The Post-Journal

County Mourns Loss Of Legend, Strong Man Reinhoudt

Don Reinhoudt is pictured in October 2019.
Don Reinhoudt is pictured in October 2019 at Cassadaga Valley Central School at one of his many talks with local school children. Reinhoudt, who won World’s Strongest Man in 1979, died Monday at the age of 78. P-J file photo.

Don Reinhoudt was a larger-than-life figure.

One of his greatest highlights, among many lifetime accomplishments, was winning the World’s Strongest Man competition in 1979. However, the Brocton native also had a knack at connecting with local youth, offering a positive message that with some hard work, anything can be obtained.

“He always said that he never felt that it was a job,” Pamela Reinhoudt said of her husband’s work with students, whether through his time with the county Youth Bureau or during one of his many motivational talks at area schools.

“He absolutely never felt that he had a job where he worked for the county,” she continued. “He just thought he had this wonderful purpose to help out kids in trouble — our troubled teens — those who were looking for someone just to say, ‘You’re worthy. You deserve all things good in life. You are important.’ And some kids just don’t have that. Don always truly attempted to instill that into every child he came across who was in a bad way. He thoroughly did believe it was something he was just brought here to earth to do.”

Reinhoudt, who once turned down an offer to become a professional wrestler so he could stay close to his beloved Chautauqua County, died this week after he was involved in a single-vehicle crash in the town of Pomfret. He was 78 years old.

According to the New York State Police at Fredonia, Reinhoudt’s 2019 Jeep was traveling northbound on Glasgow Road on Monday when it exited the west shoulder and struck a tree. Reinhoudt was transported to Brooks-TLC Hospital System Inc. in Dunkirk where he was later pronounced dead.

Reinhoudt was inducted into the National Strength and Power Hall of Fame in 2018. In the same year, he was named in the Top 10 All-Time Strongman of the Century by the International Powerlifting Federation.

As a powerlifter and strongman, his list of accomplishments over the years include a 2,500-pound car lift; a 1,000-pound back lift; a 20,000-pound truck pull; a 10,000-pound tram pull; a 350-pound log lift; a 300-pound barrel lift; and a 175-pound dumbbell press. To get to this level, Reinhoudt said he would train in a gym in his basement after working an eight-hour shift at his father’s accounting firm.

In just its third year of existence, Reinhoudt won World’s Strongest Man, becoming an international star.

“I’m saddened to learn the news of Don’s passing,” County Executive PJ Wendel said in a statement Wednesday. “I will remember Don for his heart, which was as big as the rest of his body. He was a true ambassador for Chautauqua County. He especially took care in assisting area youth, as demonstrated by his time working with our Youth Bureau from 1984 to 2007. He also served as the division’s director.”

Reinhoudt’s successes, however, went beyond the platform. He received the coveted White House Commendation from President Ronald Reagan, was given the keys to the cities of Jamestown and Buffalo, has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, including the World Powerlifting Hall of Fame (1998), International Powerlifting Federation Hall of Fame (1980), Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame (2005), United States Powerlifting Hall of Fame and the Chautauqua County Sports Hall of Fame (1983), and has been featured in every strength magazine of the era.

Even during his time competing, Reinhoudt would provide motivational presentations that used to feature him showing off his strength. A typical show some 15 years ago would consist of him splitting license plates, bending metal pipes and ripping phone books with his bare hands.

But there also was a much softer side to Reinhoudt.

“Don, to me, was always the gentle giant with those hands of his that were like baseball mits,” Pamela Reinhoudt told The Post-Journal and OBSERVER. “But if you wanted to ever feel truly safe in life, that’s where you wanted to be having those big mits of his wrapped around you.

She added, “That comes from somewhere so deep inside. I think some people are naturally just born to have that character trait of true goodness and I think Don was one of those rare individuals who had it, and somehow throughout his life he just found a way to enhance it and do it for the better good.”

In 2019, Reinhoudt spoke to students at Cassadaga Valley Central School. Using his trademark script, Reinhoudt kept his message simple: Never give up.

“Don’t ever, please, don’t ever sell yourself short,” he said. “You can be anything you want in this world. It takes by going to school, listening to your teachers, your moms and dads and by not quitting on yourself.”

It’s clear Reinhoudt’s message resonated with the youth he encountered over the years, whether in high school auditoriums or at facilities that supported at-risk teens.

About two weeks ago, Reinhoudt and his wife were approached by a “complete stranger” at Chautauqua Institution. Pamela Reinhoudt said the well-spoken man indicated he had previously been the director of several group homes in New York that helped “troubled youth.” The man recalled how Reinhoudt once helped a 15-year-old girl who had become pregnant and had attempted suicide.

“She became a mother and miraculously finished high school, went through college and is now a child psychologist in upstate New York,” Pamela Reinhoudt said. “This man just stopped us and said, ‘You know, you probably don’t even remember her. You worked with so many children but her success is the end result of your interaction with her.’ “

Editor John D’Agostino contributed to this report.

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