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Sunday, January 21, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Donald Eugene Eastly, retired veterinarian known for horse-drawn wagon, dies at 81

Seattle Times staff reporter

During the summers on Vashon Island, folks used to drive up to the old Dairy Queen window to satisfy their cravings for "Blizzards" and sundaes. But no one, the locals like to say, did it with the flair that Donald Eugene Eastly did.

The retired veterinarian known as "Doc" would pull up to the drive-through window in a horse-drawn wagon, lean over and order his usual vanilla cone.

Dr. Eastly, who took hundreds of homecoming queens and Santa Clauses in that same red wagon to football games and Christmas-tree lightings, died Tuesday of a heart attack, his family said. He was 81.

"There were literally thousands of children over the years who watched Doc lead the parades and remember the clop of the horses and the sound of the bells," said Bettie Edwards, who owns a gift store in downtown Vashon.

He was a beloved figure among elementary-age children because he often stopped along the road to give children a ride in his wagon, even treating them to ice cream or giving them bubblegum.

Younger children knew him as the "Big Elf" for bringing Santa Claus to the island every Christmas.

Born May 5, 1925, in Meridian, Idaho, Dr. Eastly was the son of a small-town newspaper owner. After high school, he joined what was then the Army Air Corps during World War II.

He spent two years at the University of Washington before leaving for a high-paying job as a logger. He quickly realized why the job paid so well: Many of his colleagues were killed by falling trees or by falling out of trees.

In 1949, opting for a safer profession, Dr. Eastly completed his undergraduate degree at Washington State University and enrolled at the veterinary school there. He met his future wife at a square dance on campus. "He was like a John Wayne character. He was larger than life," recalled Patricia Eastly.

He worked for a couple of years before saving enough to buy a clinic from a retiring veterinarian in West Seattle. In later years, he commuted there from Vashon Island. He retired in 1992 after a 35-year career.

In the past three decades, he had been a fixture at Vashon's community events such as the Strawberry Festival parades, several business and community leaders said.

Even away from the pageantry, locals would see him in his horse-drawn wagon. "He would drive through the Diary Queen and make a loop around town and drive home. It was a way of exercising the horses," said his son, Clay Eastly.

Dr. Eastly is survived by his wife Patricia, of Vashon Island; daughter, Susan Owenby, of Seattle; son, Clay, of Vashon Island; and two grandchildren.

A remembrance will be held at 1 p.m. next Sunday at the Vashon Island High School gymnasium, 20120 Vashon Highway S.W.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

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