John Elorriaga remembers what it is like to be in a struggling, working class family. He grew up the son of Spanish Basque immigrants who converted their Oregon home into a boarding house so they could put food on the table after his father was injured working in the gold mines of Idaho. For years, Elorriaga worked two or three jobs — including milking cows — to help support his family.
“Things were tough. Really tough,” says Elorriaga, who is nearly 89 years old. “We didn’t have a dime. But even though we didn’t have anything, my mother never turned anybody away from the door.”
A Lifetime of Philanthropy
A desire to continue helping others has carried Elorriaga through a lifetime of empathy and passion for philanthropy and business, including his role as the chairman and CEO of U.S. Bank in Oregon in the 1970s and 1980s.
“All my life I just did what I thought I should do, and U.S. Bank has been a big part in helping me do that.”
— John Elorriaga
When Elorriaga heard that the housing for nuns was condemned at a Catholic sanctuary — called “The Grotto,” also known as The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother in Portland, OR — Elorriaga stepped in to preserve the 62-acre Catholic shrine and botanical garden he considered “a precious landmark.” His donations helped rebuild the monastery, construct permanent housing for the nuns and build a new visitor’s center along with a youth retreat center.
After Elorriaga’s oldest grandson mentioned that Portland’s Jesuit High School needed a math and science building, he created the LEED-certified Elorriaga Center for Science and Mathematics. To this day, he says it is still one of his favorite donations because his six children and many grandchildren have attended the school. “I just try to help where it counts,” he explains.