David Blair had to suppress a sincere laugh when asked to share a story about Leo Adler.
“Well! The ones I can tell,” Blair said as he stood outside Adler’s longtime home, now a museum, on Tuesday afternoon, June 21.
On the lawn of the Adler House Museum, 2305 Main St., residents gathered to celebrate the 127th birthday of Adler, who died Nov. 2, 1993, and left $20 million to the community he loved for scholarships and a variety of local projects.
“Leo would sometimes come down to the fire station,” said Blair, a division chief with the Baker City Fire Department and a 31-year employee. “He would come right in, and he had a kind of walk, a saunter, and then a cane in his later years. And he would ask to speak with the fire chief. He’d ask the chief directly: ‘What do you need?’ and whatever they needed he would just get out his checkbook, sign one and hand it to the fire chief.”
Blair said his father, Alan, volunteered at the fire department.
“So I had a lot of opportunities to speak with Leo,” David Blair said.
The Baker City Fire Department was a frequent recipient of Leo’s generosity for much of his life, and beyond.
He has bought many ambulances for the city and helped pay for a variety of other needs, as Blair noted, for the department over many decades.
On the curb in front of Adler’s home, a Baker City Fire Department ladder truck and ambulance were parked in homage to the department’s benefactor.
On the front lawn of the Adler House Museum, Boy Scouts cooked burgers and hot dogs for sale to those who showed up to honor Adler.
Others offered raspberry cake, face painting, and a promotion for the Orpheum Theater restoration project.
Complimentary tours of the home were enlightening, as the house is a piece of art in itself, a time capsule of not just memorabilia but an entire family.
You can imagine Leo himself, dining under lamplight, putting away a book as he went to bed, living a humble life that belied the fortune he amassed through a magazine distribution business.
What Leo invested in and thrived on, though, were the people around him, and especially those living in Baker City and Baker County.
Tour guide Steve Bogart told his group that in the 1990s Leo said he hadn’t even been upstairs in the Italianate-style home, built in 1889, in 60 years.
Nearly every item had a history that Bogart recited, down to the boards on the floor and the humble nail where Adler would hang his hat.
“When they were refinishing, sanding the floors up here, they figured out which room had been the ladies powder room, the perfume smell came up from the floor,” Bogart said. “When they sanded the nursery, they found the corner where they used to keep the chamber pot.”
While Adler has been gone for nearly 30 years, his spirit of giving lives on in those and many other tales.