Don Anderson, a U.S. Army veteran who turned a longtime passion into his life’s occupation when he and wife Lin Anderson opened Vanguard Brewing of Wilsonville in 2015, has died. He was 58.
Anderson died of a heart attack Friday at his home just before a planned day working at the brewery, Lin told The Oregonian/OregonLive.
“He hadn’t been sick, there were no symptoms, no warning,” she said.
The couple opened the brewery in West Linn before finding a new location in Wilsonville in 2018. From the beginning, Vanguard has been a tight-knit operation, with the Andersons’ two daughters now working at the business alongside a small staff.
In September, Vanguard celebrated eight years of providing a family-oriented setting for local residents and for veterans, holding a monthly gathering dedicated to those who had served in the armed forces.
“Our goal was to make it a business that would be very community-based and that would support our family,” Lin said. “And it was being able to do something that we loved.”
Don Anderson was born in Torrance, California, on Oct. 27, 1965, to Donald and Martha Anderson. After the family moved to the Bay Area city of Fremont when he was 13, Anderson graduated from Washington High School in 1983. He joined the Army and served three years, being stationed in the small town of Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, working on Chinook helicopters.
When he returned, he began dating Lin Gervais, the younger sister of a buddy who lived down the street.
“My brothers and Don would be in the garage, always working on cars, drinking beer,” Lin said. “When he was in the service, he was exposed to really good beer, and it was the beginning of his love of beer.”
The two were married on Dec. 3, 1994, in Fremont. After earning his airframe and powerplant certification from Northrop University in Inglewood, California, Anderson went to work for United Airlines as a sheet metal mechanic.
Around that time, Lin said, her brother Bill Gervais began homebrewing. Don loved the beer and grew interested in the homebrew process himself, so Lin bought him his first homebrew kit.
Anderson’s career transitioned into the high-tech field, but he and Lin’s passion for beer continued to grow. A trip to Europe included stops at Rodenbach and Orval breweries.
“It was a trip of a lifetime,” Lin recalled. “The things we saw and experienced there really lit the spark.”
A NEW DIRECTION
In 2003, the Andersons moved from the Bay Area to West Linn. Anderson met JT Turner through their kids’ mutual school, and the two began homebrewing together. Turner would begin Stickmen Brewing of Lake Oswego with business partner Tim Schoenheit, and Anderson helped out the team on brew days.
They all learned how to commercially brew there, Lin said, and shortly after, the couple decided it was time to take the plunge themselves and launch their own brewery. She had started her own cupcake catering company, learning the financial and operational side of owning a small business.
“So with my knowledge and experience with the business, and Don having brewed on a commercial system, we scraped together and boot-strapped this thing and got Vanguard Brewing going.”
The brewery opened in 2015, with their titles reflecting their roles: He was Beer Boss; she was Money Boss. With Anderson’s love of flying things and mechanical things, they had hoped to name the brewery Chinook after the helicopter, but that was registered elsewhere. They landed on Vanguard.
“Vanguard has the military definition of the guys on the leading edge,” she said. “For Don, it was being right on the edge, pushing through. It was the right one for us.”
Anderson continued working full-time at his tech job, allowing the couple to pay off Small Business Administration loans they had taken to start Vanguard. They kept the operation, which produces about 500 barrels of beer a year, running “small and tight-knit,” she said, with both of them pulling regular shifts in the pub in addition to their other roles.
“We were just always there,” she said.
Just as the loans were repaid, the pandemic hit, and they both quickly came down with bad cases of COVID-19. Lin’s turned into long-haul COVID, taking her out of the business for an extended period.
“Don quit his day job because I couldn’t be there,” Lin said. “He picked up the slack of what I wasn’t able to do. He really kept Vanguard alive during COVID. He was great at pivoting.”
That period revealed Vanguard’s commitment to the community.
“We wanted to do everything we could for the people around us,” she said. “We opened a soup kitchen. We advertised it, and if people came in we gave them soup, no questions asked. Like breweries in Portland and all over, we’ve always tried to be involved in our community and helping out our neighbors all around us.”
REMEMBERING DON, AND DAD
Graham Brogan, district brewery manager for McMenamins, met Anderson back in 2005, when Brogan was the brewer at the brewery group’s John Barleycorns location in Tigard. Anderson and his co-workers would come in for happy hour and to talk beer. When Anderson decided to open his own place, Brogan lent his expertise and advice.
He said the unassuming Anderson “loved to throw credit my direction, but it was all him.”
“The big thing about Don was him being able to actually chase his dream,” Brogan said. “He completely shifted gears from his day job, because he knew he wanted to make beer for a career. That’s an aspiration for many people — to go do what you want to do.”
Brogan said he will always remember Anderson riding his bike along the shoulder of Interstate 5, a sign in hand appealing to drivers stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic to get off the freeway and come have a beer.
“That spirit, just bringing people in,” he said. “Not to make money but to get people out of their cars and not stuck in traffic. … He and Lin created a real gathering spot for Wilsonville at Vanguard. People from all walks of life, not just beer.
“He was really an awesome guy. Super nice, super kind, willing to do anything for anybody. And he just loved beer.”
Lee Anderson’s memories of Dad involve silly songs, internet memes and random YouTube videos retold at dinner. “There was always this long string of jokes and presentations he would put on for us,” Anderson said.
There was “a lot of laughter,” said the 26-year-old, now a resident of Chicago. And, of course, the passion for brewing.
“I remember very strongly and very fondly being a small child and running errands with Mom, and we’d come home and the entire neighborhood would smell like brewing,” Anderson said. “He’d just be down there on weekends, all weekend, and just how happy that made him. That was his happy place.
‘LET’S GO SNUGGLE’
Two days shy of the couple’s 29th anniversary, Anderson was getting ready to head off to Vanguard for the day. He went through his morning routine, Lin said, then stopped, looked at her, and said, “Let’s go snuggle for five minutes.”
“We laid down, embraced one another, and that was the moment he passed,” she said.
Her husband died in her arms.
“It was just a massive heart attack, and he was gone,” Lin said.
“He used to always say beer is something that brought people together in good times and bad. He loved the connections that people would make over that glass of beer. We have such amazing support, and we’ve created a family with Vanguard. From all the veterans we host every month, and the regulars, it feels like we’ve created ‘Cheers.’ In the best of ways, that’s what Vanguard feels like.”
And she doesn’t want to let that legacy die, the one she built with “the love of my life. He was my first love, he will always be the love of my life.”
“My hope is that I can keep Vanguard going,” she said. “I haven’t got anything figured out yet, but that’s my intent.
“We’ve got a huge void, and we’ve got a tremendously supportive community of brewers who have been reaching out to help,” she said. “I’m planning on taking them up on it.”
In addition to Lin, 53, and Lee, Anderson is survived by two daughters, Becca Anderson, 23, and Cate Anderson, 18, both of the Portland area; three younger sisters, Heather Anderson, 56, of Portland, Heidi Anderson, 52, of Portland and Tiffany Yandt, 44, of Sherwood; and his father, Donald Anderson, 85, of Milwaukie.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made in Don Anderson’s name to Forward Assist, a military charity and 501(c)3 nonprofit that supports veterans, first responders and their families. Donations can be made at forwardassistnw.org/donate. A wake is open to the public on Sunday, Dec. 17, at Vanguard Brewing, 27501 S.W. 95th Ave., Suite 945, Wilsonville, with an open house from 1-9 p.m. and a formal military service at 2 p.m.