Don Le Roy Munger, 93 of Enumclaw, died of congestive heart failure on May 14, 2017. He was born Dec. 11, 1923 in Oelwein, IA to Walter Gillman Munger & Hattie Mae Hayes. Don was a graduate of Auburn High School, and served a tour in the South Pacific as a Marine during WWII from 1941-1945. Pearl Harbor was bombed just 4 days before his 18th birthday, and the following day he went to the Federal Building in Seattle to enlist in the Armed Forces. The Marine recruiting office had the shortest line, and he was sworn in on his birthday. During basic training in San Diego, he developed into an outstanding marksman and was assigned to a scout sniper platoon. His tour of duty included the battle of Iwo Jima, where he was wounded while crossing an airfield on foot.
After the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, Don returned to Auburn where he met and married his wife, Carolyn Erhart. They had two daughters, Debbie and Dawn, and moved to Enumclaw in 1957 to a 35-acre farm by Krain Korner. Don was working in the Army Depot in Auburn when he was gifted two horses to begin a breeding operation. One of these mares would foal Cold Steel, a gelding who would reach notoriety in Sports Illustrated when a group of Sumner businessman purchased the horse and sponsored “The Colts,” a Sumner Little League team, with the horse’s winnings. Carolyn and Don began raising thoroughbred yearlings for the annual Washington Horse Breeders’ Sale in Spokane, and soon the couple was head-first into the thoroughbred industry. Tragically, Carolyn died of cancer in 1962.
In addition to raising yearlings, Don became skilled in horseshoeing, and did much of his own farrier work well into his 70s. He continued to develop the infrastructure for a breeding center, and the barns, paddocks and fencing for the growing operation he constructed are still in use today. Don then married Wanda Emsley, and they welcomed son Tyler. Together Don and Wanda would expand the breeding operation on the farm into one of the of the most successful in the region, whose stallions included Barbaric Spirit, Kaneohe Bay, Tooverprime, and most recently, Nacheezmo.
Success with the breeding program eventually led to the Mungers’ cultivation of racing stock, which Don trained at Longacres and then Emerald Downs. The Munger racing stable, in their green and white silks with an “M” on the back, won at least one race at Emerald Downs every season except 2003, and at the time of his death Don had amassed 369 career wins as a trainer. He won 20 races in 2012 at the age of 88, and was awarded the track’s Top Training Achievement. Don also received a Special Recognition Award from the WTBOA/WHBPA in 2009 and was an Honorary Steward for the 2013 Longacres Mile.
Don continued to oversee daily operations at his stable in Emerald Downs until his death. When asked if he would ever retire, he always gave the same answer: “When you retire, you do what you want. Well, I’m retired and I’m doing what I want.”
Don is survived by his wife, Wanda Munger of Enumclaw; son, Tyler Munger & wife Monica of Enumclaw; daughters, Debbie Morris Keyes & husband Joseph of Bellingham, Dawn Marie Dickson & husband Doug of Buckley. He is also survived by 6 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren, sister, Delpha Burke of Auburn and many nieces & nephews. He is preceded in death by sisters Dorothy Kriter, Dorleen Kludsidosky, Donna Gallaher and Doris Munger, and grandson Allan Lee Morris.
A celebration of life will be held on June 5th, 1pm, at Emerald Downs at the Breeders’ Pavilion, 3220 Ron Crocket Drive NW, Auburn.