Long-time Jacksonville resident Don Wendt, 82, passed away peacefully Thursday, January 24, 2013, after a seventeen-month battle with a muscular-neurological disorder.
Don, the second son of George and Catherine Wendt, was a native son of Jacksonville, Ore. born December 7, 1930. He attended Jacksonville High School, where he began his life-long interest in sports. He played for the basketball team the year it won the state championship and was known by the other players as "Pitshot" or "Pitter." He also played baseball back in the day when players wore wool uniforms, even on hot 110 degree days in Cave Junction. He later refereed games and coached elementary school teams.
In his youth, Don was a member of Boy Scout Troop 35. Later, he became an Eagle Scout and was a member of the Order of the Arrow, the national honor society of the Boy Scouts of America. He went on to be a Boy Scout Master with frequent campouts and hikes at Mt. McLaughlin.
Don attended the University of Oregon before moving with his older brother, George, and sister-in-law to Carmel, Calif. where he attended Monterey Junior College.
In August 1952, Don married Clara Johnson, who would be his wife for more than 60 years.
From there, Don went to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad in Medford, Ore. and after nine years of service he was asked to transfer to Idaho. Not wanting to leave the Rogue Valley, he chose instead to return to school to earn his bachelor's degree in science and education at Southern Oregon College.
He taught school for ten years, first at Lincoln Elementary, then West Side Elementary, and finally at Jefferson Elementary, all in Medford. One year at Christmas, Don was dressed up in his Santa costume and beard for the kids. Unexpectedly, one bright child looked down and said, "Hey, that's Mr. Wendt! Those are Mr. Wendt's shoes!" Oops!
While teaching elementary school, he completed his Master's degree, and during the 1950s and 1960s he was a member of the Masonic Lodge and sang in the Hillah Temple Shrine Chanters.
Don and Clara devoted much of their time to caring for cats. Clara tells of their first cat, Smudge, who was named after the smudge pots in the valley. He was literally dropped in their house by a stray mother cat who came visiting one day and toured the Wendt residence. Mother cat returned the following day, dropped off her kitten and never returned. This is how Smudge found himself in the fortunate situation of being cared for by the Wendts. They would even take their kitty up to their A-frame cabin at Hyatt Lake. On freezing cold days, Don would wrap him up under his jacket as they hiked to the cabin. After many years, Smudge passed on, and the Wendts acquired a pet dog, a black Cockapoo, which, no surprise here, they named "Kitty." Over the years the Wendts would provide care for many cats that happened into their home or Don's shop.
Throughout his life Don's love of sports continued, and he was a member of the Rogue Valley Country Club, where he loved to play golf and was proud of his seven handicap. He was excited when given the opportunity to play his first round of golf at the Salishan Golf Course. He was a bit shocked though to discover that its fairways were so very long and narrow along the edge of the Pacific Ocean. When he returned home, he kept repeating, "I just can't believe I did that." With further explanation he declared that he had lost thirteen golf balls in the deep blue sea.
Don was an enthusiastic volunteer in Jacksonville. He was active in the Chamber of Commerce and was part of the planning team for the development of Doc Griffin Park. He had great fun working on the movie, "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid" which was filmed in Jacksonville. Don was also one of the founders of the Jacksonville Boosters Club, an organization that devotes hours of volunteer work to make Jacksonville the fine community that it is today.
During the years that Don served on the City Council, he was a great supporter of bringing the Britt Music Festival to Jacksonville. He and a crew contoured the hillside in preparation for the amphitheater and, like many Jacksonville residents, offered his home to house Britt musicians.
Don was also an entrepreneur who loved history and old coins, so he opened a coin shop in the historic town of Jacksonville.
In time, his love of history motivated him to become the publisher of a newspaper, The Jacksonville Nugget. It was generally a one-man operation with Don doing the typing, graphic layouts, and writing of the articles from the monthy newspaper. Eventually, he started the Wendtco Web Press (now Valley Web Press) with a partner Ed, so that they could print the newspapers themselves.
At an age when most people choose to retire, Don took his love of history and opened Don's Diggins, where his sold collectibles, like old political buttons coins, and ephemera, like historical newspapers and posters. Here, Don would sit in a rocker and stroke his three cats while waiting for curious tourists to enter the shop. Don operated his business until two years ago, when his eyesight completely failed.
Don was known throughout the town for all of his volunteer work over the years, for his active involvement in local politics, and for his interactions with residents around town. In recent years, you might have found Don, at sunrise on Sunday mornings, meeting at the Good Bean and chatting it up with the regulars. In the early evenings after he closed the shop for the day, you might have seen him at the J'ville Tavern, listening to patrons tell their stories and offering advice to those who asked. It's for sure, though, that wherever you encountered Don, you enjoyed his spontaneous dry wit, and you departed having a great laugh.
The time for his memorial has not yet been set, but notification will be forthcoming. Don is survived by his wife, Clara; nephew, Larry Wendt; and his niece, Linda Wendt Mitchell. His body will be laid to rest in the family plot in Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery, German Redman Section.
In lieu of flowers, please consider sending donations in memory of Don Wendt to the Jacksonville Boosters Foundation, PO Box 1061, Jacksonville, OR 97530; or C.A.T.S., 104 N. Ross Ln., Medford, OR 97501. Thank you.
By the way, for those of you who have longed to know Don's secret place for gathering Morel mushrooms, I'm afraid that secret has gone with him to his grave.