You won’t find results for Ron Doner much beyond southern Ontario and neighboring states. Doner, who died after a short battle with cancer, on Thursday, May 18, at the age of 87, was decidedly a homesteader.
In wrestling terms, that means that he worked a certain area, returning to his day job during the week.
For Doner, that was selling cars, and he kept his real name for a reason.
“I was also a car dealer and I was getting a lot of exposure on television,” he told his hometown newspaper, The Newmarket Era-Banner, in 2005. “Using my own name helped me sell a lot of cars.” [Personal aside: My mother-in-law, Cathy, always bought her cars from Doner Nissan, and Ron and Cathy often reported back to me when they saw each other.]
He was a connection for a new vehicle for the wrestlers too, whether it was something flashy for Tiger Jeet Singh, a brand new 1973 Ford Gran Torino for Rachael Dubois, or practical for Eddie Tunney, who was the son of Frank Tunney. Eddie Tunney recalled Doner as “real nice guy” and that he always bought cars from him. The younger Tunney, who worked as an accountant for the Toronto-based promotion, thought Doner could have done more. “Ron always worked out, but he never built his muscles up, he just kept in shape.”
That staying in shape started early for Doner, and continued with the Doner Fitness gym in the early 1990s in Newmarket.
Doner was born on December 10, 1935, in New Lowell, Ontario, on a farm (now home to the Glenway Country Club. The youngster worked on the farm, and had to up his game when his father contracted polio at age 50, forcing Doner to leave high school and start earning some money. Early jobs included welding, truck driving and farm machine sales. The family moved to Newmarket when he was about three years old.
An uncle, Bruce Foote, was a wrestling fan, and would bring Doner to the matches at Maple Leaf Gardens. The action appealed to Doner.
“As soon as I got my driver’s licence, I joined the YMCA in Toronto. Most of the Ontario amateur wrestling clubs gathered there to train. I also got to know many of the pro wrestlers who trained at the Y,” he told the Era-Banner.
At the “Y” Doner met the key figures from the Toronto wrestling scene in the 1950s: Dave McKigney, Wally Sieber (later Waldo Von Erich), Mike “Baron” Scicluna and others. But he first excelled at amateur wrestling, both freestyle and Greco Roman. In May 1957, Doner competed in the Metropolitan Toronto amateur wrestling championships, at the Scarboro Police Youth Club, and won in the 191-pound division. Doner often wondered what had happened had he continued with the amateur side of things, where he perhaps could have competed in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.
Instead, he turned pro wrestler. In a chat with this writer, Doner summed up his career path, which ended when he retired from in-ring action in 1974.
“I started off working for Red Garner,” said Doner. “Then Dave [McKigney] and Red worked together, then I worked for Dave, then I worked for Frank Tunney, then I worked in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and so on, Pedro Martinez in Buffalo. At one point, when Whipper was sort of coming to the end of his career, him and I used to do tag team matches in Buffalo. Because he was in his 50s, or close to it, I guess. I was the doing the work. Whipper could come in and do the wrap-up.”
The relationship between the famed Whipper Billy Watson and Doner continued throughout the years, in a variety of ways. Phil Watson, Whip’s youngest son, sold cars for Doner when the future Whipper Jr. was only 17. Doner was a pallbearer at Whip’s funeral in 1990.
From Watson, who was 20 years his elder, Doner learned about giving back to the community.
“When he was fundraising, he was very sincere about it. There was no money that come off the top for lunches or coffees or anything. You either got involved totally on your own or you just weren’t do it. Not all fundraising was like that,” Doner recalled about Watson.
Doner served on the Whipper Watson Rehabilitation Foundation, which raised funds for a therapeutic pool at what was then called York County Hospital (now Southlake Regional Health Centre). Over more than 20 years, Doner had a variety of roles with the Foundation, including Director, Secretary and Treasurer. He was also a part of the Whipper Watson CAT scan Fundraising Campaign.
There was plenty of non-Whipper-related community-related work too for Doner. He was a part of the Newmarket Optimist Club, rising to President for a time. He and his son, Darren, went to Haiti to build homes through Habitat for Humanity. Doner was also the Chair/Vice-Chair of the Newmarket Hydro-Electric Commission.
The other wrestling name Doner was often associated with, even post-wrestling, was McKigney. Rachael Dubois, McKigney’s stepdaughter, recalled Doner being over all the time, and not just for fun and games. “Ron Doner and all his other friends would come, and we’d go running through the bush, through the trails,” she said.
Of course, Doner wrestled McKigney’s bears here and there. “You get hair in your mouth” he once recalled about the ursine battles.
As for the rest of Doner’s career in the ring, it was mainly about making others look good. He was rarely in main events, but got to wrestle all the great bad guys of his era, including The Sheik, and worked venues big and small.
Doner came out to numerous wrestling events through the years, including a few of the Titans in Toronto dinners, and once made the trip to Las Vegas for a Cauliflower Alley Club reunion. While many of his old colleagues would be dressed casually, Doner always was done up in suit and tie (or turtleneck).
Through wrestling was a constant for Doner, family and community are his true legacy.
“Newmarket and volunteering means a lot to me,” he told the Era-Banner. “I get great satisfaction out of it. People need to realize that volunteering is an important part of our system and that everyone should do something for their community.”
Darren Doner summed up his father’s life as “a life well lived.” Ron Doner made friends easily. “I know he appreciated everyone he met, it doesn’t matter who it was. It’s just the way he was.”
The melanoma cancer was very aggressive. “All in all, it was about six or seven months from the point it was, for the most part, diagnosed until [his death],” said Darren, who appreciated having time to say goodbye. “We were with him. My family, my wife, my daughter, my son, my daughter’s longtime boyfriend, and my sister and her family … everybody was with him.” Ron Doner’s wife, Willy den Ouden, died on April 21, 2014, in her 78th year.
There will be a service for Ron Doner, who was cremated, in a couple of weeks at Trinity Church in Newmarket, said Darren. “I want to give dad a nice send off. He deserves it.”
Ron Doner is survived by his son Darren Doner (Korey) and daughter Karla Doner-Sacco (Chris), and grandchildren Jordan, Dawson and Nicholas.
ADDENDUM: There will be a visitation for Ron Doner on June 7, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., at Roadhouse & Rose Funeral Home – Visitation Room #2, 157 Main St. S, Newmarket, ON, followed by a service on June 8, at Trinity United Church, 168 Main Street South, Newmarket, ON, at noon.