American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Donald G. Onthank, 1891-1981

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1982



At the Annual Meeting of The American Alpine Club on Mount Hood in 1979, Don Onthank was given a standing ovation as the first Endowed Life Member of the Club. This recognition was symbolic of the respect and affection felt for him by climbers for many years. Perhaps it was fitting that we welcomed him into the club on the mountain that had been so much a part of his life.

It was through the Mazamas, an Oregon based mountaineering club of 2700 members, that Don was known by most. He joined that club in 1927 and climbed for forty years. He was its President in 1939 and received its Parker Cup Award in 1940 for having distinguished himself by hard work, ability and self-sacrifice in serving the Mazamas.

Don Onthank was the most straightforward person I have ever known. He had a commitment to purposes which helped keep the Mazamas on course for over fifty years. He was the conscience of the club. In his 1939 report as President he said, “Does a forty-fifth anniversary on which a dozen Mazamas climbed to the summit of Mount Thielsen, constitute permanent success? Or the fact that several thousand persons have at some time been members of this club, the great majority for only two or three years? After forty-five years how well are we adhering to the purpose and striving for the objectives for which the club was organized? Have the objectives become obsolete and are we merely drifting without a purpose? Or have we adopted other courses aimlessly or purposefully?” These sentiments were the watchword of his life.

Don was a remarkable participant. He climbed constantly, his most active years being in his sixties. He explored and laid out trails in the Columbia River Gorge more extensively than any other person. Even after age 75 he participated on trail trips, always carrying his pruning shears to improve the trail along which he was hiking.

Don Onthank died on December 7, 1981 at age 89. He was known as “Mr. Mazama” by all who knew him. It will not be the same without him.

James Angell

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