Donald Tialavea (1961 – 2013), “Sweet D” was born in Oceanside, California to Taeaolelei Ava and Maoai Tialavea. He was the 7th of 9 children. Don enjoyed singing and playing the saxophone and piano. Sports were a major part of his life. In high school he played baseball, basketball, and football. Don played football at Santa Ana College in California for two years, then transferred to the University of Utah as an offensive lineman.
In honor of his deceased first cousin, Don began the Big John Manumaleuna Foundation of Utah in the 1980’s. He ran these Polynesian basketball tournaments with the goal of giving less fortunate kids the opportunity to learn life skills through playing sports. This tournament brought teams from all over the United States and the Pacific Islands. It grew from 6 teams his first year to 42 teams in 2002, when he was forced to retire the tournament due to his health issues.
Donald was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He married Tami Scott in 1989 in the Salt Lake City LDS Temple. This was the beginning of a union that brought three choice spirits into this world: Julianne, Donald Jr. (DJ), and Abigail. He received great joy in rearing his children, teaching them and watching them grow and develop. In June 1991 Donald was suddenly diagnosed with acute viral cardiomiopathy. Soon thereafter, he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. This painful autoimmune arthritic disease began to break down his body, eventually leaving him unable to walk. This ended his career as a State of Utah Youth Corrections counselor, and was the beginning of a long and difficult life of illness and disability. This illness, however, did not stop him from building strong relationships with everyone he met.
He had the gift of congeniality, the ability to get along with others and have their confidence. He was unable to physically carry out his desire to serve others, but he ensured that service was performed for others by his family. He taught his family the importance of showing love and losing yourself in the service of others. He was gifted with leadership qualities, leading by example which influenced many. Family was the most valuable thing in Don’s life.
In 2004 he and his family were presented with the award from the Utah Governor’s Initiative on Families Today as the “Pacific Islander Family of the Year”. This was in honor of their success and the service rendered to others by his family. Don’s family is building a monument to him as they continue his legacy of creating opportunities for children here, and around the world.