W.A. Woodard and Gov. Douglas McKay inspecting the Cottage Grove Community Hospital under construction on Birch Ave.
Editor’s note: This is Part II of a three-part series.
COTTAGE GROVE – W.A. Woodard was a tenacious, self-made businessman, and was, by nature, generous. Woodard credited his success to his employees and the town of Cottage Grove and wanted to improve the quality of life for both. Known for making timely donations to worthy causes and helping employees, his early charity was rather random. His wife Dutee helped guide him into more focused giving.
He, with only a 3rd-grade education, and she, a UO graduate with a degree in foreign languages, in many ways they were the odd couple They met at a dinner in the old Bartlett/Cottage Grove Hotel. Dutee and her sister were earning $5 a day as extras in Buster Keaton’s 1927 “The General,” being filmed at the time. Dutee and W.A. formed a dynamic team. Besides their business and community affairs the couple traveled to Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, boated down the Amazon, and met Albert Schweitzer there, among other adventures.
Woodard never took much to school and went to work at an early age with wood products, cutting firewood to sell to the railroad for fuel. “W.A. was not a great reader and Dutee was a great help to my grandfather, reading to him the occasional business paper, newspaper, and the Bible. A discussion would follow with Dutee offering additional input and explanations. She was the silent partner offering her support when necessary but seldom interfering into his business dealings. My grandfather was widely known for saying, “I run the business and Dutee runs the home,” Casey Woodard related.
Mrs. Woodard also had a mission to promote literacy in the community. An avid reader, she was a founding member of the Cottage Grove Library Board. Unhappy with the selection of books, she urged W. A. to buy books – he did so with a $5,000 donation, one of the first major gifts to the citizens of the Grove. At that time the Cottage Grove Library was a limited collection of books in the attic of the Old City Hall building on 6th Street.
Left: W.A. Woodard Memorial Library – his portrait over the checkout desk.
In 1943 the Woodards purchased the empty lot next to City Hall with the intention of building a new library. It took nearly eight years to assemble the materials and resources for the dream to come true. The Woodards provided $55,000 for the building and land, the project largely guided through the passion of Mrs. Woodard.
At the Library’s dedication in 1950, emcee H. E. Eakin praised the accomplishment and noted it was the only public library built in the first half of the century entirely of private money. An impressed Gov. Douglas McKay was in attendance along with 1,500 locals. At the opening it had a collection of 10,000 volumes. In 1971, following W. A.’s death it was renamed the W. A. Woodard Memorial Library. The library had doubled the number of books and was being visited by 43,000 patrons annually.
The W.A. Woodard Memorial Library was popular, but by the mid 1990s had outgrown its 2,000 square foot space. When the old Safeway building became available the Woodard Family Foundation (WFF) was instrumental in helping the City, through financial gifts, to purchase the building for a planned expansion of the library and a community center. Casey Woodard assisted in securing several local and statewide grants – some over $250,000 – to help the project. Joy Woodard, Casey’s mother, made a personal gift of $75,000 and she and her husband, Carlton, were among the joyous throng of about 450 Grovers who formed a “Book Brigade,” (an idea suggested by Richard Meyers, city manager), passing the books along the streets by hand to the new library, Aug. 2, 2000.
Throughout the years in the old brick library, the Woodards had provided ongoing support for books, equipment, furnishing, and landscaping. Originally the building was gifted to the city as long as it was used as a library. Today it serves as the offices for Woodard Family Foundation and houses the Woodard archives dating back to W.A.’s father Ambrose, and his early days in Hebron and London.
W.A. Woodard was a stickler for safety. His employees would be the first to tell you they weren’t sure if it was worse to have an accident than to have him catch you being “lackadaisical” in regards to your job. Logging and mill operations were inherently dangerous, and no one knew this better than the boss himself. W.A. lost all four fingers on his left hand in a saw accident. On another occasion his foot was caught in a machine belt, badly injuring his ankle. Both accidents required long recovery times. He spared no expense in safety equipment and modifications and that was part of his concern for his employees well being. He further exhibited this in providing quality housing, good food, and fuel services with payroll deduction. This was in addition to paying the highest wages around.
One day there were three serious accidents and one fatality. That shocked W.A. into launching a drive to build a hospital in Cottage Grove. His reasoning was that in cases of serious injuries in the woods it could be 20 miles out and then another 20 miles to Eugene. A local hospital could be the difference between life and death. Plus a local hospital would add to quality of life for the entire community.
Woodard’s mantra became “Cottage Grove needs a new hospital.” The goal was to raise $300,000 and enlisted many participants in the effort. Woodard contributed $25,000 as an initial gift to get things rolling and eventually contributed much more financially, not to mention the long hours of volunteer time, expertise, materials, and using his connections.
It is helpful to point out here that both library and hospital projects were happening concurrently and ended up being finished within a year of each other. The Cottage Grove Community Hospital, a 32-bed facility, was dedicated on April 21, 1951, after a five year effort, with 2,100 attending the grand opening. W.A was elected the first president of the hospital board and served for 16 years. In the event of budget shortfalls, he was known to call his business rival Warren Daugherty and challenge him to match him on a donation for the hospital to keep things running.
The new hospital was a hit from the beginning, serving 1,578 in-patients and delivering 438 babies in its first year. Improvements followed over the years, adding an emergency room and other services. But the hospital faced continuing financial struggles, forcing its closure on Aug. 31, 1998. Business and community leaders rallied and joined with ordinary folk all intent on reopening the hospital and restoring local healthcare.
They formed the Lane-Douglas Healthcare Foundation (later the CG Community Hospital Foundation), and after considering several providers, formed a partnership with PeaceHealth. With a $2 million goal, the group had to navigate federal law changes, license challenges, and the sheer effort of raising that amount of capital. The commitment was there and the Woodard Family Foundation played key roles in leadership, contributions, and expertise in securing funding. Five years later, on Oct. 7, 2003, the new PeaceHealth Cottage Grove Community Medical Center Hospital was dedicated, featuring 40,000 square feet, 24-hour emergency room, radiology, physical therapy and other patient services.
In 1952 W.A. Woodard made what was then an unusual decision. He had been involved for the last 10 years in charitable giving, particularly with the library and hospital, and wanted to form a mechanism to allow his family to be able to give to worthy causes despite the boom-and-bust cycles of the lumber industry. With $25,000 from the Woodard Lumber Company, Dutee and W.A. formed the W.A. Woodard Foundation. The first board members were W.A. Woodard (president), Dutee (vice president), sons Carlton “Cart” and Alton, and Paul Williams, a Michigan business partner. As the returns on the investments accumulated the foundation was able to make its first grant on June 8, 1954 – $5,000 to the Oregon Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
In the beginning the grant-giving process was pretty informal. Son Cart, before his death in 2017 recalled, “We’d sit around W.A.’s desk and he’d suggest a grant to this organization or that and we’d all agree and so a check was written. Life was much simpler then.” As the foundation’s assets grew through wise investments and continuing contributions by Dutee, W.A., and family businesses such as Kimwood, the size and number of grants increased. By the mid-1970s between 20-30 grants totaling around $25,000 were being given each year.
A pattern was begun in the foundation which continues to this day; the next generations were brought in early to observe and be groomed into future leadership positions. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th generations of Woodards now manage the foundation, which was renamed The Woodard Family Foundation in 1984. It is the eighth-oldest Oregon foundation and as its funds grew so did its range and scope of giving. Initially the giving was more locally focused but the location of grantees has extended as its resources increased.
When Casey Woodard joined the board in 1986 he noted a flyer advertising a conference for family foundations. He attended, and what he learned there helped redefine how the foundation went about their giving. “We were on everybody’s list so we ended up giving a lot of small donations ranging from $50 up. We began asking ourselves ‘What difference are we making?’ The answer was that we were just really a ‘donor’ giving an inch deep and a mile wide.”
Changes in the granting process allowed the WFF to grow into a truly philanthropic organization. One of the first organizations to benefit from this new approach was the Bohemia Residential Community (now known as South Lane Mental Health). Awarding a $100,000 multi-year grant allowed this organization to get its feet on the ground and grow into the large operation it is today. Similar support was given to Family Relief Nursery, Cottage Theatre, and South Lane School District.
As the WFF approaches its 70th year of operations, it has given nearly $10 million in a continuing function of the vision of a one-of-a-kind individual. To learn more about his colorful and adventurous life and the good works his family continues to help facilitate, I recommend “The Woodard Family Foundation - Celebrating 60 years of Charity, Change, and Community,” available on the WFF website, woodardff.com. It may surprise you how much of Cottage Grove has been touched and shaped by this remarkable family.
Next week: A closer look at the man himself – W.A. Woodard, rugged individualist.
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