Obituary: David Barney South, 1939-2020

David and dome map.

David Barney South in 2015 in front of a map of Monolithic Domes.

We are sad to announce the passing of David Barney South Sr.—husband, father, entrepreneur, and inventor. David was married to the late Judy Lynne South (née Bates), and they raised nine children together. He co-invented the Monolithic Dome with his brothers, and they built a new construction industry.

David was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014 after his family noticed his increasingly forgetful behavior. His wife, family, and employees supported him during the past six years as the illness took its toll. David passed away peacefully on November 3, 2020, at 81-years-old.

David was born on February 20, 1939, to Bernard “Barney” Eugene South and Mary Marjorie “Marj” Knapp in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He said he spent his childhood “living with one foot in the nineteenth century and the other foot in the twentieth.” During the winter, the family lived in a modern house in Idaho Falls, where he attended school. They spent their summers at the family sawmill in Island Park, where he slept in a log cabin, drove teams of horses, and attended—until the snow came—a one-room schoolhouse where he helped teach the younger children.

David and Barry with sawmill logs.

David (down) and Barry (up) with a stack of three-sided lumber produced by the family’s sawmill in Island Park, Idaho.

On his sixteenth birthday, tragedy struck. Barney and David were with a crew clearing deep snow from the cabin roofs in Island Park. Barney couldn’t help clear the snow and, after they finished, said he needed to go to the hospital. They put Barney on a toboggan and tracked him out of the mountain to a hospital. It was a heart attack. He died early the next morning. David suffered snow blindness from the trek and had to wear sunglasses full-time for several years. David and his younger brother, Barry, continued to operate the sawmill as two young men of 16 and 14—supporting their mother and four younger siblings.

David and Judy in the IHS choir.

David (fourth from left) and Judy (fifth from right) in the Idaho Falls High School choir.

David graduated from Idaho Falls High School in 1957. He was close friends with Judy Lynne Bates. They had one official date together where David took her to a show, 45 minutes away. She fell asleep on the way home. He figured it was because he was so boring. She said she was just very tired. Judy really liked him. They stayed friends, sang in the high school choir, and performed in the high school musical, Finian’s Rainbow.

They continued as friends after graduation. Eventually, David decided he wanted more than friendship. He asked her to marry him while parked in front of a sugar beet silo. Judy said it might not have been the most romantic spot, but she remembered every detail.

They married in the Idaho Falls Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on February 20, 1959—David’s twentieth birthday. He wanted to tell people he’d waited until he was twenty before getting married.

David and Judy South.

David and Judy South in a portrait celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary.

The young couple continued to work in Island Park and also Idaho Falls while starting their family. David enrolled at Idaho State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He learned from his business classes that the sawmill business was unsustainable. The family sold the sawmill, and David worked as a realtor.

After graduation, he went to work at Chicago Northwestern Railroad as their computer operations officer in 1968. They lived there for two years before returning to Idaho to start a new business using a revolutionary product he discovered in Chicago—polyurethane foam.

David, Barry, and their youngest sibling, Randy, started Souths, Inc., a polyurethane foam insulation business. They became the largest polyurethane foam application company in the West.

As a teenager, David listened to a recorded talk by Buckminster Fuller. He became enamored by the geodesic dome and spent years building small models out of toothpicks and popsicle sticks—eventually building a geodesic dome at his place in Taylor, Idaho. David was disappointed by how much waste there was when cutting square materials into making a round shape. He abandoned the geodesic dome process but still dreamed of building domes—big domes.

He and his brothers incorporated everything they’d learned about polyurethane foam and plaster into a new building process they would later call the Monolithic Dome. They built the first dome in Shelley, Idaho, in April 1976. The dome was large—105 feet diameter by 35 feet tall. It could store 50,000,000 pounds of potatoes.

The dome was a fulfillment of David’s dream. He got the bug, and with his brothers’ help, they started Monolithic Constructors, Inc., the first company dedicated to the new construction process. They worked together, traveling the United States and the world, building domes. Today there are thousands of Monolithic Domes built worldwide.

First Monolithic Dome.

David standing inside the first Monolithic Dome.

David was a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-saints and served as a clerk, teacher, high councilman, branch president, and more. He had a great singing voice and sang in church choirs, which were usually led by his talented wife.

David put his faith into practice. Beyond charitable contributions, David would secretly buy clothes and food for people in need. He asked school leaders to provide him with lists of children in need and would anonymously donate shoes, coats, and other items directly to the school for distribution.

He was passionate about safe, affordable housing. He believed the dome was key to solving housing problems in the developing world and at home. He co-founded Domes For The World, an organization that rebuilt a village in Indonesia, taught others to build dome homes themselves, and is still involved in various projects, including a recent dome housing project for orphans in Haiti.

David also developed a plan for low-cost housing in the United States. He built over 100 small domes near his home in Italy, Texas, that provide many a safe, affordable place to live.

David is preceded in death by his wife Judy Lynne South, father Bernard Eugene South, mother Mary Marjorie Knapp, daughter Julie South, and granddaughters Elizabeth and Lucy Goodwin. Survivors are his children: Sarah Junae Bitter and Lance of Alaska; Jenny Lynne Semenza of Pocatello, Idaho; Nanette South Clark and Gary of Italy, Texas; David B. South Jr. and Jennifer of Logan, Utah; Melinda South of Italy, Texas; Rebecca Jo South and Joseph Benjamin Slota of Italy, Texas; Jessica South Goodwin and Doug of Spanish Fork, Utah; Michael Jay South and Tessa of Italy, Texas; Jamie Lynne South Shaw and Bill of Mesa, Arizona. He is survived by 18 grandchildren, one great-granddaughter, and one great-grandson as well as his brother Phillip Barry South, sister M'Jean Lund, sister Myrna North, sister Susan Crandall, and brother Randy John South.

Due to covid restrictions, no viewing or public funeral is planned. The family will hold a private ceremony.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, people donate to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Humanitarian Aid Fund or to a preferred charity of their choice.

Well-wishers are encouraged to send their thoughts via our contact form or send an email.

David and Judy's family.

David and Judy’s whole family in 1989 on the South Menan Butte in Idaho with (back) Melinda, Jenny, Judy, Nanette, Dave, Sarah, (middle) Jessica, Michael, Rebecca, David, and Jamie. Their granddaughter Shanna is in the front.

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