Community Godfather

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Author C. Mark Smith has written Community Godfather: How Sam Volpentest shaped the history of Hanford and the Tri-CitiesFrom Amazon…

He was known as Mr. Tri-Cities, Mr. Sam, the Man from Hanford, the Godfather of the Tri-Cities, and, occasionally, by far less flattering terms. For more than 60 years, just about everyone at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities knew who Sam Volpentest was, even if they didn’t fully understand the ways in which he was shaping their future. In Community Godfather: How Sam Volpentest Shaped the History of Hanford and the Tri-Cities, they find out. C. Mark Smith traces the life of this remarkable man who was born in 1904, grew up in poverty, began work when he was 10, became one of Seattle’s first Eagle Scouts, led a radio dance band, spent two decades selling wholesale groceries during the 1920s and the Great Depression, and became the lifelong friend of some of Washington state’s most powerful politicians. In 1949, he moved to the Tri-Cities to benefit from the growth of the Hanford Engineer Works which produced plutonium for the atomic bomb. He became a successful businessman but was stricken with cancer in 1957 and given only a month to live. He survived, sold his businesses, and dedicated the rest of his life to community service. He used his political associations to funnel billions of dollars into Hanford and the Tri-Cities over the next 48 years. Along the way, he co-founded one of the most effective local economic development organizations in the Pacific Northwest. He was still working those relationships and shaping the future of his community when he died at the age of 101 in 2005. Smith conducted more than 70 interviews with individuals who worked with Sam, fought with Sam, or simply observed the activities of what one former publisher of the Tri-City Herald called one pint-sized giant of a man with strong determination and powerful political connections who almost single-handedly prevented a large portion of Eastern Washington state from sliding into economic depression. At a time when many communities seek effective leaders, Sam Volpentest’s story is a shining example of how one person — perhaps any of us — can shape the future of their community.

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