Meet Don Dinsmore: The friendly face of Kent

To know Don Dinsmore is to know Kent. The businessman/inventor/photographer and all-around community enthusiast has been a fixture in his adopted hometown for years.

All-around Kent enthusiast Don Dinsmore

All-around Kent enthusiast Don Dinsmore

To know Don Dinsmore is to know Kent.

The businessman/inventor/photographer and all-around community enthusiast has been a fixture in his adopted hometown for years.

If you’re at a community function and see a friendly fella with a camera who wants to chat with you, chances are it’s Dinsmore.

If you’re at a Kent Downtown Partnership breakfast and someone is trying to pour you a fresh cup of coffee, chances are it’s Dinsmore.

And if you see some guy furiously pedaling a rickshaw around downtown … well, chances are it’s Dinsmore.

“I live every day like it was my last — I milk it for all it’s worth,” said Dinsmore, taking a breather from his various work and community activities to chat about life. And true to his nature, he’s brought coffee for himself and his interviewer.

“I try to be kind to everyone,” he added. “Because everybody’s having a tough time.”

Dinsmore, 65, has been a part of Kent’s close-knit business culture for years. A Navy veteran and photographer, he moved to the area 22 years ago with his wife, Donna, and never left.

While his trade in the Navy was photography, Dinsmore found his niche in the business world shortly before coming to Kent.

Oddly enough, it came through a failed business venture.

He bought a windshield-repair franchise for $8,000. After a year that yielded little but hard knocks, he sold it back to the company for $1.

But then after a lot of research into the market he’d just left, Dinsmore turned around and designed his own repair equipment – “I realized it was better than anything out there” – and launched his own business, Advanced Windshield Repair.

At one point he had eight trucks plying the Puget Sound region, his business acumen paying off. But he tired of the management aspect that came with having employees, so he scaled back the repair part, and began selling his repair technology to others wanting to operate their own business.

“It’s nice money,” he said.

The business gave Dinsmore the flexibility to work his own hours, so he could continue to practice his first love – shooting photos for the Navy. Today he’s still able to drop what he’s doing and hop a flight to wherever the military needs his photographic abilities.

“I love the Navy – it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Dinsmore said.

So much so, that Dinsmore actually reenlisted to be with two of his sons, each of whom joined the Marines out of high school.

With his first Marine son, Jeff, “we (both) made rank, because I was starting over,” Dinsmore said, noting he even shipped out on the same vessel (the U.S. Boxer) to serve with his son, who was a Marine intelligence officer.

“I called him ‘sir,’ and saluted him,” Dinsmore said with a grin. “He loved it.”

His youngest Marine son, Daniel, enlisted at 19, and Dinsmore stayed in, so that he could serve with Daniel, also.

“I was with him a lot at Camp Pendleton,” Dinsmore said of the Marine Corps base camp in Southern California.

Dinsmore even was able to smuggle himself in as the event photographer when Daniel wanted him to attend a Marines ball, but couldn’t get his dad a ticket.

Both of Dinsmore’s sons have since served three tours a piece in Iraq, with Jeff getting a Bronze Star and Daniel earning a Navy Marine Corps Award with Valor.

But when Dinsmore left the Navy a final time (excepting the occasional work he does as needed) he really began devoting more time to his other family: the rest of Kent.

He uses his camera to support all kinds of community functions and organizations.

Barbara Smith, executive director for the Kent Downtown Partnership, a local business networking group, is more than a little familiar with Dinsmore’s efforts.

“He has done all this work for us, without getting paid, which really helps us look that much more professional,” Smith said. “When we’re trying to sell Kent, it (Dinsmore’s photos and graphic abilities) just makes for a great package.”

And of what the average visitor might think of meeting Dinsmore when visiting downtown Kent, Smith added, “I would just say ‘wow, if he is part of Kent, and is this friendly and outgoing, this must be a fun place and a safe place.’”

Given Dinsmore’s bent for inventing things, for the last couple of years he’s been doing more than just taking pictures of community festivals and business functions.

Three years ago, he was a volunteer helping with Kent’s big winter bash, Winterfest, and was trying to think of new ways to bring people to the festival, as well as promoting the downtown business community. For a new twist, organizers brought in three pedicabs (bike-propelled rickshaws) to take festival goers on tours of the downtown.

“They weren’t much of a success, but they were fun,” Dinsmore said.

But the little, pedal-driven carts got him thinking. The following spring, when he was looking around at the downtown’s historical buildings, and noticing vacant storefronts, Dinsmore hatched a plan.

He’d use his photographic talents to craft promotional displays of downtown businesses, and then make the displays mobile, by putting them on wheels. That’s where the pedicabs would come in – he could not only tow the displays across town, but he could take visitors on a wheeled tour of the city.

By charging businesses a nominal fee, he was able to buy a pedicab, as well as the photographic supplies for the displays. Then he’d offer free downtown tours.

He put the plan into motion – and he’s been riding around ever since.

“I’m 65 years old and I pedal like mad,” Dinsmore said, grinning.

He’s especially excited to offer his service to people attending hockey games and other events at the ShoWare Center, nearby on James Street.

He’ll ride them into downtown, to show them restaurants where they can eat. He’ll drop them off when they’ve made their choice, then he’ll come back to pick them up.

“They’ll call me when they’re done eating,” he explained. “I come and get ‘em. It’s like a one-pedicab parade.”

Dinsmore also is excited about another new challenge on his horizon.

He’s selling most of his windshield-repair business, and embarking instead on a photography business, Photo Vision (in addition to the military photos he still shoots now and then.) The focus of his new business will be candid photography.

And he’s not quite done with windshields. Dinsmore is doing mobile work, taking his repair truck to mobile-home parks, where boondockers can get their chipped glass fixed without having to leave the park.

And will he continue to remain the friendly face of Kent?

You bet he is.

“One person can make a difference,” he said, a smile lighting up his face.

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke, Dinsmore’s neighbor as well as fellow community enthusiast, agreed heartily.

“He has such a huge heart and he typifies someone who sees the glass half full,” she said. “He stays so positive, and finds ways to encouage others to think positively and act positively.”

To learn more about Dinsmore’s photography and other projects, including an online exhibit of local historic photos, log onto www.dondinsmore.com.


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