Erwin Bohmfalk was a man of insatiable curiosity and depth who maintained his zest for knowledge until his death two months ago at the age of 99.
For many in Waynesboro, Bohmfalk is known as the owner of the former Purple Foot Restaurant on Broad Street, where visitors could eat sandwiches and desserts alfresco and buy a bottle of wine from an extensive collection housed at the restaurant.
Bohmfalk ran the restaurant with his wife Barbara, who, like her husband, was long active in Waynesboro community organizations before her 2012 death. Erwin Bohmfalk’s public service included a stint on Waynesboro City Council from September 1968 to February 1970.
But friends also recall a life of adventure that started with Erwin Bohmfalk flying missions in Southeast Asia in World War II and included extensive international travel.
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“He flew across the Himalayas into Southwest China at the end of the war delivering supplies to the Chinese,” said Ed Clark, the Wildlife Center of Virginia president in Waynesboro.
Bohmfalk was a board member at the Wildlife Center and a generous donor. His devotion to the Wildlife Center covered three decades, and the clinic at the center is named the Erwin Bohmfalk Clinic.
Bohmfalk earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Colorado and spent many years working at the former DuPont plant in Waynesboro, as did his wife. Clark said Bohmfalk was bright and engaging and enjoyed people.
“He was one of the most universally likable and well-liked people I ever met,” Clark said. “He was always smiling. You couldn’t help but be happy when you were around him. He was always glad to see people whether it was a week or a year.”
One of Bohmfalk’s projects with Clark was developing the center’s African Safari program. Through this program, hundreds of people saw the beauty of South Africa. Clark said Bohmfalk led the safaris well into his 90s.
Clark said Bohmfalk led close to 50 safaris to Africa. And he grew to enjoy his visits so much “that he purchased an apartment and a car in South Africa because he was there so much.” In addition, Bohmfalk’s knowledge of South Africa generated a book and photos of 221 species of birds in the country. Bohmfalk also accompanied Wildlife Center staff on teaching trips in Costa Rica, Colombia and Venezuela.
Bohmfalk became a top-notch photographer, with many photos from his world travels hanging on the walls at the Purple Foot. “He loved technology,” Clark said. “He bought the latest camera, computer and video and photography equipment.”
Bohmfalk’s affection for his adopted home of Waynesboro grew to include concerns about the South River, according to Urbie Nash, a local conservationist and board member of both Riverfest and the Center for Coldwaters Restoration.
Nash, who lives in a Waynesboro residence near where Bohmfalk lived, said his friend had “questions about the river. He had concerns about the changes in the river. We were always very friendly, and we had great conversations. He was a very wise and brilliant man and a very caring individual. He gave a lot to the community and gave a lot to conservation.”
Close friends planned to gather at the former Purple Foot location this weekend to celebrate the life of Bohmfalk. Clark will not forget his friend.
“He was a Waynesboro treasure,” Clark said. “Those who knew him loved him. He always made you feel like you were doing him a favor by being his friend. He never bragged about anything. He was very self-deprecating and complimentary of others.”