Sunday, August 27, 2017

Helpmate, Education Advocate, and Philanthropist Kathryn Albertson [otd 8/27]

Kathryn (McCurry) Albertson was born August 27, 1908 in Boise, Idaho. After high school, she matriculated at the College of Idaho, a private, liberal arts institution in Caldwell. Kathryn never said publicly why she chose the small, struggling college, but being close to home probably had a lot to do with it. (At the time, southwest Idaho had no public four-year college.)

In any case, she did choose tiny College of Idaho. There, in chemistry class, Kathryn met a hard-working young man named Joseph A. Albertson [blog, Oct 17]. Joe had a job as a clerk at a Safeway store. At the time, students called the College “Dr. Boone’s marriage mill,” affectionately referring to the school’s founder and first President, William Judson Boone [blog, Nov 5].

Joe and Kathryn only added to the legacy. On New Years Day 1930, the Reverend Boone wrote in his diary, “Marry Katheryn [sic] McCurry to Joseph A. Albertson. 52 present, very fine and very pretty.”

While Kathryn ran their home, Joe’s hard work and knack for the business brought steady advancement at Safeway stores. Eventually, he supervised over a dozen outlets. But, as with all innovators, Albertson had his own ideas on how to run a better store. By 1939, Joe and Kathryn were ready to pursue his dream.

In July, Joe and two business partners opened the first Albertson’s Store on Boise’s State Street. The company had opened three stores by the end of 1940.

Known as a very private person, Kathryn nonetheless involved herself enough with the stores to earn the affectionate nickname “Mrs. A” from employees. The grocery store, and then supermarket, and then “super-store” company grew steadily. They took the company public in 1959 – investors and mutual funds soon made the stock a favorite in their portfolios.

The couple showed their philanthropic bent early, enthusiastically promoting war bonds and scrap drives during World War II. Contributions large and small flowed to a wide variety of civic projects and institutions, including the College of Idaho. In 1966, they created the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation to manage their extensive charitable activities.

In 1991, the College of Idaho officially changed its name to Albertson College of Idaho to honor years of generous donations from Joe and Kathryn. College administrator also wanted to emphasize for other potential donors that they are not part of the state’s public school system. Joe passed away two years later.
Water feature, Kathryn Albertson Park. City of Boise photo.

Kathryn, if anything, increased the foundation’s good works after Joe’s death. She also carried on his vision for Albertson Corporation, and in 1998 company leaders recognized her as the first Director Emeritus, a lifetime position on the Board of Directors. She passed away in April 2002.

Their memories carry on through the Foundation, and Kathryn’s through Kathryn Albertson Park, in downtown Boise. In 2007, their alma mater returned to just The College of Idaho name. Since Joe and Kathryn had resisted the first change, one trusts that they would approve.
References: “Kathryn Albertson,” Quest magazine, College of Idaho (Summer 2002).
Louie W. Attebury, The College of Idaho, 1891-1991: A Centennial History, © College of Idaho, Caldwell (1991).
Biography: Kathryn Albertson, J. A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation
Merle Wells, Arthur A. Hart, Idaho: Gem of the Mountains, Windsor Publications, Inc., Northridge, California (1985).

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