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Leo Adler

OPB | Feb. 18, 2008 9 p.m. | Updated: July 25, 2013 11:19 a.m.

Leo Adler

Leo Adler

The Oregon Trail Regional Museum

The people of Baker City knew him as a successful businessman and his home town’s most active booster. But few realized just how successful “Mr. Baker” had been. This is a story of ambition and achievement and one ordinary man’s relationship with the small town he loved.

Leo Adler is not a key figure in the overall history of Oregon. But in one small area of the state, his name is very well known and his impact has been substantial.

Leo was a successful Baker City businessman, whose 98-year lifetime spanned the 20th century. He was born there, near the Idaho border and far from most other places in Oregon. He lived there all his life and died there in 1993.

He was a self-made millionaire. He earned his fortune in the magazine business. As one of the top distributors in the Western U.S., Leo Adler was probably better-known in Chicago and New York publishing circles than in many Pacific Northwest cities, much closer to home.

In Baker City, he was a high-profile local character, a prominent philanthropist and the most energetic and effective booster the town has ever known. Local people called him “Mr. Baker,” though only after his death did they learn what a champion of Baker he really was.

Leo Adler left an astonishing financial legacy to the people of his community. Initially endowed with his gift of $22 million, the Leo Adler Foundation annually administers generous tuition grants to hundreds of young people. And it aggressively doles out a diverse range of community-improvement grants. What makes this foundation distinctive is that these many millions of dollars go almost exclusively to the people of Baker County, population 18,000.

The endowment itself continues to grow – already surpassing $30 million – even as it is actively tapped for these grants. And Leo Adler’s appreciation for his hometown will enhance education, social services and community-building for many, many decades to come.

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