It's a life well lived. A legacy overflowing. And one intriguing motto: "You don't look back, you look ahead."
Donald Anderson was born in 1926, placed in a foster home at 10 days old. Anderson would grow to learn his strong work ethic from his adoptive mother, who worked tirelessly to make as good a life as possible. He had a happy childhood, but as he approached high school in Colorado Springs, the shadow of WWII spread. And as it would happen, Anderson would join the Merchant Marines after school, after a recruiting officer promised adventure on the high seas.
He would serve 11 months at the height of the war. "At that time, I was on a ship that supplied ... smoke screens before an attack. I ended up in the Philippines when V-J Day arrived." In the wake of the celebration, he learned that per capita, more Merchant Marines died during WWII than any other branch.
After returning home, Donald again felt the call to serve, joining the National Guard during the Korean War. He would end his Army service after earning the rank of Sergeant Major. "I'm proud to have attained that rank," he noted. Eventually, he would again land in Colorado Springs, rejoining a pipeline company he briefly worked with between wars. But all the while his entrepreneurial juices flowed, and Don would turn to his next life adventure.
In 1950s Colorado, snow skiing was becoming a popular pastime. Anderson took to the sport and took off. Seeing an opportunity, he opened a ski shop with the ingenious idea of taking old Army skis and repurposing them for sale. The business boomed, and in the early 1980s, he sold it to a family friend. Now it lives on as one of the few family owned and operated ski and snowboard shops in the state.
Don also had a side job since the late '40s, working for one of the biggest studios in the world and an advertising giant: The Alexander Film Company. "This was before television; you would go the movie and see the commercials," Anderson said. "They paid the great sum of $1 an hour." Thus, began a 45-year modeling career, as well as a stuntman job for over 40 years.
Rugged good looks led him to acting in more than 1,300 commercials, with news outlets listing him as one of the country's top five male models. He served as a stunt double for A-list actors such as Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra and William Devane. He posed for a prominent cigarette manufacturer, though he didn’t smoke. "I had to practice smoking and handling cigarettes."
But what would be his most treasured discovery was learning of his Chickasaw heritage at 22 years old, while in Oklahoma for a wedding. "I've been close to the Chickasaw tribe since." In the early 1960s he bought a 950-acre ranch near Roff, Oklahoma, starting his next life as a foreman.
Now he's part of "One Nation Walking Together," a nonprofit helping Native American communities. "We serve twelve tribes in 8 states," summing up a legendary life simply, "I've been blessed to be a Chickasaw."