Portland Wrestling star Dutch Savage dies at 78

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

Updated: August 8, 2013, 7:00 PM

 

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The Pacific Northwest has lost one of its biggest pro wrestling stars.

Dutch Savage, 78, of Yacolt died Saturday of complications from a major stroke. He was 78.

At 6 foot 4 inches and 265 pounds, Savage was well known in the wrestling world of the 1960s and ’70s for his unusual goatee, long tights and kneepads. His signature move was a thumb to the throat jab used to debilitate opponents. And he won at least 21 belts in various regional championships.

“There was a lot of showmanship involved” back in pro wrestling’s early days, he said in a 2003 interview with The Columbian.

But as professional wrestling became more glitzy and commercialized in the 1990s and beyond, he grew critical of it.

“These guys today are nothing but Hollywood,” he said in the May 25, 2003, story. “It’s very immoral, the women and the things they do in front of the kids. In my day, if you said ‘damn’ on TV, they took you off the air.”

Born Frank Lionel Stewart in Scranton, Pa., on June 9, 1935, Savage started his professional wrestling career in Georgia in 1962 under the name Lonnie Brown. He switched to his more well-known identity as Dutch Savage before moving to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1960s.

Through the 1970s, Savage wrestled on a circuit that stretched from Northern California to Canada. He was a marquee fixture in the American Wrestling Association and on the nationally syndicated All Star Wrestling show.

Hard-hitting fun

He enjoyed telling tales of the wrestlers he used to work with, including this one from a Aug. 4, 2004, story for SLAM! Wrestling about Killer Karl Krupp:

“Krupp was crazy! He was fun. He was just a lot of fun. I had a ball with him,” Savage said in the story. “You ever hear about the match we had down in Portland when I chased him outside the building, slammed the door? I said ‘You’re going into the mud puddle.’ ‘I’m not going in the mud puddle. I’m not getting my tights dirty!’ So I threw him in the mud puddle. He had mud up his nose, in his ears. He was so mad at me he almost broke the door off the hinges chasing me back in the building. … To this day, he’d get me laughing so hard, I couldn’t do anything in the ring.”

As a tag-team wrestler in the ’70s, Savage played with and helped develop the skills of a young Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Rowdy Roddy Piper, who became stars of the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s.

Back in his heyday, it was a smaller, more intimate environment, he told then-Columbian Sports Editor Greg Jayne in 2003. Wrestlers used to promote the weekly Saturday night TV broadcast from the 3,000-seat Portland Sports Arena as they played along the Pacific Northwest circuit, he said.

“Seventy percent of it was real,” Savage said in the story. “You had to know how to take a bump. You had to know how to counter a hold. Nowadays, they don’t need to know that.”

He retired from wrestling in 1981 and worked as a commentator for matches and as a real estate agent in Southwest Washington.

Founded ministry

In later life, he founded a Christian ministry teaching the King James Bible and spent many hours promoting youth drug and alcohol awareness. He had a show on public access TV called “Dutch’s Corner,” focused on Scripture.

On his Facebook page, he often spoke of his religious views.

In a Jan. 25 post, he wrote: “Too many of you (are) being hoodwinked into believing that the man made structure on the corner of the block, or the ‘mega church’ buildings of today are really the ‘churches’ of God. Please remember the definition of a church is simply ‘the called out ones.’ ‘Where two or more of thee are gathered in MY NAME, there am I in the midst of thee.’ You are the church, I am the church, not the fancy building, not the 501c3 tax exempt structure that must play by the governments rules and regs.”

In his paid obituary, his family described him as “meticulous in all areas of his life, generous in all things” and having “unwavering faith in Jesus Christ with an unconditional love and concern for his fellow man.”

He was also an avid salmon fisherman and enjoyed working at home with his tractor.

Savage was buried at Lewisville Cemetery on Thursday.

He is survived by his wife, Willa Stewart; his five children, Charlotte Stewart, Danny Stewart, Mark Stewart, Mitzi Graham and Mitchell Stewart; 10 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and his brother, Jimmie Stewart.