PALM HARBOR — In the mid 1950s, Don Valk sold little packages of Tom's peanuts, candy and tobacco to mom-and-pop grocery stores in Rochester, Minn., the kind with a gas pump in front.
As he drove his route, Mr. Valk noticed gas stations and grocery stores were being taken over by large chains. It was the kind of observation that drove his life.
He moved his family to Clearwater, then Largo. In 1973, he established the first real estate broker's office in Palm Harbor, his family said. He and 13 other business leaders then formed the Greater Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce in 1977, which in turn fostered a library, an art festival, a Rotary club and a YMCA.
"Don was instrumental in many of the things that were developed in Palm Harbor," said Connie Davis, the chamber's president and chief executive.
Donald Francis Valk was born in Eau Claire, Wis., in 1924. He was a field medic and staff sergeant with the 363rd Field Artillery Unit, 96th Infantry Division during World War II, and participated in the invasions of Leyte in the Philippines and Okinawa.
After the war he married Edna Gorski. They had six children, one of whom died as a toddler. The family moved to Pinellas County in 1956.
The marriage lasted more than 20 years. He met Norma Johns at a meeting of Parents Without Partners and married her in 1972. Together they shaped what became the Palm Harbor Fine Arts and Crafts Festival and the Pinellas Teachers Appreciation Breakfast.
Norma died in 2007, a few years after the couple moved to Crystal Beach. Each evening around sunset he drove his golf cart to the beach, where neighbors gather to chat and dogs frolic in the surf.
"He always had people around and he would be telling stories," said Claudette Otto, a retiree from a sales career in western Pennsylvania.
Mr. Valk invited her to a family New Year's Eve party three years ago. They had exchanged silver "promise rings," signifying love and faithfulness.
In recent months his health had failed due to an illness. His heart pacemaker was voluntarily disconnected, Otto said. Otto, 79, and two of Mr. Valk's sons, Neil and Drew, were at his bedside at St. Mark's Village on Jan. 12, sipping mimosas with Mr. Valk and joking on a speaker phone with a third son, Alan, from Vale, N.C.
Mr. Valk didn't die that night. But Alan Valk, 62, did, apparently of natural causes.
On Jan. 15, Otto said, "I told him that Alan had passed away and was waiting for him."
Mr. Valk died early Jan. 16. He was 89.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.