Doris Scharpf was the most marvelous kind of shared secret for certain Albany residents, akin to knowing a superhero’s secret identity.
Scharpf lived rather modestly and didn’t seek out the limelight, but she also was a philanthropist who enjoyed quietly giving tens of millions of dollars to numerous Albany and mid-Willamette Valley organizations.
“Every time there was another article in the newspaper about an anonymous donor contributing funds to a civic project in the community, a lot of people knew it was Doris,” said John Buchner, former publisher of the Democrat-Herald, and a neighbor to Scharpf.
“Everybody knew who it was,” said Wendy Kirbey, president of the board for the Albany Historic Carousel & Museum. “This town, and our children, are better because of her,” she added.
Scharpf gave $4 million to the carousel effort because she thought it would be a magical place for Albany youth to visit, Kirbey said.
“We wanted to dedicate the building to her or her husband. She wouldn’t have any part of it,” she said. Carousel organizers wanted to recognize Scharpf by putting her name beside other donors inside the building. She refused.
“You don’t help people to have everybody know that you’re helping people. You help people to help people. It didn’t matter if anybody knew. She wanted to do good stuff,” said Susan McKay, Scharpf’s daughter, now a Wyoming resident.
Scharpf, 95, died on April 24 at her home in the Mennonite Village in Southeast Albany. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Friday, May 10, at the United Presbyterian Church, 330 Fifth Avenue SW in Albany, another organization that Scharpf donated to.
In 2017, Scharpf was given a special honor during the Albany Chamber of Commerce’s Distinguished Service Awards for her donations. Albany accountant Fred Koontz, who handled Scharpf’s finances, presented the award and called Scharpf “the angel of Albany.”
It’s a moniker some residents continue to use to describe her.
A complete account of Scharpf’s largesse would be far too massive to publish in a small-town daily newspaper.
“On and on, big and small,” Buchner said, after spending a few moments rattling off a list of numerous area nonprofits that Scharpf helped.
Among others, Scharpf gave to the Boys & Girls Club of Albany, the Mid-Willamette Family YMCA and the Albany Civic Theater.
Scharpf funded swim lessons at the Albany Community Pool, as well as sponsorships so lower-income children could splash and play at open rec swims.
She was interested in music and art, and provided individual scholarships for college students.
She also helped purchase and renovate the new building for the Albany Public Library on 14th Avenue. She hated the hue the structure was painted, as her obituary notes, but continued donating to the institution.
“Nobody in Albany liked that color. ... But she was really proud of that library. It really is an impressive library,” McKay said.
Scharpf and her husband, Bill Scharpf, were philanthropists together. When he died in 2001, she continued their work.
The couple made their fortune by investing in Nike when the shoe and apparel giant was in its infancy.
The Scharpfs lived in Eugene before moving to Albany and knew legendary track coach Bill Bowerman and Nike founder Phil Knight. They invested in the fledgling company because they wanted to help out a pair of friends.
“It turned into something miraculous,” Buchner said. “She thought it was her duty to give it away.”
McKay said that her parents — neither of whom grew up rich and never acted as if they had millions — enjoyed sharing their wealth. And it was simply the right thing to do.
“They believed their wealth was a gift from God. They felt they were kind of doing God’s work by giving money back to the community, by being an advocate for education for the kids, by making sure the kids could educate themselves,” McKay said.
“That was the pathway, that if you were educated and smart, you could make the right decisions in life,” she added.
Scharpf’s philanthropy will continue even after her death, as she established a foundation to dedicate her and her husband’s investments, McKay and Buchner said.
“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.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe what they’ve done,” he said.