Donald Moyer

Donald Jay Moyer

1933 - 2023

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Obituary of Donald Jay Moyer


Donald Jay Moyer

Born on April 1, 1933 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Donald Jay Moyer began life as an orphan, given up for adoption at a time when being a single mother made a woman a social outcast. Soon after his birth, a missionary and his wife adopted the little fellow. Reverend Thomas Moyer and wife Elsie named him Donald Jay Moyer, and called him Donny. He recalled that hearing his formal given first name usually meant he was in trouble. As an adult and through his life, nearly everyone knew him as Donn. He remained Donny to a few of his oldest friends.

Donny was an active child who especially enjoyed swimming with friends in the many nearby lakes in his Michigan community. He had his first brush with sadness when Elsie took ill and died. Donny was eight years old, and it hit him hard. He felt very connected to the woman he considered his Mom.

Soon after, Thomas Moyer took young Donny to the Last Frontier, where they stayed in a tent in Palmer, Alaska while building a house. It was here, with so many bush pilots and small planes, that Donn became enthralled with flying. He befriended some bush pilots who took him flying. He later took lessons and completed his solo flight as a young teen.

Donn became intrigued with performing for live audiences in his teen years. He bought an exotic animal sideshow and hired-on with the first traveling circus to have play-dates in Alaska.

Donn enlisted in the Air Force in 1951 at age 18, during the Korean War. Most of his time in the service saw Donn working as an Armed Forces Radio disc jockey. He also was an early pioneer in live TV. Being a DJ fit well with his penchant for storytelling and entertaining, and helped him hone both skills. He seemed most at home in front of an audience, performing in several bands as a drummer, upright bass-player, and vocalist.

He also learned to perform a variety of circus acts, such as bounding rope, various animal-acts, and at one point was one of only 60 legitimate fire eaters — in the world. While working the sideshow at the circus in Mountain View, Alaska, Donn offered shelter from a rainstorm to local gal and her brother as they rode their bikes. That’s when he met the former Nancy Hargan. After dating for just four months, they eloped, marrying in Kelso, Washington, returning to Alaska within a year.

Donn and Nancy then began their traveling adventure by moving to Wenatchee, Washington. Donn took his performing skills to many audiences with a variety of animal acts, magic, and fire eating. Nancy joined the act, too, learning to twirl fire baton, and together, they performed the circus finale at each show as, “The Embers.”

Searching for better bookings in front of larger crowds, Donn took the family to California, where he did yet another unique thing for the times: He performed in a circus, and also bought an amusement ride and joined a carnival. Circus and carnival people haven’t always gotten along, yet he was able to travel in both circles, successfully.

His fire eating prowess landed Donn a brief appearance in the opening scenes of a national network producing a TV version of the movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The camera panned across several acts, including Donn, eating fire. He used to chuckle about getting royalty checks for about $16.

Donn returned to television, with Nancy’s help, managing local origination cable TV stations in Healdsburg, California; Aberdeen, WA, and Tacoma, WA. While in Aberdeen, he also returned to radio, working part time as a Country and Western DJ. Meanwhile, Donn and Nancy kept the carnival working.

Donn then left TV and returned to performing for live audiences. He had written books on the stars of B-Western movies, many of whom he befriended with bonds that lasted lifetimes. He and Nancy traveled to fairs in several western states, where he talked to attendees at events, selling the books. He dressed up as a cowboy he called “Buckshot,” with Nancy in character as “Prairie Woman” in period costume, as well. 

Back on the road booking appearances at fairs and conventions led to a return to his early roots: A traveling reptile show. Donn provided entertaining and educational information to audiences at fairs and schools, while showing live reptiles, crocodilians, and tortoises. This lasted for the rest of their working lives and accounted for some of Donn’s favorite connections with people.

Donn had always loved radio and old time radio shows, having grown up at a time before TV when radio and movie theaters were primary entertainment. His fondness for radio led Donn and Nancy to establish an internet radio station with recordings of old shows, their own personal reflections, and interviews. He was excited and proud to have listeners all over the world.

Donn was an extraordinary person who did many unique and great things, adventures many people couldn’t imagine. Together with Nancy, they mostly lived life on their own terms, defining success in their own way, and using each other’s strengths. Donn moved easily in many different cultures and related to a full spectrum of personalities, equally comfortable talking to a homeless veteran and well-known celebrities.

Donn suffered his most grievous, traumatic loss on June 2, 2022, when his beloved Nancy succumbed to lung cancer. He never recovered from that loss, yet through his sadness, his mind and wit remained razor sharp, until near his end.

Donn passed quietly on September 19, 2023 at age 90. He is survived by a brother and a sister; son, Donn T. (Dodie) Moyer; son, Terrall Moyer; daughter, Wendy (Chris) Bayman; daughter, Laurel Moyer; eight grandchildren and many great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, wife Nancy, and their infant son Dana.

Donald J. Moyer was many things: a veteran, a showman, an author, a lecturer, a musician, a singer, a carny, a talented circus performer, a visionary who created his own lifestyle, a TV and radio personality, a father, and his favorite role, husband to Nancy.