75°F
weather icon Clear

Former owner of longtime Las Vegas jewelry chain dies at 91

Longtime Las Vegas resident Don J. Christensen, whose family owned and operated MJ Christensen Jewelers from the 1940s until 2000, died last week. He was 91.

Christensen joined his father’s business in 1948 as its comptroller and gemologist and remained with the company until his retirement in 2000, when the business and name was sold to jeweler Cliff Miller.

Although Christensen was “extremely proud of the store and the name,” he was a family man first, said eldest son Wayne Christensen, 64, a history teacher at Palo Verde High School.

Wayne recalled his father, a lifetime member of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints, making a “mouse” with his handkerchief in church to entertain his six kids.

“Dad was fun,” he said. “Mom would get mad at him for making the kids giggle in church.”

Christensen was born in Salt Lake City in 1922 and was raised in Milford, Utah, during the Great Depression. His father started the jewelry business in Las Vegas after relocating from Utah in the 1930s.

Before entering the jewelry business, the 1940 graduate of Las Vegas High School fought for the U.S. Army in World War II, carrying a radio on his back as a platoon runner.

He lost most of his hearing during the war after a German bomb exploded on a farm house he was in. Christensen had been in the basement, Wayne said.

Christensen received a Bronze Star Medal during the Battle of the Bulge, a major German offensive between December 1944 and January 1945.

Wayne said his father was responsible for keeping the phone lines intact during the barrage.

“I got that for being a damn fool,” Christensen would often say later, according to Wayne.

Christensen met his first wife, Zona, during a Mormon mission in Canada shortly after the war, Wayne said. The family later spent summers at her family’s cattle ranch in Alberta, where they were “city-slicker cowboys,” Wayne said.

He was an avid leader in the Boy Scouts of America for more than 60 years, often spending weekends leading mountain hikes.

After Zona died in 2000, Christensen married his second wife, Blanche, a short time later. Wayne said Blanche, also a recent widow, and her first husband had been close with his parents during the 1950s, Wayne said.

“They were consoling each other, and through that renewed acquaintanceship, they decided they were best buddies anyway, so that’s what they did. They got married,” Wayne said.

“My dad could not hear very well, Blanche could not see very well, but my dad could see everything and she could hear everything. They were the perfect couple.”

In 2012 the City of Las Vegas proclaimed Sept. 3 “Don J. Christensen Day.”

Wayne said his father became tired of life about two months ago and knew his time was short. Christensen died on June 18.

“He died when he wanted to,” Wayne said.

He is survived by his wife, Blanche, and the six children he had with Zona: Wayne, Eugene, Carl, Judy, Eric and Marcus. He had 26 grandchildren and 45 great-grandchildren.

A viewing will be held Friday between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Palm Mortuary at 1600 S. Jones Blvd., near Oakey Boulevard. A second viewing will be held at 9 a.m. before the funeral at the LDS Chapel at 6100 W. Alta Drive, near Jones.

The family asked for any donations to be sent to the Mormon missionary fund.

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com. Follow @blasky on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST