PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Bill Danner, who took his father’s struggling local bootmaking business and transformed it into one of the country’s most respected outdoor footwear brands, died Dec. 24 in Milwaukie. He was 97.
According to a statement from the company, Danner and his brother John bought the Danner Shoe Mfg. Co., a small Portland business with six employees, from their father after returning home from military service in 1945. The company was deeply in debt and the brothers slowly brought it back into profitability with a product line that included heavy caulk boots for loggers and specialized boots for hunters and smoke jumpers. John left the company in 1956 to pursue a career in law.
The company achieved national prominence in the late 1960s when Danner designed a lightweight hiking boot, the Mountain Light, which Backpacker Magazine in 1973 called “close to our ideal hiking boot.” The company says sales soared as the boot was picked up my major sporting goods retailers and continued to receive positive reviews in outdoor recreation magazines.
A modern version of that boot was re-released in 2014 in conjunction with the release of the hit movie “Wild,” in which Reese Witherspoon’s character wears the boots (and tosses them over a mountainside) as she hikes the length of the Pacific Crest Trail.
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In 1980, Danner made front-page news in Portland when he made a custom pair of size-31 boots for Tuy Hoa, a 25-year-old elephant at the Portland Zoo suffering from a foot infection.
Danner sold the business in 1983. LaCrosse Footwear Inc. acquired Danner Boots in 1994. It was then acquired in 2012 by the Japanese company ABC-MART. Danner Boots continues to operate out of its headquarters in Portland.
In retirement, Danner and his wife, Miriam, travelled extensively, visiting and often volunteering in more than 35 countries. He most recently went on safari in Botswana in 2009 at the age of 89, the company says.
William Charles Danner was born in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, in 1919, and moved to Portland in 1937, when his father decided to relocate his company. He attended the University of Portland, graduating in 1941, and during the next three years flew 50 missions over Europe as an Army Air Corps B-17 engineer and top turret gunner.
Miriam Danner, his wife of 63 years, died Nov. 4. He is survived by seven of his eight children, 19 grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren, and one great great grandchild.