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Honoring Father’s Day founder

Jerry Numbers is in the process of renovating the south Spokane home of Sonora Dodd, the woman who is credited with starting Father's Day.  He also plans to rebuild parts of the stone wall. 
 (DAN PELLE Photos / The Spokesman-Review)
Jerry Numbers is in the process of renovating the south Spokane home of Sonora Dodd, the woman who is credited with starting Father's Day. He also plans to rebuild parts of the stone wall. (DAN PELLE Photos / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane woman who started Father’s Day here in 1910 had lived in a modest Craftsman bungalow along South Arthur Street which is now listed on the city’s local register of historic places.

Jerry and Beverlee Numbers, the current owners of the home, are restoring it as part of an ongoing effort to recognize the history of Father’s Day, Sonora Dodd’s role in establishing it and its significance to Spokane.

Last week, Jerry Numbers told City Council members that he and his wife along with others want to organize a special celebration on Father’s Day in 2010 to recognize the centennial of Sonora Dodd’s feat.

At the same time, the council voted unanimously to place the John and Sonora Dodd House and garage at 603 S. Arthur St. on the Spokane Register of Historic Places.

Sonora Dodd died in 1978 at age 96.

The history of the house and Sonora Dodd’s vision for starting Father’s Day “is one of the lost jewels of Spokane,” Numbers told the council.

While Father’s Day began in 1910, the house itself was completed in 1913.

The house and Father’s Day are especially intertwined because, according to neighborhood reports, the house was built by Sonora Dodd’s father out of respect for Sonora’s help in raising her siblings, Numbers said.

“I don’t think you can find another female in Spokane, who in the 20th century, made such an impact on the world,” Numbers said in an interview.

The idea for Father’s Day came to Sonora Dodd as she sat in church on Mother’s Day in 1909 and thought about how hard her father had worked raising her and five other children after her mother’s death in 1898, according to the historic nomination for the house.

Dodd initially proposed June 5 as Father’s Day, but in talks with the Spokane ministerial alliance at the time, the decision was made to make it the third Sunday in June.

A year later on June 19, 1910, the first citywide Father’s Day was celebrated.

A Spokane Chronicle newspaper story said that men from the YMCA wore roses to church to honor their fathers, and Sonora Dodd “rode through town in a horse-drawn carriage and distributed gifts to shut-in fathers,” according to the historic nomination prepared by consultant Linda Yeomans.

The observance spread across the country over the next 60 years in large part through Dodd’s efforts. It was sanctioned at various levels and was widely celebrated by the time Congress and President Nixon officially proclaimed it a national holiday in 1972.

The home had been used as a rental in past years. Numbers said he and his wife recently began restoration it with a goal of making it their own residence.

They also hope to have the home placed on the state and national registers after the restoration is completed in about a year.

During that time, they are making arrangements with Yeomans and publishers Tony and Suzanne Bamonte to research, write and publish a book about Dodd and her accomplishments in time for the 1910 centennial.

“My job is to get the house restored,” Numbers said.

Inside, he is refinishing a uniquely patterned oak and fir floor; repairing plaster walls; and renovating the kitchen, among other projects.

Darker fir at the center of both the dining and living room floors may have been intended as “fir plank rugs,” or as spaces intended for additional floor coverings, Yeomans said.

Typical of Craftsman homes, the house has numerous architectural features intended to create harmony with natural surroundings.

Built a short distance from historic Liberty Park, the front porch foundation and wall are fashioned from native basalt stone matching the basalt park structures a few blocks away. Liberty Park is part of an early master plan by the renowned Olmsted brothers firm.

The Dodd home front-door handle and latch are made from dulled brass molded to look like tree bark.

The Dodd name can still be seen stamped in concrete at the head of the front sidewalk.

Dodd was born in Jenny Lind, Ark., in 1882 and came to Washington state with her parents in 1887, the nomination said.

In addition to her work in establishing Father’s Day, Sonora Dodd was an accomplished painter, sculptor and poet. Her “Lilac Way” poem became the official verse of Lilac festivities, according to Yeomans’ research.

She was a vice president of Ball & Dodd Funeral Home in Spokane.

A plaque honoring her was placed at the old YMCA downtown in 1948 and moved to its present location in the 1960s outside the YMCA at the southwest corner of the Howard Street Bridge over the Spokane River.

Numbers said that more needs to be done in Spokane to celebrate her accomplishments, and he is hoping to get help gathering information for the book on Sonora Dodd as well as for a Father’s Day centennial celebration.

Numbers can be reached at 953-4503, or by e-mail at

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