David M. Trail

David Trail Photo

Last Saturday afternoon Dave’s earthly life was brought to an abrupt end by a gunman on a shooting spree.  This was not Dave’s first acquaintance with tragedy. During his Moscow childhood, his life was nearly ended by fire during a routine ‘trash burning’.  After almost a year in local hospital beds, he overheard the doctor inform his folks, Floyd & Louise Trail (they thought I was asleep, he explained) that their badly burned little boy was not going to make it.  Dave set out to prove the doctor wrong.

While recovering and still confined to the hospital bed, he entertained himself by doing finger exercises “so that my fingers would be strong enough to play the piano when I got out” and developing his ear (and demonstrating his love for cars) by listening to the sounds of car engines through the open hospital window and guessing the make and model.  “I asked the nurses to run to the window to confirm my accuracy”.  This happy, determined little boy was one of their favorite patients.

Happy determination shaped his life over the next 7 decades.

While a student at Moscow High, he owned 1,000 fryers and 250 laying hens—delivering eggs by bicycle.  His determination won him the National Poultry 4-H award.  His zeal was contagious, perhaps genetic, as three of his children also went on to win National 4-H awards.  4-H stimulated his love for other interests ranging from gardening to machinery.  He went on to help establish the Mountain View 4-H club and he had his kids raise money for family vacations by selling pumpkins each fall.  His love for the garden never abated and each fall found him busy distributing the abundance to friends, employees, tenants and neighbors.  Each Halloween his 8 grandchildren and 4 children looked forward to receiving their monogramed pumpkins.  As a youngster Dave built a small engine go-cart ‘The Jitterbug’, which continues to delight his grandchildren.

At the University of Idaho, he met two of the loves of his life, the Sigma Chi Fraternity and his wife of 53 years, Suzanna Shern Trail.  He employed his remarkable musical ear to finance his way through college with earnings from the ‘Dave Trail Quartet’.  He could play almost any musical instrument, with piano being his specialty.  Entertaining others has been a life-long passion and he has continued to entertain around the region.   His third son, Roger, inherited his father’s ear and has been involved in many bands during his life.

When the Sigma Chi Chapter at the U of I needed a new home and “while I was too young to know any better” he traveled the nation raising funds. He continued to be active in Sigma Chi after college and later raised funds for an additional (and present) chapter house on the U of I campus.  As a ‘Life Loyal Sig’ he continued serving the fraternity for the rest of his life as a perennial contributor to the chapter’s scholarship funds.  After many years of involvement, Sigma Chi named Dave to the Order of Constantine, the fraternity’s highest honor for commitment, dedication and service. It pleased him greatly that his three sons joined the Sigma Chi chapter at the U of I.  His eldest son, Martin continues to serve as the Chapter Advisor today and his second son, Mike, was named the International Balfour Award winner, Sigma Chi’s highest undergraduate honor and the premier award for the international fraternity with over 300,000 members.

While at the U of I (he graduated in Business and Agronomy) he met his wife, Suzie Shern of Coeur d’ Alene, an Alpha Phi. In spite of the fact that she never got to dance because “Dave was always playing in the band”, they married at the end of their college career and went on to be a devoted and hardworking team for 53 years as they raised their children, gardened and ran the family businesses.  Suzie served as the bookkeeper for over 50 years.  “Not something I was particularly prepared to do as a Home-Economics major, but we succeeded!” she laughs.

In 1964, after a brief stint in Spokane as a grain buyer, he accepted an offer with Northwestern Mutual and three years later he returned to his hometown to rebuild the company’s Moscow branch.  Dave was proud and loyal to this mutual (customer-owned) company because he knew that it focused on the best interests of its customers.  During his career he wrote numerous articles on estate planning and taxation, speaking over 100 times for the company around the country, which currently has over $212 billion in assets and has been listed  as ‘America’s Most Admired’ by Fortune Magazine for decades. Last summer he was recognized by Northwestern’s president for 50 years of outstanding service.  He was proud of the fact that his business involved ‘three generations’ and he was working on a continuity plan with his son, Martin Trail (34 years with Northwestern), and grandson-in-law, Justin Swift, at the time of his death.  He didn’t speak much about these accomplishments and folks are often amazed that he did this from the little town of Moscow, Idaho.

In the community, Dave was involved in Moscow’s Rotary for over 45 years.  He served as President and was a Paul Harris Fellow.    He and Suzie often hosted the club’s summer picnics on Moscow Mountain.  He often played keyboard and entertained at many Rotary functions, when he was not busy selling Idaho Potatoes to raise funds. He truly enjoyed his friendships and service focus of the many Rotarians he met over the years. Dave could often be seen driving people around in one of his antique cars.  He drove many dignitaries in parades and newlyweds to their receptions.  This was a prime example of his quiet and humble way of serving his community.

His drive to succeed in business did not overshadow his desire to help others kick-start their own careers—one attorney mentioned recently that Dave sent him so many referrals when he started his own practice that he barely had time to get his office opened.  From the Moscow office a number of national Northwestern Mutual leaders emerged.  Importantly, he did not forget his own family.  He once turned down a very sweet deal in Beverly Hills because he felt it was not in the best interest of his family.  He knew that Moscow was a place he wanted to continue to raise his children.  His daughter Kathy recalls, “Dad always provided incredible support and encouragement to me regardless of the situation.” Like her father, Kathy has exhibited tremendous determination throughout her life.

Dave was not always serious; he often displayed a quirky sense of humor.  Former high school classmates report various antics including drinking the paint-brush rinse water in art class.  The rinse water aftertaste has faded, but his paintings still hang in the family home. Growing up, his kids loved to sing ‘silly songs’ along with him at the piano. He once had a video of himself dressed up as a termite driving a tractor across the Palouse fields.

Dave communicated his love by giving.  He modeled determination, honesty and treating other people right.  He always encouraged others to support their local community.  All of his children grew up knowing, because of his praise, that their mom was the best cook on the planet and that the quickest way to get in trouble with Dad was to disrespect Mom.

Family survivors in addition to his wife, Suzie, include his children Martin Trail (Julie) and children Carli Swift (Justin) and Cooper Trail of Moscow; Mike Trail (Elsa) and children Sofia and Olivia of Bainbridge Island, Washington; Roger Trail (Alba) and children Austin and David of Clarkston, Washington; Kathy Trail and children Peter and Abby Croson of Redmond, Washington; his siblings Tom Trail (Jo Ann) of Moscow, Marilyn Trail of Worley, Idaho, and Susan Trail of Ellensburg, Washington and many extended family members.

Dave told others that he would work until he died, and so he did.  He died doing what he loved.  Happy determination, love and loyalty defined Dave’s life. He is irreplaceable and is sorely missed.

A Memorial Service will be held Saturday, January 17th at 11:00 AM at the Moscow Church of the Nazarene with a reception to follow. Arrangements are under the direction of Short’s Funeral Chapel, Moscow, and online condolences may be left at www.shortsfuneralchapel.com

Donations in Dave’s memory may be made to one of the following:

Sigma Chi

Make the check payable to: University of Idaho Foundation

On the memo indicate that it is for the 7 Founders Fund (EE512)/UI Sigma Chi Chapter in memory of David Trail

Mail the check to: University of Idaho Foundation, PO Box 443147, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-3147

Phone: 208-885-5938



Make the check payable to: University of Idaho Extension

On the memo indicate that it is for the Latah County 4-H Green & Gold Awards Clubs in memory of David Trail

Mail the check to: University of Idaho Extension, PO Box 8068, Moscow, ID 83843-0568

Phone: 208-883-2267

39 Responses to David M. Trail

  1. Gary Cummings says:

    It is a sad time for Moscow. Losing a great man like Dave is heartbreaking to all of us who knew him. Dave was a good friend and my life insurance agent for the last 45 + years. He was always ready to help out wherever he could, and never had a bad word to say about anyone. His support of the community will be sorely missed. My sympathies go out to his family, friends and all of his co-workers.
    Gary Cummings

  2. Michael J Strub and Jaynejo Strub says:

    Dave and I were fraternity brothers at the University of Idaho where he was a tireless worker and inspiration to us all. My heart goes out to you and your family during this difficult loss. Dave will be remembered for all the good works he did for so many people and for making people smile and bringing music and laughter into their lives. It’s going to be very difficult to think of this world without him, but it is a happy thought knowing that wherever he is, he is only spreading happiness.

  3. Paul Nick says:

    Still in shock but wanted to reflect on my 44 years having Dave as a friend and Northwestern Mutual business associate.
    I met Dave at a DA meeting in Milwaukee in 1970. It was late when I arrived at the hotel but Dave was playing the piano and leading the group in song. Not so cool a thing to be doing in the early 70’s. He didn’t care because that was Dave and we all had a great time. We met over the years at meetings and conferences and I never heard him speak disparagingly about anybody. He always had a smile even when the business was testing him. In the mid ’70’s he came to Houston for a presentation to our office in which he showed us his “term insurance flameout chart”. It was so basic and so truthful that I still have it in my files. I’m sure most of his clients are very familiar with this chart. If I could ask Dave what he thinks about the events of this week I’m sure he would say “forgive him Lord, for he knows not what he has done”.

    God speed my friend,

  4. Sheila Janssen Klages and Karl W. Klages says:

    The write-up on Mr. David Trail in the January 15 Spokesman Review is outstanding about an outstanding person. He should be considered a role model for all of us. Our condolences to his family.
    Sheila Janssen Klages (MHS’49/UI’53) and Karl W. Klages (MHS’48/UI’52)

  5. Pam (Yates) Cromer says:

    Dear Trail Family,

    I was saddened and shocked to hear of Dave’s passing. I had the opportunity to work for Dave in the early 70’s, when he hired me to work in the office and ‘join the professionals’ at NML, while putting my husband through school at the University of Idaho. He was a leader and role model to everyone. There simply are not words to describe the pain you must be feeling. My heart goes out to you Suzie and family. What a ruthless act to end the life of a kind and thoughtful man. I am sorry for your loss and will be praying for you, Dave’s colleagues and the community.

    Fondly, Pam (Yates) Cromer

  6. Domie, Gina and Jacquie Lustig says:

    Dear Martin, Julie, Carli, and Cooper,

    We were so very sad to hear of the loss of your father and grandfather. His obituary is so beautifully written and is quite an inspiration. What a wonderful life he lead and how obviously he was loved by all of you. We just wanted you to know that our family, and many others here on the Camas Prairie, are praying for you and are fully trusting that Our Lord will carry you through this really difficult time. Be assured of the prayers of so many… May God comfort you all!

  7. Bruce Lines & Family says:

    The Trail Family,

    Dave Trail a very special friend, fraternity brother, and head of a very loving family.

    I picture him extending his hand in love and friendship to a new acquaintance in the exact same manner as he would to an old friend. One just cannot put into words what is was to know Dave, as he was just bigger than life. To say he will be missed is such an understatement, but he will live on within the memories of those who were lucky enough to be among those he called family and friends.

  8. Jim Marker says:

    I have been blessed to be a member of Daves Study Group for the last five years. I admired Dave from afar my first 31 years with the company. He was an idea machine. I took notes when he gave talks and enjoyed his style. When I joined the study group I witnessed how he and Suzie treated each other and it was a testimony to a great life.
    Last year at the annual meeting in Milwaukee I introduced my son,who is a new financial rep, to Dave and Suzie. They were very encouraging and Dave shared words some words of wisdom. Carol and I feel so incredibly blessed to call Dave and Suzie our friends. I will always try to emulate Dave in all my business affairs.
    Our prayers are with you,
    Jim and Carol Marker

  9. Sharon Case Smith says:

    Suzie and family. Words cannot express the sorrow we feel for you. We will remember you in our prayers during this trying time and for many days to come.

  10. Bruce Lines & Family says:

    Dave Trail Family

    Dave Trail a very special friend, fraternity brother, and head of a very loving family.

    I picture him extending his hand in love and friendship to a new acquaintance in the exact same manner as he would to an old friend. One just cannot put into words what is was to know Dave, as he was just bigger than life. To say he will be missed is such an understatement, but he will live on within the memories of those who were lucky enough to be among those he called family and friends.

  11. Peg (Snow) Anderson says:

    To the Trail Family,
    I was so sorry to hear of this tragedy and especially of your loss. I have many happy memories of David, of his sunny disposition and laughter, from time we spent together in school and 4-H. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with each of you.
    Peg (Snow) Anderson

  12. ALAN & TAMI SLONAKER says:

    Susie and Family, we are very sorry to hear of the tragic loss of Dave. We considered him a good friend. We have done business with him on several occasions for many years and he was always honest and fair and helpful. We admire his work ethic, he never did quit. Living as neighbors we could always tell he enjoyed family, especially the little ones! We heard lots of laughs and giggles coming from his home while kids were there playing in his yard. We are so thankful he gave us the opportunity to purchase and develop his land and live here. He is for sure a man to look up to and admire. Susie is very strong and we know she will carry on as Dave would want her to. So glad we knew this great man. Until we meet again………..

  13. ALAN & TAMI SLONAKER says:

    Suzie and Family, we are very sorry to hear of the tragic loss of Dave. We considered him a good friend. We have done business with him on several occasions for many years and he was always honest and fair and helpful. We admire his work ethic, he never did quit. Living as neighbors we could always tell he enjoyed family, especially the little ones! We heard lots of laughs and giggles coming from his home while kids were there playing in his yard. We are so thankful he gave us the opportunity to purchase and develop his land and live here. He is for sure a man to look up to and admire. Susie is very strong and we know she will carry on as Dave would want her to. So glad we knew this great man. Until we meet again………..

  14. bob thorson says:

    i first met dave in 1990 and was immediately impressed by him. although i only worked with nwml through late 1995, i still remember him fondly. he was a good person and a fine man. may the peace of Jesus Christ be with his family.

  15. Jessika Satori says:

    When I heard the news, my mind immediately went back to the many 4-H activities–Achievement Nights and Latah County Fairs, 4-H Camp at Heyburn and Club Congress, Idaho Pride and District Demonstration Contests. David was such a supporter of 4-H and I am grateful for his presence to us, especially as Teen Leaders. My heart goes out to Suzie and family, to Tom, Jo Ann and family, and the many communities he touched. What a gift to us.

    With love,
    10-year 4-H member
    Keen Teens 4-H Club

  16. Jane Freund says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a man who touched so many lives! As I read it, I was reminded of what was said of my high school English teacher and mentor, Sue Mousseau, at her funeral in 2002: “You never know whom you’ll influence nor when nor how.”

    I join countless others in sending my prayers and sympathies to all the members of the Trail family and those whom he influenced. I will not be with you in Moscow this Saturday but will be in spirit (and will continue to pray far beyond ).

  17. Kristi (Brown) Overfelt says:

    My deepest condolences on the loss of Dave. He was a very special man with a very special family. He will be remembered fondly. All were blessed who knew him.

  18. Lisa Graue Gingerich says:

    Dear Trail family,
    I was saddened to hear of Dave’s passing. He was a family friend and financial consultant, always going out of his way to attend to any business we needed taken care of. He was a person I would call for sage, fatherly advice. He was always ready with a story from ‘back in the day’ about my grandad, Dr. Erwin Graue. He was also a friend and classmate of my dad. Our prayers go out to your family for comfort in this difficult time. He will be missed.

  19. Jerry Moore says:

    Sent: Tue 1/13/15 9:49 PM
    To: Suzie Trail
    As I write this, there are tears in my eyes. I am so sorry to hear the news about David, and hope you, Suzie, are bearing up, although it must be very difficult.
    I will always remember David as the first of my 5th grade classmates to welcome and even befriend me when I first moved to Moscow and entered Whitworth Junior High. I would bike out to visit him at the farm, where we played around the pond, which was, I think, new at that time. Being a city kid only recently from New England, it was an entirely fascinating experience to clamber over all the farm machinery, and his parents were very nice to me.
    We who went through our formative years in the Moscow public schools with David knew how readily and consistently he would volunteer to make his numerous and unique contributions to our general welfare, and we could count on his enduring friendship. I remember fondly the nighttime sledding parties in the snow, and the fun of acting (up) as angels in our high school play. Always diligent, he achieved the professional adult career in agriculture and personal finance that he seemingly had mapped from the beginning, and clearly enjoyed making his music on the way.
    David was an outstanding role model of the good citizen. He was appreciated and will be sorely missed.
    Jerry Moore
    MHS Class of 57

  20. Ellen McKenzie says:

    To David’s family and friends, my deep condolences in the loss of David. The whole community is grieving over these events and losses. Words are inadequate at this time. I will keep you in my prayers.

  21. Allyn & Linda Woerman says:

    Dear Trail Family –
    We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our friend and advisor, Dave. For more than 45 years, he was always there with sage advice and counsel and helped put our financial ship on a smooth course. He patiently and compassionately helped both sides of our family through the rough times of estate settlement and came along side with personal touches and kind expressions of understanding and caring. We pray that God’s comfort and peace will sustain the Trail Family as they move forward without the patriarch. We will miss him a great deal.

  22. Gerry Nijskens says:

    Dear family Trail,
    Please accept my condoleances on your lost. I was a guest in the house of Tom and Jo Ann for several times, for the first time in 1984. Jo Ann enlightened me on this sad happening. I wish you all the best to be able to handle this.

  23. Gerry Nijskens says:


  24. Carla Stevenson (Clifford) says:

    My condolences go out to Mr. Trail’s amazing family in this tragedy. I knew Mike while we were both at U of I – we attended a dance together – and he spoke very highly of his Dad & family. You will all be in my prayers.

  25. Kent Kleinkopf says:

    To the Trail Family,
    Please accept my condolences and best wishes for the entire family of Trails. From the time we spent together as fraternity brothers at Idaho until the present day, I haven’t met a nicer or kinder person. I still have the life policy he sold me before graduation and I have very warm thoughts each January when my annual statement arrives in the mail. Please know my thoughts and prayers are with you and Dave.
    Kent Kleinkopf

  26. Ron and Sherry Fredricks says:

    How providential that almost the first day we came to Moscow to live I met Dave. At almost the same time we bacame acquainted with his brother, Tom, and his family. We lived in Moscow only three years and that was in the 1970’s, 30 some years ago. Yet even today that family continues to be at the top of our list of cherished friends. Dave was our insurance agent and was the utmost professional. While I didn’t know Dave as well as I did his brother my dealings with him showed me the character and traits in a man I knew I could trust and admire.

    We send our love and condolences to all Dave’s family and dear friends. We wish we could be with you all tomorrow.

  27. Kay (Oakes, MHS '57) Oring and Lewis Oring says:

    To all the Trail family:
    Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you. Kay knew Dave from the time she moved to Moscow in 1948. His mother was my 4-H leader and Susie was in that club. Lew knew him at UI when they both served on Inter fraternity council. We are indeed saddened.

  28. Susan Alexander says:

    To the family of David Trail.

    Please accept my condolences at the loss of your loved one. I knew Dave as a customer of my place of employment, Papineau Insurance, and it was always a pleasure doing business with him and visiting with him when he called or stopped by the office. During those brief visits it was evident that he was a kind and thoughtful person. What a terrible waste of such good man. I know that there are no words that can comfort you at this time but please know that my thoughts and prayers are with each and every one of you.


    Susan Alexander

  29. Bob & Jo Ann Badertscher says:

    Just after we were married, we met Dave, who became our Agent for NML for Life. His advice and sensitivity to our circumstances have always been appreciated, and after 47 years everything he told us was absolutely correct. But more important than our NML agent, Suzie and Dave became our friends. Where-ever we moved across the country (more than 10 times), Dave kept track of us, and both of them would often visit with us (even with their children – in San Diego once) to keep in touch and share in our lives. We are praying for the Comfort and LOVE of Christ to fill Suzie and Family at this time of sorrow, and want each one to know that we mourn with them. The tragic way in which Dave left us, should remind all of us how important each day that we live are to others, and make it our goal to share His Love and Joy with each one we know, just as Dave shared so generously with us.

  30. John and Joanna Adams, Coeur d'Alene says:

    Suzie, Joanna and I just want you to know that you and your family are in our thoughts and prayers. We will
    not be able to attend tomorrow, but look forward to seeing you sometime soon.
    Joanna said that the very first insurance policy she bought back in the late 60s she bought from Dave. Joanna grew up on a farm between Potlatch and Palouse and graduated from the U of I about 1967 or 68. She was also a 4H’r Anyway, we are thinking of you.
    John Adams

  31. Larry & Sherie Schafer says:

    Dave sold my husband a life insurance policy 50 years ago; our association expanded to include 3 generations of our family. He was always there for us and will be very missed. I don’t think there are adequate words to express our sorrow at his passing which has been such a shock.

  32. Ordonez Quintanilla Family says:

    Our prayers and thoughts are with you. God bless you.
    Pepe, Cecilia, Annie and Jose Ordonez

  33. Erin Howser Dodson says:

    Suzie and family,
    I am so sorry for your sudden and senseless loss. Please know that the thoughts and prayers from many are surrounding you.

    Erin Howser Dodson
    Alpha Phi in the 70’s

  34. Joel Foy says:

    The Trail family has produced generations of leaders in the Palouse. I knew of Dave mostly because my sister and I grew up in the house that my parents bought from his parents, Floyd and Louise Trail, in the sixties. But I didn’t know him as well as I probably should have. Humble as he was, it may be that much of the community was unaware of the breadth of his many talents and accomplishment, and of his generosity, although those qualities were very clear to the many whom he touched. Dave was a shining example of true leadership – quietly developing ideas and working tirelessly to the end to implement his visions – leading by example. I cannot imagine the loss his family and the community must feel. I’m very saddened by this tragic loss. Dave and his family have been and will continue to be in my thoughts along with many happy memories of Moscow.

  35. Tami (Hillestad) Jeffords says:

    Dear Trail family:

    My heart is breaking for your family (especially Martin and Ruth ) who I remember fondly from high school. I don’t know David, but if he is anything like Ruth and Martin, I know enough to be heartbroken right now along with them as they are most likely in the funeral. May

  36. Tami (Hillestad) Jeffords says:

    Dear Trail family: (amendment to previous email) May God’s perfect peace surround you at this time and restore your hearts completely.

    Tami Jeffords

  37. Dick Rush says:

    I think all of us who knew Dave Trail are in shock. He was a gentle and fun loving sole and the last person who I could have dreamed would die a violent death. I have know Dave and family for over 60 years as a friend, mentor, agent and inspiration. He travelled to Boise each year to update Nancy and my insurance policies but mainly to fill me in on the happenings in Moscow, where we both grew up. During a time when I suffered a serious illness, he was a great comfort to my parents and my wife Nancy. All the Rush family wishes Suzie and family condolences and prayer.

    I will miss Dave.

    Dick Rush

  38. Sean and Alison Woerman says:

    Dave was a lifelong friend to our family that spanned three generations. He would often visit Alison and I when he was in the Seattle on business or visiting family. I had spoken to him before the end of the year about when we would meet on his next scheduled trip, and wished me and the family well. He was always so polite courteous. We will miss him dearly. Our prayers go out to his entire family.

  39. Dr. & Mrs. Cesar H. Guerra says:

    Our thoughts and prayers are with with the Trail Family.

    Dr. & Mrs. Cesar H. Guerra
    Amarillo, Texas

    Mrs. Elsa Guerra
    Dallas, Texas

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