Dan Wilder Sr. and his wife, Sally. (Photo courtesy of the Wilders)

Dan Wilder Sr. and his wife, Sally. (Photo courtesy of the Wilders)

Auto center leader, philanthropist remembered

Family: Wilder Sr. loved improving his community

PORT ANGELES — Dan Wilder Sr. was a man of faith, family and community who loved people and making Port Angeles a better place, his son and daughter said.

Wilder Sr., founder and patriarch of Wilder Auto Center, died Friday of complications from a surgery at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Dan Wilder Jr. said.

He was 72.

“He was a great man and loved his community,” Wilder Jr. said Sunday.

Tami Rose said her father was a “cheerleader for people” who was devoted to his faith and to Sally, his wife of 56 years.

“He loved going home,” Rose said.

“It was a love story like no other.”

A memorial service for Wilder Sr. will be held in August. The family will announce the date.

“When we do his service, it’s going to be about their love story,” Rose said of her parents’ bond.

“He’s a great man, and everyone knew that, but his love story is beyond all other love stories. He gives that all to God. They both do.”

Wilder Sr. received a Clallam County Community Service award in 2010 for his outstanding public service.

He was well known for being a community volunteer, educational leader and philanthropist, although he did not like attention or the word philanthropist, Wilder Jr. said.

Wilder Sr. served as an elder at Independent Bible Church in Port Angeles.

“That’s where everything starts,” Wilder Jr. said.

“The big thing he believed in is giving back, and giving back to the community in different ways.”

Wilder Sr. sponsored youth baseball teams and other sports and activities. He provided annual scholarships to Peninsula College for children of the 130 employees who work at the auto dealership off Deer Park Road east of Port Angeles.

“We have employees that have been with us 30-plus years,” Wilder Jr. said.

“We’ve done life together with them. They are family.”

The list of charitable organizations and projects that Wilder Sr. supported is extensive. It includes the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, Peninsula College, Olympic Medical Center, Juan de Fuca Foundation of the Arts, Young Life, Port Townsend Wooden Boat Center, Dream Playground Foundation and about two dozen others.

Wilder Sr. served on Field Art and Events Hall board, the Peninsula College Board of Trustees and was past president of the Washington State Auto Dealers Association, to name a few.

Wilder Sr. was named Washington State Auto Dealer of the Year 2009 and became one of four finalists for Time magazine’s national auto dealer of the year.

“He gave to everything, and very few people knew that because he always believed it wasn’t giving if you expected something in return,” said Bruce Skinner, executive director of the Olympic Medical Center Foundation and a longtime friend of Wilder Sr.’s.

“There never were any strings attached.”

Wilder Sr. was the title sponsor of the OMC Foundation’s Duck Derby and other fundraisers for the hospital. He volunteered to provide new vehicles as the annual Duck Derby’s grand prize.

“He was never one to take the podium, but he still had a ton of charisma,” Skinner said in a Sunday interview.

“He walked into the room and everybody knew he was there.”

Retired Clallam County Superior Court Judge George L. Wood, who knew Wilder Sr. for 44 years, described his close friend as a man of faith.

“He lived his life for Christ,” Wood said Sunday.

“He was a follower of Christ, and he tried to express Christ whenever he could in his actions and his dealings with people.”

Wilder Sr. “grew up humbly” and become generous with his time and money later in life, Wood said.

In a 2018 presentation for the Boys and Girls Clubs’ Port Angeles expansion, Wilder Sr. said his mom was a single mother who worked as a waitress in Pasadena, Calif.

“He worked his way up from a dishwasher to the dealerships that he’s got now, and he never forgot that,” Wood said.

“He treated everybody the same. He respected everybody, and I think that’s why people loved him so much, because he was just genuine to everybody.”

Wilder Sr. was born in Colorado and grew up in California. He met Sally in Chico, Calif.

They moved to Port Angeles to purchase an auto dealership in 1977.

Wilder Sr., 28, was the second-youngest Volkswagen dealer in the United States at the time.

Wilder Auto Center would eventually become the largest auto dealership on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Wilder Sr. loved football, his son and daughter said. He grew up rooting for the Low Angeles Rams and became an ardent Seattle Seahawks fan.

He also supported his alma mater, Western Baptist Bible College, now Corban University, in Salem, Ore.

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Wilder Sr. is survived by eight grandchildren.


Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

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