PLEASANT GARDEN, N.C. — Those who knew lifelong firefighter Donald E. Whitaker said he had a love for people and a passion for fire service.
“They didn’t call him by name, it was Chief, Chief Whitaker” Wife Ethel Whitaker said.
“Yea Chief Whitaker,” Niece Jane Jones said. “Chief what can I do? What do you need? It was Chief.”
The Former Pleasant Garden Fire Chief passed away Sunday after a long fight with bone and lung cancer. Aside from his 50-year career in fire service, his wife and niece said many will remember him for collecting fire memorabilia.
“At one time he had so many things that he had collected over the 50 years that we decided we would build a museum and house those things,” Ethel said.
In 2003 Donald and Ethel opened Donald’s Fire Haven Museum. The museum sits next to their Pleasant Garden Home. It’s packed with thousands of items.
“Anything that had fire that looked like fire he wanted it,” Ethel said. “When we went to antique places, we’d look for fire stuff. Our main thing was fire things.”
“Patches, he used to swap patches from different countries and different fire stations from all over the world,” Jane said.
In 2021, Donald and Ethel donated the contents of the museums to the Pleasant Garden Fire Department. Now, the department is raising funds to build a new building at the fire department to house the museum.
“We’re going to keep everything the same as he’s got it now just to keep his legacy moving forward,” Pleasant Garden Fire Chief Chad Garrett said.
Though Donald may no longer be here on earth, his family said the impact he had on the community will last forever.
“I miss everything but doing things together and him telling me anything that needs to be done he’d say ‘Honey, I’ll take care of it for you, I’ll do it for you,’” Ethel said.
Donald E. Whitaker’s funeral is Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Centre Friends Meeting church in Pleasant Garden.
In lieu of flowers, his wife asks the community to make contributions to the Pleasant Garden Fire Department for the creation of a new museum. The Department is in the process of setting up an online option for donations.
Chief Garrett said cash or a check can be written out to Donald’s Fire Haven Museum and sent to Pleasant Garden Fire Department:
PO Box 710, Pleasant Garden, N.C.27313
Donald E. Whitaker holds the past titles:
Administration Chief, Climax Fire Department
Treasure, NC Assoc. of Fire Chief’s
Past President, NC State Firemen's Assoc.
Past President, Piedmont NC Firemen's Assoc.
Past President, Guilford County Fire Chief’s
Past President, Randolph County Fire Chief’s
Past Chief, Level Cross Fire Dept.
Past Chief, Pleasant Garden Fire Department