On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, we traveled the busy highways to the spacious New Song Church in Windsor for the Memorial Service for Don and Jean Klein.
For many years, Don was the radio voice of the Giants and 49ers and much else. Millions of us in Northern California heard him describe the action on the field of play.
In grade school, Don practiced play-by-play calls, dreaming at that early age to be a sportscaster someday. He took his dream to the University of Washington, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa, but his budding sportscasting career in Seattle was interrupted by service in the Navy during World War II. Discharged in Honolulu, he talked KPOA radio into putting him on the air to bring San Francisco Seals baseball games to Hawaii. The Seals held spring training in Maui and were much loved in the islands.
A teletype operator at Seals Stadium sent the particulars of the game to Don in Honolulu where he had a drumstick, a wood block and a seat cushion on his desk. If it was a ball, he hit the cushion; for a hit or foul ball he hit the wood block and re-created the game that way. In 1949, he moved to San Francisco to do live broadcasts from Seals Stadium. Up to then, he said, he had announced 360 Seals games but had never seen them play.
As a kid in high school, I, like so many others, tuned in Don Klein each night to follow our beloved Seals. They played good baseball in the old Pacific Coast League in those days when all 16 major league teams were east of the Mississippi.
Don went on to become Sports Director at CBS in San Francisco, and several of his colleagues were in Windsor to pay tribute to his clear descriptions, his welcoming voice and his unfeigned goodness and humility.
He did the Stanford football games for 25 years and became friends with Coach Bill Walsh. When Walsh moved to the 49ers, so did Klein, a move that led to his famous call of “The Catch,” the Joe Montana to Dwight Clark pass that beat the Dallas Cowboys and put the 49ers in their first Super Bowl.
In retirement, Don did Bible readings in chapel services I conducted at Spring Lake Village. With the same urgency and cadence by which he said, “Montana goes back to pass, fades to the right, throws,” he read, “Jesus walked up the hill, sat down and taught his disciples.” It was as if we were there.
All this and more was happily reviewed in Windsor that day, but the main story became the lifelong love between Don and Jean. It began at a high school dance when Jean asked a friend, “Who is that boy in the green coat?” and Don asked a friend, “Who is that girl in the blue dress?” They were married 72 years, deeply in love the whole time.
Jean knew sports as well as Don did, and she appreciated the sports figures in their world. She answered Don’s fan mail and hosted dinners for their friends. Don didn’t make the dinner one time because the baseball game he was announcing lasted 22 innings. Once, after the 49ers had shellacked their opponent, Jean said, “The 49ers struck gold today,” and Don said, “I’m going to use that.” It became one of his touchdown calls.
These two were a team of their own. They raised three children, one of whom died before his time. They went through their grief as they went through everything — together. This is why, even though Jean died in 2017, the service was for both of them. For all they did in life, it turns out that the main thing about Don and Jean Klein was their love for each other.
Bob Jones is the former minister of the Guerneville and Monte Rio Community Church.