Harry Collman 1941-2011 A legacy of giving

By Observer editorial April 15, 2011 10:54 am
The community has lost one of its most successful businessmen, community benefactors and indomitable figures. Harry Collman, longtime owner of RD Mac, died April 8 at the age of 69. A celebration of his life is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at the First Christian Church in La Grande.  Harry was a unique individual, an enigma — a guy with a gruff, ornery exterior, but with a heart of gold. He was a man who made a difference — in his profession and in his community. Harry was a self-made success story and someone who never stopped giving back to the community that contributed to his success.

Harry fell in love with the Grande Ronde Valley back in the early 1970s. Working for Central Premix out of the Tri-Cities, he came to Union County as work was progressing on the new interstate freeway being built through the valley. The area grew on him. So did the people. So much so, in fact, he hired on as manager at RD Mac. In 1973, Harry bought the business. From that point on, Harry became one of Union County’s greatest advocates. He loved it here.

Harry believed in his adopted community. And he never stopped showing it. Youth sports and recreation throughout the valley wouldn’t be where they are today without the foundation Harry Collman helped build throughout the 1970s and ’80s — one that is carried on today through his son, Jay, who makes sure that support of youth sports remains an RD Mac priority.

Harry, Jay said, never turned down supporting youth sports, which stemmed from his own realization that sports can help people find success. From buying wrestling mats for the high school in the early 1970s to supporting Little League teams today, Harry saw his financial support as a way of giving back. And give back he did — far more than most people know.

That’s where “enigma’’ comes in. What was especially unique about Harry was the fact that most of his giving back was done anonymously. Sure, there was the support of youth sports and a host of local programs, but he preferred, his wife Becky said, “to work anonymously.’’ He liked it that way. He didn’t care about recognition. He was quick to help out people in need, whether they be former employees or businessmen down on their luck, or by secretly paying for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for local church programs for 25 years. He relished his public persona of being Mr. Gruff, but even more he loved helping people and his community.

Guys like Harry only come along so often. They leave a significant mark in every facet of their life — from business, to community, to family. Harry did just that. And on this day, which would have been Harry’s 70th birthday, we say thanks, Harry. Whether you’d want the recognition or not, you deserve it. You made a difference, and you left a legacy of giving.