Donald Knowles Jr., 1931-2019

Donald Knowles Jr.

Longtime Moab resident Donald Plummer “Don” Knowles Jr., 88, died peacefully in the early morning hours of Aug. 22 at his Moab home surrounded by his family.

Don is survived by his wife, Jo Ann Gibson Knowles and their five children: Donald Silas Knowles (Toni Tangren), Boulder, Colorado; Amanda Jane Best (Martin), Boulder, Colorado; Christopher Gibson Knowles (Kimberly McDonald), Moab; Margaret Ann Nero (Daniel), Chandler, Arizona; and John Allen Knowles (Jacque Young), Moab.

Fifteen grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren also survive him. His parents, Donald Plummer Knowles, Sr., and Alice Knott Knowles; his sister, Alice Knowles Berg; and his granddaughter, Catherine Nero, preceded him in death.

Don was born on Feb. 27, 1931 in Deer Lodge, Montana. He spent his youth in Metaline Falls, Washington, where he graduated from high school. He began his college studies at Washington State University, subsequently transferring to Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he graduated with a degree in economics in 1954.

That summer Don met the love of his life, Jo Ann, at a dance in Montrose, Colorado, (according to him, the best thing that ever happened in his life). Three dates and one year later they were married. Don and Jo Ann lived in Heilbronn, Germany for two years where he was stationed with the U. S. Army. Upon returning home in 1957, Don took a position with Michigan Limestone and Chemical Company in Detroit. A son, Don, was born that summer. He was relocated shortly after to Rogers City, Michigan, where daughter, Mandy, was born in 1959.

In 1960, Don and Jo Ann made a bold move that would define the rest of their lives together. They packed up a one-ton truck with all their possessions and two small children to move to the West to start a business of their own. They landed in Moab and their business, Gambles (The Friendly Store), was opened in 1961.

They operated the family business on the corner of First South and Main for over 40 years. Many people in Moab remark that Don helped them get a start in life by extending friendly credit terms for needed items. Son, Chris (’62) and daughter, Meg (’63) were born during the first couple of years in Moab, and son, John, was born in 1966. The seven Knowles would go on to create many enduring memories together.

During that time Don became a respected civic leader in Moab. He served two terms as Chamber of Commerce president and along with other members established an economic development arm to help small businesses in the community. He was active with the Rotary Club, serving a term as president, and was an ardent supporter of the high school Interact Club. Don was also a past-president of the Canyonlands Natural History Association.

Don loved the outdoors and often took the family hunting, fishing, skiing, or just exploring the red rock country. Shortly after moving to Moab, Don took a job driving for Mitch Williams at Tag-a-Long Tours. He had two stipulations: the position would be unpaid, and Jo Ann could ride along with him. He and Jo Ann went on annual ski vacations with their good friends, Bill and Doris Ransom, whom they met while Don was with Michigan Limestone. His skiing career lasted until age 75, which allowed him to reach a personal goal to receive free senior lift tickets.

Don and Jo Ann traveled extensively in their later years visiting South America, Scandinavia, Egypt, Spain, Australia, and other destinations. Don’s favorite was a “tent-camping” expedition to Africa. Dad loved seeing the exotic wild animals there and enjoyed telling a story about a hungry monkey who attempted to unzip the door of their tent in search of food.

Don had a tremendous memory and delighted in regaling a group with stories of his life. He could recount memories of his youth, of times at Lafayette, of special trips with family and friends, fish caught, deer missed, weddings, graduations, Easter egg hunts with the Sam and Adrien Taylor family … Don was especially proud of his children, his grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Of course, he never bragged about them. All who were privileged to hear Don’s stories enjoyed them immensely.

In May, Don and his children, along with some of his grandchildren, attended a 90th birthday celebration for his sister, Alice, in Spokane, Washington. Alice, along with her daughters, Lois and Beth, hosted a most festive affair with longtime friends attending to give her best wishes. The timing was most fortunate as Alice turned ill shortly thereafter and preceded Don in death by less than a month.

Don endured a significant hardship in his life during the past several years with Jo Ann’s Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and her subsequent move to a senior living center in Chandler. He visited her often, and she lit up every time, recognizing him as the special person in her life. Up to the end he was hoping that he would be able to turn around and see Jo Ann standing there beside him.

Don was a longstanding member of the Community Church of Moab. He attended and enjoyed the services there throughout his years in Moab.

Don wished to be cremated and his remains will be interred in a graveside memorial, which will be followed by a celebration of his life. Details will be announced soon.

The family wishes to publicly thank his caregivers, Annie and Bianca, and the team at Grand County Hospice for their tremendous care and support for Don over the past several weeks. You are truly angels.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in his honor can be made to Grand County Hospice, 450 Williams Way, Moab, UT 84532 or to the Alzheimer’s Association online at