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:
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
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