Whether cheering on his children, hosting festive family events, or offering wise advice — Don Spragan Sr., better known as Big Don, was a man to be counted on, and a popular presence who spread smiles everywhere he went.
He passed away of natural causes on July 4, 2020, at the age of 72, surrounded by his wife, kids, and grandkids — a testament to how much he was loved.
Born on March 30, 1949, in Oakland, CA, he was raised in Alameda, CA, before moving to Union City, CA. Big Don graduated from Alameda’s Encinal High School in 1967 before going on to the College of Alameda and Laney College where he pursued football — a passion he later passed on to his children.
A storied love affair with his wife, Connie, was a focal point of Big Don’s life. He first laid eyes on her at Eastmont Mall in Oakland, CA, and his life was forever changed. They were married for 45 years, raising four children together — Donnie Spragan Jr., Donna K. Gaines, Darryl K. Rose, and later their niece Gabrielle Marshall McQueen.
They complemented each other with grace and ease. Where Don was stubborn, Connie was the voice of reason. Where Don was a visionary and risk taker, Connie, a conservative planner. From poverty to entrepreneurship, they weathered all of life’s challenges as a team, setting an example of true, lasting love for all who knew them, and particularly their children.
When Connie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Don remained faithfully by her side, caring for her as long as he could. He always looked out for her, ensuring she had everything she needed and showing how much he loved her until the very end.
The ultimate sports dad, Big Don could faithfully be found in the stands at his children’s events, drowning out everyone else with his enthusiastic cheers. He cheered them on from high school to college to the NFL, where his son Don Jr. took the field. He taught Don Jr. determination, work ethic and stubbornness — all qualities that helped his son become a star.
Holiday gatherings were elaborate affairs for Big Don. His mom Susie started the tradition of bringing people together, and he continued it throughout his lifetime. With his outgoing demeanor and famous sense of humor, he invited brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends — anyone who needed a good meal was welcome. At Christmas, he’d hide money in the tree for guests to find, and dress up as Santa to hand out gifts … anything to bring some special Christmas cheer.
His Labor Day Picnic was one of his yearly events. Friends and family gathered as he organized sack races, softball games, egg tosses, watermelon eating contests and anything else he could do to bring happiness to the people he loved. Without fail, every year at this event, someone would always drop the baked beans which became an anticipated part of the festivities. Caring, comical and creative, everyone was always waiting to see what he’d come up with next. He was the best storyteller and had an endless vault of experiences to pull from especially with childhood friends like Doug, Leonard, and many others from his roots in Alameda.
Too stubborn to work for anyone else, Big Don had an eye for entrepreneurship. So, he created Star n Star meat company from the ground up. Known affectionately as “The Meat Man,” he’d go door to door selling his product and grew the brand into a restaurant and food distribution company — an accomplishment he was particularly proud of.
Don was preceded in death by his mom Susie Spragan, his sister Dale Denise Spragan, his brother Robert L. Hicks, his daughter Angelique Spragan, and his stepson Darryl K. Rose. He is survived by his beloved wife, Connie Spragan, his son Donnie Spragan Jr. and his wife Dr. Danielle Spragan, his daughter Donna K Gaines and her husband John Gaines, his daughter Sharon Spragan, his niece Gabrielle Marshall Mcqueen and her husband John Mcqueen, his brother Ceasar Kyles, his great aunt Vera Long, nine grandchildren and many, cousins, nieces and nephews.
A mentor to many, Big Don was known for lending a kind and understanding ear. No judgments, just guidance. He was a patriarch, a leader — a true rock to the people in his life. His grit, determination, and easy smile will live on in the hearts of all who knew him.
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