Jackson County commissioners recognized grocery store owners Sherm and Wanda Olsrud with a lifetime achievement award Wednesday in recognition of their longstanding support of community causes.

Now retired but with family members carrying on the business, the Olsruds operated Sherm's Thunderbird Markets and Food 4 Less. Their first store in the Rogue Valley opened in 1967.

"The support they have given to this community is a legacy that cannot go unnoticed, and the number of lives they've impacted is innumerable," said Commissioner Colleen Roberts.

She said their commitment to their customers caused them to reach out and contribute to local causes, especially those benefiting youths.

The couple were major contributors to a Kids Unlimited after-school center that features a basketball gym named after them. When Olsrud Court opened in 2007, Kids Unlimited saw 1,000 additional kids visiting to play basketball, Kids Unlimited Executive Director Tom Cole said at the time.

Sherm and Wanda Olsrud donate to more than 30 organizations each year. They have provided support for the ACCESS Olsrud Family Nutrition Center, the Olsrud Building event venue at The Expo, Asante Foundation, Boy Scouts of America, Maslow Project for homeless youth, St. Mary's School, Southern Oregon University scholarships and many other causes.

Recipients of the SOU scholarships included a Marine veteran, a single mother who had escaped an abusive marriage and a valedictorian who had given up hope of attending college, according to SOU.

When Sherm's Thunderbird received a payment for selling a winning Powerball lottery ticket, Sherm Olsrud donated the money to Jackson and Washington elementary schools, according to SOU. 

Over the past 18 years, the couple donated at least 46 truckloads of food in Jackson, Douglas, Klamath and Lake counties, commissioners said.

Commissioners said the Olsruds usually like to help behind the scenes.

"It was usually without a lot of fanfare," said Commissioner Rick Dyer.

Roberts recalled seeing the couple seated on hard bleacher seats late into the night so they could bid on animals raised by Future Farmers of America kids.

"It's been a good community," Sherm Olsrud said. "We've enjoyed living here. We've had so many good employees working for us through the years. It was just a privilege to go to work in the morning — but I had to give that up."

Roberts responded, "I don't know. I think I saw Sherm in the produce department at Thunderbird last Christmas — so he hasn't given it up."

Sherm Olsrud was a Marine who served in the South Pacific during World War II. Following the war, he met his bride-to-be in Eugene, according to a 2003 article in the Mail Tribune that profiled the Olsruds.

In 1958, Sherm Olsrud — an apprentice meat cutter at the time — and his wife bought a store called Wilson's Sausage Kitchen, according to their son and the current vice president of the family business, Steve Olsrud.

They turned it into a 24-hour grocery market, with Sherm Olsrud focused on the meat counter and Wanda Olsrud running the office, according to the 2003 article.

When a Thunderbird grocery store in Medford ran into financial trouble, the couple bought the business in 1967, putting in 15- to 16-hour workdays, seven days a week, the article said.

Their business expanded with the purchase of additional grocery stores in Southern Oregon over the years.

In June, the Olsrud family accepted the 2017 Unified Grocers' Ben Schwartz Retail Grocery Visionary Award.

"I can't think of any other company that not only serves their customers well but also is as deeply ingrained in their communities in which their stores operate," Unified Grocers President and Chief Executive Officer Bob Ling said at the time.

The family has four grocery stores and employs more than 630 people in Southern Oregon. Many employees have been with the business for decades, according to Steve Olsrud.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.