Donald and Virginia
were a strong team, deeply committed to their community.
The Early Years
Donald Sherwood, the second of two sons, was born on September 29, 1901 to Edward and Anna Cameron Sherwood in Colville, Washington. Edward died when Donald was barely a year old, and Anna was committed to providing her two sons, Donald and older brother Cameron, with the best family training and opportunity for education. A school teacher, Anna Sherwood instilled early the precepts of a firmly-grounded education for each of her sons. She sought always to instill in them the finer values of learning, and a strong work ethic was an integral part of the Sherwood boys' upbringing.
Two Whitman College alumni, Clark Slover and Fulton Gale, high school teachers and coaches at Colville, steered both Sherwood brothers to the Walla Walla institution. Donald pledged to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Throughout his college days, he worked at Mrs. Holt's boarding house, where Phi Delts had priority on jobs. He also worked as a busboy at the Dacres Hotel and had a janitorial job at Falkenberg's Jewelers. A summer job found him at a wheat ranch where he sewed sacks on a mule-drawn combine.
In June 1922 came graduation from Whitman with a degree in science and economics and simultaneously Donald's start with Standard Oil Company, just then in the process of establishing headquarters in Walla Walla. He advanced rapidly with the firm and by 1929 was offered a position at Standard's main office in San Francisco. He decided against the offer as he was contemplating marriage and a career change. In April of 1929 he became a representative of Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, based in Walla Walla.
Virginia was born March 25, 1909, to Martha and John Kelly, who moved the family to Walla Walla in 1910 when he purchased the local paper that he would expand and later rename as the Union-Bulletin.
Virginia was a talented student who attended Sharpstein School and Walla Walla High School, graduating at the age of 15. In 1928, she graduated from the University of Washington with a major in history. At the University of Washington, Virginia affiliated with Kappa Alpha Theta; she was an active member of the sorority's alumnae organization in Walla Walla, later serving on the committee that established a chapter on the Whitman College campus in 1956.
Although of natural reserve, Virginia Sherwood exerted an influence in the Walla Walla community. She was a member of Walla Walla’s First Congregational Church and Chapter BI of P.E.O. in which she served various positions, including president. She received special recognition of her influence and devotion to Whitman College in 1976 when the College awarded her an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.
Just as ostentation had no role in the home of her parents, neither did it enter into the life-style of Virginia Sherwood. Her home, her dress, her manner at all times reflected simplicity, thoughtfulness, and good taste – all attributes of a gracious lady.
Virginia and Donald were married December 7, 1929 in a simple ceremony in the Kelly home. The Sherwood family included a son, Eugene, and a daughter, Claire; unfortunately, neither outlived Donald and Virginia. Although the Sherwoods traveled extensively throughout their business and personal lives, 1107 Alvarado Terrace in Walla Walla always was their home. The pillared white colonial residence, surrounded by green lawns and framed by towering trees, spelled "welcome" to their many friends who enjoyed the Sherwoods' hospitality for many years.
Donald’s Business Experience
In 1932, Donald Sherwood joined forces with Austin Roberts to form Sherwood & Roberts, Inc. and began building on the base that Sherwood had founded when he went into business in 1929. From that beginning evolved one of the Pacific Northwest's most successful “super markets” for financial services.
Established in 1932
Donald Sherwood and Austin Roberts opened this Sherwood & Roberts office building on 2nd Avenue in Walla Walla in 1956.
Showing progressive growth over the years, Sherwood & Roberts began an accelerated period of expansion following Donald's return from Navy duty in World War II. During the war, Roberts carried on and Sherwood maintained contact by phone, mail, and an occasional trip home from his Navy assignment in Washington, D.C. As the partnership matured, Sherwood concentrated more and more on mortgage and real estate financing and developing loan correspondent relationships with institutional investors, while Roberts developed a substantial insurance business. Sherwood's wartime experience on assignments included working with a number of major companies that gave him insight into the corporate world that was to prove invaluable in the post-war years. Contacts included Philco, Westinghouse, and others. The Sherwood & Roberts team continued together until Roberts retired in 1972.
The financial ventures of Donald Sherwood over the years ran a unique gamut from toll bridges to grape juice to mammoth paper plants to a new library and major downtown development in Walla Walla. The ventures ranged from being local to regional to national in scope, particularly his participation in the American Sign & Indicator Corporation of Spokane, Washington.
Although he was involved in numerous sales and negotiations during his business career, Donald Sherwood isn't likely to be accused of ever having tried to sell anyone the Brooklyn Bridge. "But, I did sell the Bridge of the Gods," he smiled as he recalled that transaction and another bridge-building dream of Walla Walla financiers. The Columbia River figured in both bridge projects during the 1920's.
The first of these bridges opened in 1922 in the Tri-Cities by the Northwest Toll Bridge Company with Walla Walla people providing the money. Why Walla Walla investors? One has to remember that in the 1920's the Tri-Cities was a collection of small towns without a leader like John G. Kelly, the prime financier of the Walla Walla group. However, having a toll bridge in the middle of a cross-state highway proved to be an anachronism to state planners and led to the State of Washington finally purchasing the bridge in 1931.
The second bridge, spanning the Columbia River and planned by the Walla Walla financiers, was the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks, where Indian legends told of a natural rock span over the river. The toll bridge at the legendary site was completed in 1926 by the Wauna Toll Bridge Company. Sherwood, president of the Wauna Company since 1933, subsequently negotiated its sale in 1952 to A. C. Allyn & Co. of Chicago.
Closing the ventures of the two Columbia River bridges involved thousands of dollars, but paled alongside the saga of the "Grapes of Wealth", another stock-purchase venture of Virginia Sherwood's father, John G. Kelly.
About 1925, Kelly bought his first shares of the Church Grape Juice Company at the urging of the company's founder, M. R. Church of Kennewick. Sherwood became involved in 1932 when he bought four shares of stock. However, this was just the beginning as Donald Sherwood was convinced of the firm's strong potential for success if it could be properly developed and managed.
Donald Sherwood proved equal to this task.
Kelly had become president of the firm in 1927 and prevailed on Sherwood to join the board of directors in 1933. Shortly thereafter, the company was successful in aggressively penetrating the Los Angeles market. This encouraged Church to increase its plantings of Concord grapes in the Kennewick area and eventually develop some 800 acres, which at the time was the world's largest Concord grape vineyard. Today, due to a unique combination of soil and climatic conditions, the region remains a major producer of Concord as well as wine grapes.
With Donald Sherwood providing much of the impetus, Church further challenged the larger and nationally-known Welch Grape Juice Company by expanding its sales force into the Sun Belt area during the early 1940's. Subsequently in 1952, Sherwood became president of Church Grape Juice Company and the following year negotiated an exceptionally profitable sale of the company to the larger Welch Grape Juice Company. For Sherwood, negotiating the sale of Church to Welch Grape Juice was the culmination of a successful financial journey from buying a few shares to owning a significant position in a successful company.
The experience with Church Grape Juice Company marked the beginning of a wide-ranging development pattern by Donald Sherwood that would continue over the next 40 years and convert his office into a port of call for the hopeful, enthusiastic, and unconventional. Further, the sale of Church in 1953 also marked the creation of Pioneer Investment Company as successor to Church Grape Juice Company. Pioneer would become the vehicle for Don Sherwood's future investment activities and evolve into a multi-million dollar enterprise.
As a result, 1929 and 1953 represent two of the most prominent years in any Sherwood chronology. While 1929 represents the "year of decision" for Donald Sherwood, 1953 reflects "the year of accelerated momentum" in his record of financial achievements.
Special events of the pivotal year 1953 ended with Sherwood & Roberts purchasing the John Davis Company in Seattle. At the same time, Sherwood began a relationship with Luke and Charles Williams of Spokane, who were founders of American Sign & Indicator Corporation, the world's largest manufacturer of time, temperature, and moving message signs.
Library As A Living Testimonial
Walla Walla's ample and popular public library on Alder Street is a testimonial not only to the generosity of the Sherwoods, but also a memorial to John G. Kelly.
Sherwood had acquired the Alder Street property in the 1930's. Part of it originally had been the site of the Walla Walla General Hospital owned by Dr. J. F. Cropp. For a time, it had been the location of a grocery store (Sigmans) and a service station; however, fire destroyed the grocery store, and the service station relocated. During the 1960's, when the old Carnegie Library on an adjoining block became too crowded, the city approached Sherwood to buy his Alder Street property. Sherwood agreed to sell, but with a stipulation that the property must be used for a library.
When a bond issue for the new library failed to pass, Sherwood came to the aid of the city with a solution: he would build the library and lease it to the city. The city council agreed. Once the library was a reality, there was little difficulty in later passing a bond issue. The debt was paid off, and Walla Walla gained a new, modern facility thanks largely to the imagination and ingenuity of Don Sherwood. When a drive to raise funds for furnishing the new library lagged, the Sherwoods again were approached. The result was a significant donation and the opportunity for the Sherwoods to visually perpetuate the memory of John G. Kelly with a portrait and plaque in its dedicated reading room.
Downtown Walla Walla Activity
The Sherwood "touch" on downtown Walla Walla was ever present over the years. While the public library building stands as a noteworthy example, consider the change wrought in an entire city block.
To accomplish this, it required Sherwood's presence in numerous taverns in the area. Seeing Donald Sherwood coming out of a tavern one mid-morning in 1979 caused a friend to do a double take. But, there was a valid reason for this unusual sight. Sherwood was personally making one of many contacts for a block-wide package that included the sale of the former Montgomery Ward building, which Pioneer Investment Company owned. With one exception, the properties in the block bounded by Main, Alder, Third, and Fourth were being acquired for a new location of the Walla Walla branch of Seattle-First National Bank.
Although the proposed transaction was confidential, it generally was assumed that Sherwood was negotiating something on his own behalf. He was, in a sense. He was seeking the basis of a sale for the structure he had somewhat reluctantly purchased several years before as part of his interest in improving the downtown area. Purchasing taverns - he would up buying four as part of his Seattle-First commitment - was a new area for him. Dealing with and on behalf of banks was not.
He was involved in numerous transactions, including assistance to First Federal Savings in purchasing the former Seattle-First building at Second and Alder, the sale of the former Gardner Department Store building at Third and Main to Bank of the West, locating the former United Mutual Savings Bank and Old National Bank to Alder Street locations, locating a branch of Fidelity Savings Bank at First and Main, and acquisition of the Baker Building by the Baker Boyer National Bank. Of his bank-tavern experiences, Sherwood observed that "bank deals are far less complicated and time consuming." Plus, his friends didn't have to question his behavior when they saw him coming out of banks.
At home in
Donald and Virginia Sherwood at their home on Alvarado Terrace.
More Diversified Transactions
As wide a scope as is Donald Sherwood's mark upon Walla Walla, the downtown area was by no means the limit to his vision. As Sherwood & Roberts expanded, transactions became more diversified. More property reflected a Sherwood imprint than that of any other source in the community's history.
Not only was Walla Walla the home for Sherwood & Roberts, but Sherwood personally was involved as a facilitator. Generally, the fields of industrial sites and shopping centers proved the most challenging and rewarding.
Industrial development with its opportunity for moving pieces into place to advance a project from concept to reality was a Sherwood specialty. This began with Sherwood's participation in the promotion of the original Walla Walla Canning Company and later the purchase of its plant site from the Union Pacific Railroad Company.
Food processing plants became an active field. Sherwood handled the property acquisition for Libby, McNeil and Libby. He also assembled the real estate and railroad requirements for Walla Walla's Continental Can Company plant.
Certainly of major interest was Sherwood's role in Boise Cascade's plant at Wallula, now such an important factor in the county's tax rolls and payroll base. This role involved negotiations that followed the original Boise Cascade merger and company formation. In brief, had Donald Sherwood not been able to assemble the pieces for a firm option to purchase land at Wallula, the big paper mill would unquestionable have been located in Eastern Oregon or Idaho.
A decade earlier, when the location of a new U. S. Army Corps of Engineers' regional office was being debated, Sherwood played a key role in Walla Walla being selected as the final site. In competition for the Corps' office were Pendleton and Tri-Cities. A requirement of the final site selection was the guaranteed construction of 200 new rental houses for the expected Corps employees. This challenge was met when Sherwood formed a new group to build the homes, and Walla Walla became the new regional office of the Corps of Engineers.
Shopping center development long intrigued Sherwood. When he completed the sale of the Church Grape Juice Company and formation of Pioneer Investment Company, Sherwood retained 50 acres of commercial land in Kennewick. He marketed the site as the "Vineyard Shopping Center" and was able to attract Albertson's as its first tenant. Sherwood later build and leased stores to Albertson's throughout Washington State.
In 1962, Sherwood became interested in what is now the Columbia Center shopping area in the Tri-Cities. His Columbia Center Corporation initially owned the 80-acre site for the regional mall and subsequently sold it to Allied Stores of Seattle.
Another major Sherwood transaction was the sale of the Union-Bulletin to the Seattle Times in October 1971. The sale was to be of more that passing interest to Whitman College, which became the beneficiary of the shares of stock owned by Donald and Virginia Sherwood in the form of endowment in support of scholarships for the College.
This support of Whitman College followed a consistent pattern beginning in the mid-1930's and continuing throughout the lives of Donald and Virginia Sherwood.
Financial support of Whitman College by the Sherwoods ranged from modest memorial donations and individual scholarships to substantial contributions for new buildings and scholarship endowment.
Major recognition by Whitman College for his many years of service to the institution as well as Walla Walla was given in May 1972 on the occasion of the 103rd Commencement when Sherwood was presented with the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.
The Sherwood philanthropy extended to the larger community of Walla Walla as well with a strong emphasis on education. Nearly all local campaigns of significance featured Sherwood & Roberts or a Sherwood-related source of funds in their leadership ranks.
At the time of Donald's death in 1994, (Virginia died earlier the same year) the financial support of Whitman College by the Sherwoods was unmatched by any other individual in the history of the College. However, the contribution of Donald and Virginia Sherwood to Whitman College cannot be measured simply in terms of dollars.
Whitman College Fiscal Matters
The "Sherwood touch," so evident in buildings of downtown Walla Walla and the Whitman College campus, was also seen in his influence on the College's fiscal policies.
Whitman College faced two major financial crises: 1911-12 and 1935-36. Sherwood's father-in-law, John G. Kelly, was involved in the first; Sherwood was a major player in resolving the second. John Kelly, early in his lengthy Walla Walla newspaper career, lent substantial editorial and news support to help President Stephen B. L. Penrose raise $500,000 for the College. That fund-raising effort succeeded, but the College still lacked a practical approach to financial management and by 1922 was involved in another campaign effort that fell far short of objectives.
Class of '22
Donald Sherwood was presented with the varsity athletic jacket at the 1969 dedication of the Sherwood Center athletic facility.
When the Depression years of the 1930's arrived, Whitman College was mired in debt; the outlook was bleak. This financial crisis peaked in 1935-36 at the same time as a trustee controversy. The matter culminated with the resignation of President Rudolph Clemen and the naming of Dr. Walter A. Bratton as acting trustee chairman and later as acting president. Bratton concurred with Kelly's recommendation that "younger, forward-looking" people be placed on the College's governing boards, including Harper Joy, George Yancey, and Donald Sherwood.
In 1977 Sherwood penned a 37-page report about Whitman's struggle to survive its financial crisis. It covered the 1936-76 period and was titled "40 Years of Balanced Budgets Without Deficit Financing." The focal point of the Sherwood report dealt with the critical year of 1936 and subsequent events. He noted that it was his "privilege to serve as secretary and an active member of each of three committees organized in sequence to assist Whitman College not only in avoiding a financial debacle and possible closure of the institution in 1936, but in achieving significant long-term financial stability."
That stability was built largely upon the work of the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce, where Sherwood was a member of the board of directors at the time. When Bratton went to Sherwood for advice, the Chamber and a specially appointed committee went to work to bring a solution to the College's woes. From early 1936 when he took over management of the College, Bratton worked closely with the Chamber committee. By the time of Bratton's election and the annual meeting of the Chamber when Sherwood became Chamber president, this committee had achieved considerable success in gaining control of the College's finances.
Bratton's quiet persistence and cooperation at the local level, including a reliance on Sherwood's judgment and abilities in fund-raising, brought the trustees and the Chamber group into an area of agreement. One result was the creation of a permanent Finance Committee at the College. This marked the beginning of the Sherwood influence on Whitman College. By virtue of his service on the Finance Committee, Sherwood was able to affect the fiscal policies of the College. The committee concurred with a proposal, largely a Sherwood idea, that was to change dramatically the course of the financial administration of the College.
The proposal became a trustee-mandated policy of living within the actual income of the College and not depending on anticipated revenue or borrowed funds. It was a policy that was to expand over time and pay substantial dividends in succeeding years in terms of securing financial support from alumni, friends, individuals, corporations, and foundations. As a result, Whitman College subsequently enjoyed an enviable position among privately endowed liberal colleges and became recognized and admired nationally for its solvency.
Sherwood was named in 1951 to the Board of Overseers and in 1954 to the Board of Trustees, where he served as president from 1965 to 1972. His influence on Whitman's financial policies was significant and enduring; his decision to leave academic issues largely to the faculty and administration was well founded.
Sherwood's involvement in campus building campaigns, funding scholarship endowments, and sponsoring the Whitman-In-China exchange program was extensive. However, when asked what was his most satisfying accomplishment on behalf of Whitman College, he quickly responds, "Saving the College and then convincing successive Boards of Trustees that the College should not go into debt."
Both Donald and Virginia shared the philosophy expressed in 1972 by Donald in a Union-Bulletin news story following the couple's gift of more than $1 million to Whitman College. In response to the question, "Why Whitman?" Donald explained:
"I have one college, one political party, and one church. An investment in education is more rewarding than anything we have discovered. A college is something vital. Things are moving. It is constructive and forward looking."
This matter of giving so much of one's self to one's community was a hallmark of both Donald and Virginia Sherwood. That legacy of generosity carries on today in Sherwood Trust, the private, nonprofit foundation they established in 1991 to invest in the Walla Walla Valley.