"Athletics benefactor Del Smith passes away," Linfield Sports Info release 11/7/2014
By Nicole Montesano
of the McMinnville News-Register
Delford M. (Del) Smith, founder of McMinnville's Evergreen International Aviation and Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, died of natural causes late Friday afternoon at his Dundee home, the Yamhill County Sheriff's Office has confirmed.
Smith, 84, had been battling ill health for some time.
The sheriff's office said a death investigation found no evidence of anything other than natural causes. It said Macy & Son had picked up the body and would be handling arrangements.
The life-long aviation enthusiast and entrepreneur is survived by his wife, Maria, and son, Mark. Another son, Michael, preceded him in death.
Smith was a U.S. Marine and self-made man. Though his aviation empire failed in the end, he left a larger than life legacy in the field.
According to The Associated Press, reporting in 2001, “His adoptive father died in a car accident when Smith was 2, and he was raised in near-poverty by his mother. At age 8, he borrowed $2.50 from a Centralia, Wash., bank to buy a lawn mower. Three years, three paper routes and half a dozen other menial jobs later, at age 11, he bought her a house. …
“He invested the equity from the house he bought for his mother to pay both for her long-term care and his tuition to the University of Washington, from which he graduated in 1953. Starting in 1960 with two Hiller helicopters and a 40-foot trailer, Smith began building a global aviation empire that has operated in 178 countries. The 5,500 people who work for his companies generate annual revenues of more than $560 million.”
He founded his aviation enterprise in 1960, starting with a single helicopter. He grew it to the point where it had a fleet of 747s hauling freight to the far corners of the world.
He went on to found the Evergreen Aviation Museum in 2001.
Its centerpiece was, and remains, Howard Hughes' famous Spruce Goose. Smith purchased the wooden behemoth in 1992 and had it disassembled and moved to McMinnville piece by massive piece.
The museum was officially named the Captain Michael Smith Evergreen Aviation Educational Institute, in honor of Smith's son, an Air National Guard pilot and auto racer who died in a car crash in 1995. The museum continued to expand over the next decade, adding a space museum, movie theater, water park, chapel and outdoor facilities.
A lodge has been started, but construction has been stalled for the past year.
Smith's Evergreen International Aviation company also continued to expand, starting with a helicopters division, expanding into cargo and military flights, cargo handling and even into agriculture.
In 1999, Smith received the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy at a ceremony in Washington D.C., hosted by the Aero Club of Washington.
Beginning in 2010, facing major business challenges, Smith began selling off assets, including the helicopter division in a $250 million sale in 2013. Smith told the News-Register he planned to use the money to reinvigorate his airline, but the company was $300 million in debt at the time and could not, in the end, be saved.
Smith closed the airline in November of 2013, and the company declared bankruptcy on New Year's Eve. A trustee was assigned to take control. In June, a federal judge approved the sale of most of the company's assets.
The aviation buildings were put up for sale earlier this year.
A spokesperson from the museum, and others associated closely in personal and business relationships with Smith, expressed sorrow at the news and said more information related to Smith and Evergreen would be made available in days to come.