DSA Awards 2017 (copy)

Doris Scharpf rises after receiving a standing ovation during a special presentation honoring her for her contributions to the community at the 2017 Albany Distinguished Service Awards at the Boys & Girls Club of Albany.

It might be that you've never heard the name of Doris Scharpf, but if you live in Albany, there's a good chance she made a difference in your life.

Scharpf, who died April 24 at her Albany home at the age of 95, never was one to seek out the spotlight, never wanted to call attention to herself. That's almost certainly one of the reasons why you might not have heard about her. But over the years, she and her husband, Bill, quietly donated millions of dollars to various community causes.

Most of those donations were made anonymously. But if you read about a multimillion-dollar donation being made to some cause in Albany, there was a good chance that it came from Doris or Bill Scharpf. Bill died in 2001, but Doris continued the good works: For instance, she made a $4 million donation to the Historic Albany Carousel and Museum (a donation that helped that project finally get over the finish line) because she thought it would be a great location for Albany youth to visit.

She helped purchase and renovate the new building for the Albany Public Library on 14th Avenue — and even after a bit of a brouhaha broke out over the color the library was painted (she hated the color), she continued her donations to the institution. Susan McKay, Scharpf's daughter, said her mother was immensely proud of the library, regardless of the color it had been painted. 

A list of organizations Scharpf contributed to reads in part like a "Who's Who" of Albany nonprofits: The Boys & Girls Club of Albany, the Mid-Willamette Family YMCA and the Albany Civic Theater all were among the recipients. 

But there were smaller, continuing donations as well: For example, she funded swimming lessons at the Albany Community Pool, and paid for sponsorships so that lower-income children could splash during open swim times. It's not at all a stretch to think that those swimming lessons have been lifesavers to people who received those lessons years before.

Scharpf was also a patron of the arts in the community, providing individual scholarships to college students. Fred Koontz, the Albany accountant who handled Scharpf's finances, called her "the angel of Albany" during a 2017 awards ceremony; it's a fitting designation, especially since Scharpf, like an angel, preferred to operated out of view.

Doris and Bill Scharpf didn't grow up rich and never acted as if they had millions in the bank. And, in fact, how they made their fortune is a telling detail: They invested in a startup company in part because they wanted to help out a couple of friends, a track coach named Bill Bowerman and a fellow named Phil Knight, a middle-distance runner who had trained under Bowerman at the University of Oregon. The Scharpfs' early investment in the company Bowerman and Knight launched, Nike, "turned into something miraculous," said John Buchner, the former publisher of the Democrat-Herald, and a neighbor of Doris Scharpf's. "She thought it was her duty to give it away."

And so she did, but never in a way that would call attention to herself. The good news is that those contributions to the community will continue, thanks to a foundation she established. 

"The community ought to produce a bronze statue of Doris and Bill Scharpf so that future generations will remember the generous donations they made to this community," Buchner said.

And that's not a bad idea, except for the sneaking suspicion that the Scharpfs would have hated it. But the legacy Doris and Bill Scharpf left is worth remembering: In ways big and small, they made Albany a better place and didn't make much of a fuss about it. Their contributions will endure, and so will their names. 

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, May 10, at the United Presbyterian Church, 330 Fifth Ave. SW in Albany. (mm)


Load comments