In Memoriam: antique show promoter Donald L. Wirfs, 70
PORTLAND, Ore. – Donald “The Duck” Wirfs, the well-liked promoter of antiques and collectibles shows in the Western states, died of natural causes March 9, 2017. He was 71.
Don was born on Feb. 11, 1947, the son of Gene and Helen Wirfs. He graduated from Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, Washington, in 1965, and from the University of Oregon in 1969. He was a lifetime Oregon football fan, and many will remember Don driving his green and yellow “duckmobile” with the quacking horn to Oregon football games.
Following college, Don went to work with his father at Bemis Paper Box but soon decided to become his own boss. He began a specialty advertising business creating and selling items with company logos, frequently with a humorous message. In 1977, while still operating his business, he started an antique and flea market at the Portland Memorial Coliseum. It operated as a one-day show until May 17-18, 1980, when Don attempted to expand it to a two-day show. Unfortunately that was the weekend Mt. St. Helens erupted, which ended the show dramatically and prematurely.
Undaunted, Don decided to expand his shows to three days, putting them under one roof and later into the parking lot at the Portland Expo Center. To his surprise 7,000 people showed up at his first Expo show, which had a variety of exhibits including such unusual items as a truckload of tires and a fortune teller. By his second Expo show, he had limited exhibitors to “antiques and collectibles” and was offended if the shows were called “flea markets.”
Don expanded to three shows a year over three-day periods at the Expo Center and then shows in Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, Reno and Tacoma, building the largest successful series of antique shows in the country. In 1983, with requests from non-vintage dealers, he launched America’s Largest Christmas Bazaar, whose 35th annual edition was held on Dec. 4, 2016. In 1985, in part to service his own shows, he also developed DWA Decorating, one of the largest trade show and decorating companies in the Northwest, operating out of a warehouse on Yeon Street in Portland. It still thrives today.
Always a showman, Don labeled his shows “America’s Largest Antique and Collectible Shows” and made sure there was a variety of antiques and collectibles available. In addition to jewelry, china, porcelain and paintings, one could find items ranging from toys, coins and books to antique tools. The shows became important in the world of antiques and collecting, attracting customers from around the world and every state.
Don himself was a “collector” of numerous items. His collections included one of the world’s largest selection of “Big Little” books. Several years ago he sold part of his collection to the owner of an NBA team for a six-figure sum.
In 1977, Don hired Christine Palmer, one of his show exhibitors, to work in the ad specialty business and then the shows. They developed an excellent partnership, with Christine adding considerably to Don’s success. Don sold his shows to Chris several years ago and they continue to thrive.
On March 10, the day after Don Wirfs’ passing, Christine Palmer posted a message on her Facebook page that read, in part: “[Don] gave me my start in the business and I still called him for advice until a few weeks ago. Don was a brilliant strategist and responsible for the concept of a large antique show where everything was under one roof back in 1981. A true showman and a friend of over 35 years. I’ll miss him dearly.”
Don Wirf was also philanthropically minded. His Christmas Bazaar donated more than 370,000 pounds of food to the community. The antique shows, through their Evaluation and Identification booths donated $120,000 in cash to charitable causes over the past 20 years.
Don was an active volunteer and supporter of the American Red Cross. He personally donated over 800 hours of volunteer time to the organization and served on the Board of Directors of the Vancouver, Washington chapter. Don was a world traveler and visited 91 countries. He spoke “passable” language in most of those countries and invariably visited and contributed to their local Red Cross chapters.
Don was the proud father of two children, Taylor and Kennedy. Taylor graduated from Oregon Episcopal School and Santa Clara University, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kennedy is a student at Portland Community College. Don also leaves his sister, Lynette Anderson, of Pennsylvania.
Anyone wishing to offer condolences or memories of Don may sign the online guest book at www.oregonlive.com/obits.
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