Leo Adler's life and legacy

June 21, 2001 12:00 am
Walkers, bikers, roller blade enthusiasts or joggers can be seen on the Leo Adler Memorial Pathway. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
Walkers, bikers, roller blade enthusiasts or joggers can be seen on the Leo Adler Memorial Pathway. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).


Of the Baker City Herald

It has taken years to make the meandering riverside path that connects Geiser Pollman Park to the Baker Sports Complex a reality.

But the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway (LAMP) has an even longer history than some people may realize.

In the early 1970s, then-City Councilor Peggi Timm proposed the idea of a greenway from Campbell Street to Hughes Lane; the project got as far as planning and engineering stages.

Funding was another matter, Timm said. Timm was in charge of city parks that year and thought the project could be funded through that department. But local funding fell through, state funding went to another park, and federal money just wasnt there.

The City Council took a vote and did a 180 degree turnaround on the project, Timm said. The greenway project was shelved.

The more detailed LAMP project was proposed soon after Adlers death in 1993.

Adlers will left some startup funds for the parkway. Timm said she was in Salem at that time and had little to do with the start of the LAMP until after the project began to roll.

We got a big grant of money from the federal Department of Transportation, Timm said and additional funds came through for landscaping and art work.

Timms adds that there was a great emphasis placed on the project as a lasting tribute to Adler. The LAMP will eventually reach from Wade Williams Elks Memorial Park in the south to Hughes Lane in the north. The parkway permits easy access from one end of the city Adler loved to the other for walkers. Adler was very found of walking and usually walked wherever he wanted to go in the downtown area.

Tabor Clark, who has been chairman of the project for the past five years or so, said a lot of people became interested in helping the project along.

Weve had a great amount of help from any number of people, he said.

Clark said the wish was to honor Adlers memory. What the man has done for our community is just incredible, he said.

Clark calls the project about half completed at the present. There is more paving and construction as well as acquiring more access to the route. The next stage he said will be from Bridge to Washington streets which he believes can be completed by the end of this summer. The next step will be the Bridge Street to Wade Williams section.

There will be about 2 miles of paved walkway total when the project is complete, Clark said. While the route is fairly straight forward, the section between Madison to Washington will be a dog leg detour around an area where it is unlikely the LAMP will be able to get access to the riverfront.

Clark believes this will be an opportunity to enhance the Resort Street section.


Of the Baker City Herald

A major project of the Leo Adler Foundation this year has been the gathering of interviews and historic information on the life of Adler himself.

According to Gene Rose, a life-long personal friend of Adlers and a member of the foundations board of directors, no one had ever before collected all the published and non-published information on Adlers life.

A dozen teen-agers and young adults, many of them Adler scholars, were retained by the foundation to research the life of the millionaire philanthropist.

The first stage of the research broke the young people into smaller groups to search newspaper files at the Baker County Library and the offices of both the Baker City Herald and the Record-Courier for any and all mention of Adler in back issues.

These and other researchers were retained about a year and a half ago by the foundation to work on the project.

This is a project in the making, Rose said. We dont know exactly what we are going to do with all this information yet. Were going to do some kind of a history on Leo.

Rose said the foundation believed the project was important and that it was necessary to begin right away to create a generational knowledge of Adler.

Recently, Norm Kolb, another member of the foundations board and Adlers personal accountant for many years, said the information is being distilled. A proposal will be written and presented as a project to various professional writers and editors. One will be selected to complete the next stage of the biography.

The people who knew him are fast vanishing, Rose said. The second stage of the project was to carefully interview as many of the people who had contact with Adler as possible. The day-to-day details of his life, family and relationships in the community are important facts to consider when studying his life.

Kolb said Adlers favorite charity during his life was probably the fire department. Adler had seen the three major fires sweep through Baker since his childhood and networked with others to get the greatest amount of support for the fire department he could.

Bishop Leipzig, of the Baker diocese, became the state fire chaplin and helped Adler in his support. One of those fires, in the early 1930s, was just across from Adlers home on north Main Street. Others, such as the Levinger fire and the Stoddard fire, leveled large areas of the downtown area. Adler was greatly concerned that the fire department would need the latest in equipment and skills to fight future fires.

Kolb said Adler stayed alert and astute even in his later days.

He regularly read five newspapers: The Oregonian, the Wall Street Journal, The Salem Statesman Journal and the Baker City Herald, as well as the weekly Record-Courier.

Adler also kept his own personal finances in order with the assistance of a bookkeeper and his accountant, but always knew how much money he had and where it was going.

Kolb said the Adler Foundation in 2000-2001 helped 466 scholars to the tune of $1,028,000. This includes a newly developed assistance program to part-time students. Twenty-one part-time scholars were awarded $75 this year for each credit they carry for a total of about $32,500.

We feel ours is one of the few that awards part-time students, Kolb said. As we evaluate these students every year it is noticeable they represent this community and the standards Leo stood for, hard work, accountability, and community spirit.

The Community Fund dispersed $750,000 in 2000 for area projects for a total of $1.65 million for the year in scholarships and community grants.

Weve distributed about $8.5 million since Leos death in 1993. He left about $20 million on his death and this has grown to about $28 to $29 million since then, Kolb estimated.


Associated Press Writer

Leo Adler was just 9 years old when he began selling magazines on the dusty streets of this Wild West town at the turn of the century.

In an advertisement from the early 1900s touting him as a top seller of the Ladies Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post, the fresh-faced, neatly knickered boy stares out with a bag over his shoulder and his dog Prince at his feet.

From those simple beginnings, Adler built a business that distributed magazines across the Northwest, and he became known as a hard-drinking, somewhat eccentric character who loved baseball and liked to hang around the firehouse.

When he died five years ago at the age of 98, Adler left nearly everything he had all $20 million of it to the only family he ever really had, his hometown.

The fire station is dedicated to him. Theres the Leo Adler ballpark, and soon there will be the Leo Adler parkway. Of course, theres also the Leo Adler scholarships, that give just about anyone who graduates from high school here a chance to go on to college.

And now that the portfolio of cash and stock has grown to $32 million, its clear the legacy of Leo Adler will be felt here for years to come.

Trustees and planners are busy mapping a long-term strategy on how best to use the windfall, hoping the money will help transform the community into the premier rural living experience.

A lot of people knew about Leo Adler, they knew him when they saw him, but not many people really KNEW him, said Robert Young, the retired fire chief and a friend of Adlers for 50 years. He was generous with everyone but Leo Adler.

He lived for 94 years in the same house and never bothered to put electricity upstairs. Parked in his parlor, for some unknown reason, was nearly every lawnmower he ever owned, along with most of the worn-out brooms.

When he was out on the town and had a few too many drinks, something not unheard-of, the fire department sometimes would send the ambulance to take him home.

Leo was a walking advertisement for Old Grand Dad whiskey, and the bars in town kept it in on hand for him, Young recalled.

Adlers first civic gift was a pumper truck for the fire department in 1939. He gave lavishly to hospitals, the YMCA, park projects, and to churches of all kinds.

But just like Adler himself, his philanthropy always gravitated to the fire department.

Every few years, he would write out a check for $25,000 to $40,000 for a new ambulance, and out of the blue he would call the firehouse and tell them to order up some T-bone steak dinners from the hotel and bill it to him.

The call might come when Adler was at a World Series he seldom missed one and attended more than 20 straight or at a party somewhere across the country.

Adler knew Flo Ziegfeld. He had friends in the halls of Congress, in Hollywood, and just about everywhere else.

Once we got a call from Palm Springs, Young recalled. It was Leo. He told us to order steaks, of course, then he got Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and a fiddle player over to the phone. They sang over the phone to the fire department.

At a state fire chiefs convention, Adler ordered up his own kind of snow cones a tub of shaved ice and seemingly endless whiskey.

I looked at Leo and he had a grin on his face. I told him, Leo, this is costing you some money, you better close this down, but he said, Bob, if its good for Baker City and good for the fire department, I dont care what it costs.

Adler set up his first office in the corner of his fathers jewelry and music store. His father advised him to stay in Baker City and get ahead while others went off to college.

He did.

But now his legacy is making sure that chance doesnt pass others by.

Any high school graduate in Baker County is eligible for a scholarship. Thats not just the 200 or so who get a diploma every spring, but also those who graduated years ago and have since decided to go to college or vocational school.

Consideration goes to grades, need, character and other attributes, in no special order.

There were 433 applicants last year. Of those, 417 got at least some help to study at 96 institutions in 22 states, plus London and Amsterdam. Adler scholars are at such places as Stanford, and William and Mary, as well as schools for mechanics and hairdressers.

Ken and Mona Helgerson have three children studying at three different Oregon schools with help from Adler.

In our family, with three, it has really helped a lot, said Mona Helgerson, a teachers assistant at Baker Middle School. We would not have been able to come up with those funds otherwise.

Since distribution began in 1995 the trusts have paid out more than $4.3 million. Once a year, a panel of trustees meet and decide what will be funded.

Leo Adlers legacy is that lofty goals are attainable, said Brian Cole of the states regional development office, who helped develop a long-range concept for use of the Adler funds.

We realized that funding small projects wouldnt get us anywhere, that they were different pieces of a larger puzzle, he said. The funds are a means to an end. We are using it to fund strategies, not just projects.

Adler left few instructions except that the money go for worthy causes, with the type of things he gave to in his lifetime getting priority.

They include St. Elizabeth Hospital, which regularly received $60,000-$100,000 a year from Adler.

He wanted the hospital to be able to attract good doctors to Baker City, said Gene Rose, Adlers lawyer and one of three trustees.

Projects being funded include a parkway along the Powder River, a sports complex, a golf course expansion, expansion of a technical training center, city hall renovation and fairgrounds projects.

Adlers 108-year-old home is being renovated into a museum with the help of some foundation grants and a lot of volunteer labor.

I think a lot of people want to help just because it was Leos house, said Cheri Meyer, who is coordinating the project.

And each year, along about Christmas, Baker Citys firemen assemble for a steak dinner.

Leo Adlers will provides for it in perpetuity.