Delford Smith, the founder of Evergreen International Airlines and the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore., died Nov. 7 at his home in Portland, Ore. He was 84.
Smith was born in Seattle Feb. 25, 1930. He was adopted from an orphanage and, according to his biography, started working at the age of 7 mowing lawns, delivering newspapers and selling lumps of coal. He told reporters that by the time he was 11 he had enough money to put a downpayment on a house for his mother. He would later use the equity in the house to finance his education at the University of Washington.
He also served in the United States Air Force and in 1960 started a helicopter service. By the 1970s he expanded his aviation holdings to include passenger airplanes and air tours. As the years passed, the business grew into Evergreen International Airlines.
The creation of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum began in the early 1990s, spearheaded by Michael King Smith, Delford Smith’s son. When the younger Smith was killed in a car crash in 1995, Del Smith took over his son’s vision and pushed the museum forward.
The crown jewel of the collection, which includes examples of aircraft running the gamut from general aviation to military and space designs, is the Howard Hughes HK-1 flying boat commonly referred to as the Spruce Goose.
In 1992 Smith acquired the HK-1 from the Disney Corporation and in 1993 had the ship dismantled and trucked from its berth in Long Beach, Calif., to McMinnville for reassembly.
The museum’s main building was built around the mammoth aircraft.
The downturn in the economy took its toll on Smith’s aviation interests. In 2013 Evergreen International Airlines declared bankruptcy and ceased operations.
The museum, which is a separate entity, still remains in operation, hosting approximately 150,000 visitors per year. The museum complex also features an educational center, the Evergreen Wish & Waves water park, complete with a 747 on the roof.
Smith is survived by his wife Maria and son Mark.