A Legacy of Caring

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John Elorriaga remembers what it is like to be in a struggling, working class family. He grew up the son of Spanish Basque immigrants who converted their Oregon home into a boarding house so they could put food on the table after his father was injured working in the gold mines of Idaho. For years, Elorriaga worked two or three jobs — including milking cows — to help support his family.

John Elorriaga's desire to help others has motivated him to support philanthropic causes; photo by Michelle Stevens/Artistique Photographie

 

“Things were tough. Really tough,” says Elorriaga, who is nearly 89 years old. “We didn’t have a dime. But even though we didn’t have anything, my mother never turned anybody away from the door.”

A Lifetime of Philanthropy

 

A desire to continue helping others has carried Elorriaga through a lifetime of empathy and passion for philanthropy and business, including his role as the chairman and CEO of U.S. Bank in Oregon in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

“All my life I just did what I thought I should do, and U.S. Bank has been a big part in helping me do that.” 
— John Elorriaga

 

When Elorriaga heard that the housing for nuns was condemned at a Catholic sanctuary — called “The Grotto,” also known as The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother in Portland, OR — Elorriaga stepped in to preserve the 62-acre Catholic shrine and botanical garden he considered “a precious landmark.” His donations helped rebuild the monastery, construct permanent housing for the nuns and build a new visitor’s center along with a youth retreat center.

 

After Elorriaga’s oldest grandson mentioned that Portland’s Jesuit High School needed a math and science building, he created the LEED-certified Elorriaga Center for Science and Mathematics. To this day, he says it is still one of his favorite donations because his six children and many grandchildren have attended the school. “I just try to help where it counts,” he explains.

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When he’s needed financial guidance to help facilitate that vision, The Private Client Reserve has collaborated with Elorriaga and his tax and legal advisors to help him structure his charitable donations and trusts. “They’ve helped me tremendously,” Elorriaga says. “There is always someone there to help out. All I have to do is call.”

 

Through that partnership, Elorriaga created trusts for his family, helped his children start businesses and supported his son-in-law’s quest to invent an electric motorcycle. He also created an endowment to send his grandchildren to college. For those who didn’t use all of their money, Elorriaga gave his grandchildren the option to reinvest that money as a down payment on a home. “Two of them have already done that,” he says. “Which makes me so proud.”

 

A Career of Caring

He’s incredibly appreciative of his time at U.S. Bank. Elorriaga began his banking career at U.S. Bank as an executive trainee in 1951 and worked his way up through the ranks.

After a brief stint in the manufacturing industry, he returned to become president of U.S. Bank in 1972 and president of U.S. Bancorp in 1973. In 1974 he became chairman and CEO of U.S. Bank and U.S. Bancorp, where he would serve until 1987.

 

As a leader, Elorriaga initiated a profit-sharing plan, the first of any national bank in the United States, and revamped employee pension plans. Amid the housing and loan crisis and buckling economy of the early 1980s, Elorriaga led U.S. Bancorp with the “Are You With US?” campaign. The initiative pledged that U.S. Bancorp would put an amount equal to 1 percent of the opening balance on all new qualifying bank deposits into an economic action fund. By the end of the campaign, U.S. Bancorp donated $1 million to help revive Oregon’s economy.

 

A Life Well Lived

After Elorriaga left his position at U.S. Bank in 1987, he continued to be active in the community and in other ventures.

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He branched out, purchasing a chain called Shari’s Restaurants, 24-hour family establishments known for serving pies and American food. Elorriaga also donated his childhood home to the Jordan Valley Owyhee Heritage Council, an organization dedicated to preserving Basque culture. The former boarding house is now known as the I.O.N. (Idaho, Oregon and Nevada) Heritage Museum and reflects life as it existed in Jordan Valley, OR in the early 20th century. Most of the house’s original contents are still there today. 

 

Having a team of expert financial advisors to assist in his new endeavors has made all the difference, Elorriaga says. “Yes, I could try and do it on my own,” Elorriaga says, “but this is so much better. The Private Client Reserve team works hard to make things happen, and they are happy to do it.”

 

He has received numerous awards for his philanthropy, leadership and humanitarian endeavors, including an honorary doctorate from Boise State for endowing two professorships, 

establishing the Ada Burke Endowed Fellowship and helping create the state-of-the art Hewlett-Packard and John Elorriaga Technology, Testing and Innovation Lab in the College of Business and Economics.

 

In memory of his late son who died of cancer at age 49, Elorriaga and his wife, Lois, donated funds to create The John Michael Elorriaga Cancer Research Center at the Providence Portland Medical Center. He’s also taken on various non-profit causes including the Tony award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The non-profit professional theater, one of the oldest and largest in the country, was in the midst of financial challenges when Elorriaga joined the theater’s board, he says.  U.S. Bank got involved as a donor, he says, and together they helped save the theater. 

 

“All my life I just did what I thought I should do,” Elorriaga says, “and U.S. Bank has been a big part in helping me do that.”  

 

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