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Community philanthropist Sherm Olsrud dies

Sherm Olsrud, community benefactor and retired president of Sherm’s Thunderbird and Food 4 Less markets, died Tuesday surrounded by family, his son said.

“Sherm loved living and working in the Rogue Valley and was proud to be a part of the Southern Oregon Community,” Steve Olsrud posted on Facebook Wednesday evening.

Sherm Olsrud and his wife, Wanda, who survives him, established a long legacy of community philanthropy and service. They donated truckloads of food to organizations such as ACCESS and were major contributors to an after-school center at Kids Unlimited, both the original and rebuilt playground in Bear Creek Park and the Jackson County Expo.

The couple were honored in November 2017 with a lifetime achievement award from Jackson County in recognition of their impact in the community.

“We’ve lost one of the most incredible people that I’ve ever met,” said Tom Cole, executive director of Kids Unlimited.

Cole described how the Olsruds invested in the organization when it was still young and establishing itself in the Rogue Valley. Their contributions helped build the gym that now bears their name at the facility at 821 N. Riverside Ave., Medford.

Beyond donating dollars, though, Cole said they also were frequent attenders at basketball games, showing up in the front row at weekend tournaments.

“His kindness and his commitment to children made him and his wife and his family a very precious gift for this community,” Cole said.

Posters on Facebook recalled Sherm Olsrud’s kindness to his employees, fairness with distributors and compassionate support for programs that benefit the entire community.

“A great man of integrity, well-loved by the community and by his employees,” said Karen Wilkinson Buel. “Sherm will be missed.”

“What a loss for our community but he lives on in all the wonderful things he has done,” posted Angie McCoy.

“RIP Mr. Sherm,” wrote Stu Hawkins. “I hope to give back to our community like you guys have done one day, thank you.”

The Olsruds established themselves among the top grocers in Oregon. Sherm Olsrud was born in North Dakota, served as a Marine in the South Pacific during World War II, then moved to Oregon, where he worked in grocery stores and met Wanda, whom he married in 1947.

They bought a meat market in Eugene before opening the city’s first 24-hour market, according to a 2003 Mail Tribune profile.

The couple, whose legacy is so closely linked, worked 12- to 15-hour days all week after they bought their first Thunderbird Market in Medford in 1967. In the decades that followed, they expanded to Klamath Falls and Roseburg.

Few coupons, consistently low prices and no-frills buildings were the name of the game for Olsrud grocery stores.

Families across the Rogue Valley have been touched by the Olsruds’ philanthropic efforts.

Olsrud paid $18,000 to the Medford School District in the early 2000s to erect the fence that still encircles the McLoughlin Middle School campus. The couple supported the Sherm and Wanda Olsrud Endowed Scholarship at Southern Oregon University, the Olsrud and FFA Scholarship and the Sherm and Wanda Olsrud Scholarship administered by the Oregon Community Foundation.

At a February awards banquet held by the Southern Oregon Sports Commission, the couple were recognized as sports advocate honorees, where presenters spoke about their lack of love for the spotlight.

“It’s never about their recognition, it’s not at all, it’s about, ‘We want to do this because it’s the right thing to do, and we have the ability to do it.’ That’s wonderful,” said Dennis Murphy, former athletic director and boys basketball coach at South Medford.

“They have just really been proud of the community, and the community has been good for our family. They just want to say ‘thank you,’” Steve Olsrud said then.

Funeral and burial services will be private, Steve Olsrud said in his Facebook post, but a celebration of life will be planned for the community.

“Thank you so much for your love, support, thoughts and prayers at this difficult time,” he said.

“He will be greatly missed.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Sherm Olsrud was on hand as ACCESS warehouse manager Scott Denn unloads around 23,000 pounds of food the Olsrud family donated to the ACCESS warehouse in 2014. Mail Tribune file photo