Take my hand

Clueless suitor finally gets the hint

Posted 1/26/23

Lloyd Sullivan was oblivious despite being pursued by Donna Brown.

“She was out of my league,” he said. “I had no clue.”

Even when Donna covered for Lloyd as he …

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Take my hand

Clueless suitor finally gets the hint


Lloyd Sullivan was oblivious despite being pursued by Donna Brown.

“She was out of my league,” he said. “I had no clue.”

Even when Donna covered for Lloyd as he repeatedly showed up late for choir at Billings Senior High School, he still had no idea she was sweet on him. 

“He had caught my eye, so when he would come in late, I wouldn’t mark him tardy,” Donna said. 

Still, Lloyd couldn’t believe a woman as beautiful as Donna — the president of the choir no less — would have anything to do with him.

“I was afraid of her,” Lloyd admitted. “She was out of my league. She was the editor of the high school yearbook, she played the piano and she sang in a choir. She had guys around all the time.”

He was shocked when one of Donna’s friends informed him he should ask her out. It wasn’t until right before graduation he finally got up the courage to ask. She said yes.

Then she found out he had an early curfew, imposed by his father; a Southern Baptist preacher. 

“I could be five minutes early, but I couldn’t be five minutes late,” Lloyd said of his strict upbringing.

Donna suggested she could talk with the preacher to clear up the problem. There was a city-wide celebration the night of graduation and she didn’t want to miss the fun. 

Lloyd cringed, but Donna was fearless. Shortly after she met Lloyd’s father, she had permission to keep him out as long as she wanted.

“She had him wrapped around her finger,” Lloyd said with a grin.

Since that night more than six decades ago, Lloyd and Donna have been inseparable, though it took some patience at first. Lloyd had rules, you see.

“If you wouldn’t go with me in my pickup, then you were too good to go with me,” he said.

The truck was an old 1948 Ford F-1 half-ton clunker. It was a bit of an ask, but Donna had no issues with the request. The second request was harder to handle; Lloyd refused to get serious with Donna unless she pledged to join his church. She eventually did, but it still took quite some time before they shared a first kiss.

“It took 17 dates,” Donna recounted shortly after their December anniversary.

“He wanted to make sure I knew the Lord first,” she said.

Finally together as a couple and hopelessly in love, they instantly had to separate while Lloyd headed to college in Texas and Donna enrolled at Montana State University.

“I wrote him every day,” Donna said.

Lloyd did not write back. Instead, he called once a week — collect. 

Somehow, he still managed to keep Donna interested. He soon returned to the area to give his college education a second shot at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. That didn’t work out too well.

“I left Rocky with a 1.54 GPA,” he said.

It didn’t matter, he was close to Donna again and head over heels in love. They married in 1961 in the church and were soon off on their honeymoon in Big Timber and Bozeman. Lloyd had $35 in his pocket for the special occasion. 

The money lasted three days and they came back to Billings and Lloyd went to work at Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Eventually, Lloyd grew tired of having a boss and knew Donna was an excellent book-keeper, so together with his younger brother, David Sullivan, and Frank Himphill, his boss from Sears, they purchased a hardware store and some rental properties. 

It wasn’t long after they started the business that they started building special-use trailers for geologists and buying equipment to get into the trucking business. They had no idea what they were doing, yet were enthusiastic in their youth. They didn’t even have a company name at first.

His former boss, Frank, who was like a brother, was convinced the trio had no idea what they were doing as they tried to build the business. “We’re just a bunch of ding-a-lings,” Lloyd said his friend told him. “We’re crazy.”

They thought about the unfortunate but true statement, their predicament and then decided to call the company Tri Bell (as in three ding-a-lings) Industries, eventually moving the company to Powell and the rest, as they say, is history.

Unfortunately, history has a way of weaving sadness and adversity into life stories. 

Donna and Lloyd were building their family, having had three sons and building a thriving business. Then, on a trip to Oklahoma, David and his wife were involved in an accident and both died in a horrific, fiery crash. A drunk driver crossed into their lane and met them head-on.

Prior to the accident the parents of two boys had signed a will requesting Donna and Lloyd care for their kids should anything happen to them. The day after the accident the Sullivan family welcomed two more children to the fold. 

“We just built another layer on the bunk beds,” Lloyd said.

The five boys, Brian, Bradley, Brandon, Michael and Don, were their main emphasis in life. But with the patriarch on the road delivering livestock on a regular basis with Tri Bell, mom received the bulk of the family responsibilities.

“This little girl raised the five boys. And me,” Lloyd confessed while looking somewhat apologetically at his wife of 61 years.

The Sullivan’s now have 15 grandchildren and were recently blessed with their first great-grandchild. And, as he looked back, Lloyd realized the heavy load Donna carried and felt it was time to thank her for everything.

“When she comes in the room she brings the sunshine with her,” he said.

Romance has overcome Lloyd in recent years as the couple finally has time to properly attend to their relationship. He decided to send his beautiful wife flowers. 

Luckily for local florists, for years now every Tuesday a knock comes at the door of their Gilbert Street address to deliver a bouquet. 

Donna will gently arrange them in a vase and place them on the upright piano in their spotless but comfortable living room. She doesn’t play anymore due to a recent medical condition, but music has always been a common bond for the couple. They met in high school music programs and fell in love to ballads. They both volunteered their abilities in church; Lloyd directed the music program and Donna played the piano and organ in the church for decades.

But, despite spending most of their time producing gospel music, it was Elvis who sang “their” song, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Take my hand

Take my whole life, too

For I can’t help falling in love with you

Though it may have taken Lloyd a considerable amount of time to get a clue, once the lightbulb went off the couple who was born to sing are still making wonderful music. Some things are meant to be.