By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Del Smith dies at age 84; services scheduled

Marcus Larson/ News-Register   Del Smith gives a speech during the opening day of the Evergreen Wings and Waves Waterpark in June 2011. Smith, founder of Evergreen Airlines, died Friday.
Marcus Larson/ News-Register
Del Smith gives a speech during the opening day of the Evergreen Wings and Waves Waterpark in June 2011. Smith, founder of Evergreen Airlines, died Friday.

Editor’s Note: A public gathering and memorial services for Delford M. Smith will be held Saturday, Dec. 6 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Evergreen Aviation Museum, the News-Register learned Sunday. Public viewing times are set for Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 12-13, noon to 7 p.m. at Macy & Son Funeral Directors, 135 NE Evans St. in McMinnville. There will be a private service for immediate family members in the new Evergreen Chapel on the museum campus.

[Updated 11/12 2 p.m.]  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.

He was 84, and 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.

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 veteran 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 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 helicopter 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, ultimately, 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.


I Am Darren Wilson

I was so saddened to learn of this. The man accomplished a great deal in his life, having come from such humble beginnings. I knew some, who made disparaging remarks about Del, but they never walked in his shoes, so I paid them little heed. I admired the man for all that he had accomplished. I still do. Theodore Roosevelt said it best:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Rest in Peace, Del


Another success story from old, a thing that our children can't seem to be able to grasp because our gov't won't let our children work, be it berry picking, selling lemonaid, etc.... His legacy, before the end, hopefully will be remembered and I hope that the museum and water park are able to stay open. Very informative and fun. Rest in peace Mr. Smith and God Bless.


Rest in peace Del. You've work hard all your life; and you and your works have been a great asset to the community.May God now reward you and take you under His loving arms.

Greenpatch Farms

I Am Darren Wilson - Mr. Smith had that saying by Theodore Roosevelt on his desk. I believe his son Mark gave the plaque to him. They were words he lived by.

He memorized quotes and axioms of many of the world's great thinkers and doers. He used them in business and often to motivate his staff and others in came into contact with.

He was a man of great faith and passed peacefully

I Am Darren Wilson

Greenpatch Farms, I am not at all surprised to learn that he had that on his desk. I'm glad that he passed peacefully in his own home.

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