use. During the summer, he made a car that both his sister and he could fit in. It had doors, a steering wheel and even a windshield… however its first test run took them right into a tree! (They were unharmed.) 

Don rode the bus to school until he got his license and could drive. Although he did not have a favorite subject, he remembers a poem he wrote decades ago and of pole vaulting in high school… and of holding the record for about five minutes! 

Don quit school in the 11th grade and went right to community college in the next town and enrolled in auto body repair for a year. Don had seen Judy even though they had gone to different schools, and after a time they married. He was drafted into the Army and finished his GED there. In the Army, his MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was artillery, and he was sent to a service battalion in Germany. As they were expecting, Judy had flown to Germany to have their baby there, but she became very ill and had to return to the states. After his discharge, Don returned to Iowa where the family stayed for a few years before moving to North Carolina. They were in Greensboro for many years, where Don did auto body repair work. After their daughter graduated, they decided in 1990 to move to an old house in Kernersville.

The old house was built like a horse barn, and Don and Judy knew that they were going to make changes. Don described how it was like camping as they lived in one part while he was building in a different area, then they would move again to another area while he worked on that one. When he finished creating this log home, there was also a wraparound porch and a 3-tiered fishpond. With a diagnosis of what is now renamed Primary Biliary Cholangitis, they moved to a handicap accessible home. Both continued to create projects, including birdhouses that Don would make and Judy would paint prior to her departure from this world several years ago.

When asked how he gets his ideas, Don said that some come from farming magazines and some he just creates from items he comes across. Don’s mailbox, replicating a 1948 John Deere tractor, took 2 months to create and features a repurposed Cabbage Patch doll – now Patrick- as the driver, and wheels that roll. To create, Don encourages the budding artist to look at what you have, see how they go together and use your imagination.

To older folks—keep moving!!

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