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Posted on Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 5:55 a.m.

Longtime Ann Arbor fitness advocate and Gymkhana founder Donald T. Botsford dies at 82

By Christine Chun

Donald T. Botsford — known as Grandpa Don by many youngsters around Ann Arbor and remembered for opening the city's first private fitness center, Gymkhana — died June 27 at age 82, his family said.

For decades, Botsford participated in and promoted health and fitness activities in Ann Arbor. He first developed an interest in health and fitness in college and opened Gymkhana on Maple Road in 1956. He ran the business for 30 years.

Trillium Don 2_2.JPG

Donald T. Botsford

Photo courtesy of Will Hathaway

Botsford was born to Tom and Irene Botsford on Dec.16, 1928, in Ann Arbor. He graduated from Ann Arbor High School in 1946 and continued his education at Central Michigan University. After college, Botsford worked for his parents’ tile company, taught at Arborland Spa and designed outdoor facilities for the Girl Scouts.

At Gymkhana and his own nature preserve and outdoor gym, Botsford Recreational Preserve, Botsford coached athletes in track, gymnastics, trampolining and weight lifting. Some of his students went on to compete in local, state and national championships.

In a 2008 Ann Arbor News profile, Botsford talked about buying the 20 wooded acres in Scio Township to save them from development and create a place for students and athletes to visit and spend time in nature. The property also featured treehouses that Botsford built himself.

He told the News: "Like the little cartoon character said, 'If someone could build a treehouse, why would they not want to?' It's so obvious to the kid that the treehouse is the ultimate."

Botsford enjoyed taking students on nature outings to Kensington Park as part of the Ann Arbor Public School Outdoor Education Program. He cherished not only his students, but also the letters and pictures he received from them, his family said.

Botsford was an active member of the Ann Arbor softball community until his late 70s, Larry Dishman, the coordinator of team sports at the Ann Arbor Community Education and Recreation said. He played in the ASCOT league, a softball league for senior players, and provided support to other players in the community.

“Don was a big advocate for healthy living and physical well-being. He was a very articulate, dedicated and unique individual. He was fantastic,” Dishman said.

In his free time, Botsford enjoyed going on nature walks and spending time in the woods, where he went every morning. There, he took photographs of deer, turkeys and other wildlife he encountered for his photo album.

Botsford had one daughter, Ann Long, and two sons, Jon and Robert Botsford, along with 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, son David Botsford and grandson Christopher Long.

Christine Chun is an intern for Reach her by email at



Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 2:45 p.m.

His daughter Ann and I were childhood friends, as we lived across the street from one another. Yea, as Hankamp says, playing on the trampoline was the circus coming to life. Thanks Don.

DaLast word

Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 2:26 p.m.

Just for the record, he didn't build tose tree houses himself and my friend actually lived in one of them for 6 months. A fine man never the less, always kind. I spent many years at the Gymkhana, nice facility. Now the home of Top of the Lamp on Maple.


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 11:44 a.m.

I've occasionally talked to Don over the years and even received a tour of his nature preserve once. He certainly had a passion for nature and the outdoors that you don't see enough of today. RIP Don!

Michigan Man

Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 11:22 a.m.

Played trampoline basketball out at Gymkana back in the 1950's, as I recall. Very cool place!


Wed, Jul 13, 2011 : 11:19 a.m.

"and two sons"... He had three and one predeceased him per the article. Is the grandchild count wrong also?