June 7, 1995 in Nation/World

Millionaire Was Rich In Spirit Sandifur Kept His Love Of People

Grayden Jones And Rachel Konrad S - Ji Staff writer
 

As they ate fried chicken at Granny’s Buffet, J. Evelyn Sandifur recently ribbed her 92-year-old husband about why he didn’t replace his trademark threadbare, brimmed hat.

“Can’t afford it,” grinned C. Paul Sandifur Sr., an elfish, white-haired man who built a $1 billion empire on a $10 loan and some real estate.

From Hawaii to Spokane, Sandifur carefully hid his accomplishments. The self-made millionaire never lost his thirst for bargains and affinity with common people.

His influence was felt by many who never made the connection between the wealthy businessman and his company’s many holdings - The Met theater, Old Standard Life Insurance in Coeur d’Alene, Lawai Beach Resort in Hawaii and other businesses and properties.

“He was as common as an old shoe,” said longtime friend Warren Durham, a Spokane media consultant. “You can’t fool kids and dogs, and they both loved him.”

Sandifur was chairman of Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities Co. when he and Evelyn, 82, died Friday in a automobile accident that has shocked friends and the business community. He left behind a Spokane-based company that controls $1.1 billion in real estate contracts, buildings, insurance and investments.

The Sandifurs died riding in a symbol of their frugality. While a Cadillac sat in the company garage, the couple left for their Cheweleh, Wash., farm in a 1991 Subaru station wagon - Evelyn’s favorite car.

Evelyn was at the wheel when the car crossed into the southbound lane of Highway 395 and slammed into a motorhome.

“He (Paul Sr.) never spent a penny that wasn’t absolutely necessary,” C. Paul Sandifur Jr. said, recalling his father’s strict rule that the family order water when dining out. “He was raised poor and never forgot it.”

The Sandifurs are survived by four children: Paul Jr.; Mary Sandifur of Redmond, Wash.; William Sandifur of St. Paul, Minn.; and Ann Sandifur of Santa Fe, N.M.; and Paul Sr.’s sister, Priscilla Shorthouse, of Vancouver, Wash.

Sandifur was the third of four children born to a poor Methodist minister in Tillamook Bay, Ore. Money was so tight the family had to borrow from the congregation, Sandifur wrote in his 1991 autobiography, “Just Give me Real Estate.”

“The early years were the motivator for me to achieve some material success,” he wrote.

After high school, Sandifur worked for a traveling photographer and rode the rails to Colorado, begging for nickels.

A car accident crushed Sandifur’s left arm, leaving it lame. So he returned to Oregon to sell insurance and earn a law degree at Lewis and Clark College.

The thin-lipped, bespectacled entrepreneur arrived in Spokane in 1937 to become branch manager for West Coast Life Insurance Co. But he had to “borrow” $10 from West Coast’s vault to rent a cot and buy meals that first week, he recalled in his book.

The insurance business led to a string of ventures for Sandifur, including the Green Hornet Bus Line, which ferried sailers to the Farragut Naval Training Station in North Idaho.

In 1939, Paul married Evelyn, a farm girl from Careywood, Idaho. Paul Jr. was born three years later.

As Sandifur pursued new business projects, Evelyn provided stability at home. She read books constantly, spent hours in the garden and supported the local arts. In 1955, she shepherded her four children to Florence, Italy, where they spent a year broadening their education.

During World War II, Sandifur and his late brother, Chuck, opened the city’s first Jeep dealership and staffed it with women mechanics. The dealership was located across the street from John Pring Chevrolet in the Valley, the forerunner to the Appleway Group of car dealerships.

“He was one of Spokane’s finest,” Appleway Chairman Jack Pring said of Sandifur, whose influence was far grander than his 5-foot frame. “He cast a long shadow.”

Sandifur’s big break came when a real estate agent offered to sell a real estate contract at a 10 percent discount. Sandifur took the gamble, realizing he could make money without having to work for it.

Intrigued by the potential for buying real estate mortgages, the 50-year-old businessman created Metropolitan at an age when most men are thinking about retirement. Over the next four decades, he turned Metropolitan into the nation’s leading investor in seller-financed real estate mortgages.

In 1988, the Sandifurs restored an historic downtown theater to its original grandeur and called it The Met. It was one of their lasting contributions to the Spokane arts scene.

“He loved The Met,” said Met manager Michael Smith. “He did it to be generous to the community… to give something back.”

But Sandifur was uncomfortable with the praise. He seemed more relaxed around kids and blue-collar laborers.

He liked plain chicken sandwiches at Wendy’s and enjoyed taking his friend, Durham, and Durham’s 4-year-old grandson, to the weekly meeting of the Manito Lion’s Club.

Until a few years ago, Sandifur refused to take more than $40,000 a year salary at Metropolitan. But he also believed no one should be paid more than the chairman.

That created a problem for Paul Jr., president of Metropolitan. He begged his father to boost the chairman’s salary to $100,000 so the company could hire high-paid executives from other companies. His father reluctantly agreed.

Paul Jr. confesses that he didn’t always know what his father was doing, or where he was going. The globe-trotter made several business trips in the past year to China, Hawaii and South America.

But everyone at the company knew last Friday afternoon, like every other Friday, that Evelyn would pick up her husband at the office and the two would drive to the farm.

No one could guess that after all these years, they wouldn’t be coming back.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Sandifur service A memorial service for C. Paul Sandifur Sr. and J. Evelyn Sandifur has been scheduled for 3 p.m. June 14 at The Met. Located at the corner of Lincoln and Sprague downtown, The Met is a 758-seat performing arts theater that the Sandifurs restored. Memorials should be sent to Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities Co., 929 W. Sprague, and made to either Zephyr or Art Growers, two arts organizations supported by the Sandifurs which help aspiring, new musicians and composers.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Grayden Jones and Rachel Konrad Staff writers - Staff writer Jim Kershner contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Sandifur service A memorial service for C. Paul Sandifur Sr. and J. Evelyn Sandifur has been scheduled for 3 p.m. June 14 at The Met. Located at the corner of Lincoln and Sprague downtown, The Met is a 758-seat performing arts theater that the Sandifurs restored. Memorials should be sent to Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities Co., 929 W. Sprague, and made to either Zephyr or Art Growers, two arts organizations supported by the Sandifurs which help aspiring, new musicians and composers.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Grayden Jones and Rachel Konrad Staff writers - Staff writer Jim Kershner contributed to this report.


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