When Spokane businessman James W. Crow died last year, he left a million-dollar legacy that will help thousands of children.
It was a quiet act of generosity from a man whose character was forged by struggles during the Great Depression, valor during World War II, and an inventive mind that translated into financial success. His vision loss later in life did not dampen his enthusiasm.
Crow died in June at age 95. He left more than $1 million to a trio of Spokane charities and set up his gift to last in perpetuity.
“Jim was one consummate gentleman, a quiet member of the community who gave many, many gifts without his name attached,” said his longtime friend and financial adviser Brad Nickle. “He did a lot of nice things for people.”
The million-dollar donation makes up the new James W. and Betty E. Crow Endowment Fund. The interest it earns will be split each year among the Spokane Guilds’ School and Neuromuscular Center, the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, and the Inland Northwest Community Foundation for its discretionary grants program, said Molly Sanchez, the foundation’s director of community engagement.
Dick Boysen, director of the Guilds’ School, said the money will translate into help and education for children with developmental disabilities. The specialized school has helped thousands of children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, blindness, hearing loss and other conditions.
“Mr. Crow was just part of this incredible generation that lived extraordinary lives and prospered, yet never forgot their roots and struggles,” Boysen said.
Crow was born in Gooding, Idaho, in 1915, and attended both Gonzaga University and the University of Idaho, according to his obituary. He married Betty Turner in 1940. She died in 1998.
Daring escape after plane shot down
Crow served as a bombardier during World War II, flying some 50 long-range missions aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress in the Mediterranean Theater.
In 1945 his plane was shot down in Axis-controlled Yugoslavia. For 10 harrowing days, Crow and the bombing crew hid in grain fields from German soldiers. They were armed only with a couple of pistols.
They met up with a British spy who had disguised himself as a female farmworker and led the American crew to a daring escape, jumping aboard a moving plane that had touched down just long enough to pick up the crew and avoid capture.
Crow didn’t dwell on his military service, said his friend, Nickle. However, he was awarded the Purple Heart; the Distinguished Flying Cross; the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, which denote subsequent bestowals of the award; and the Mediterranean Theater Ribbon with six battle stars.
After the war, the Crows made their home in Spokane. James Crow set to work inventing a machine that used centrifugal force to separate and clean grass seed.
It became the backbone of Crow and Co., a Spokane Valley business.
Crow sold the rights to his technology, Nickle said, and retired in 1973.
“Jim wasn’t the kind that made a fortune at his business. He was frugal and watched his money,” Nickle said. Crow invested wisely over the years, enabling him to leave a legacy gift decades after he left work.
The Crows spent their retirement years traveling the world. They lived otherwise modest lives in north Spokane. They never had children, but they enjoyed the company of family and friends.
Touched by charities’ work
In his later years, after Crow lost his sight to glaucoma, he was touched by a story of a relative’s child who was helped by the Guilds’ School.
“The doctors couldn’t save his sight, but he was always positive. I can’t remember a time that he wasn’t. That never changed,” Nickle said. “He was fascinated by the work of the Guilds’ School and decided years ago that would be a great thing to contribute to.”
Crow also took an interest in the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery.
Last year the nursery helped 4,000 children ages birth to 6, said Amy Knapton, executive director.
“Mr. Crow’s gift will help us help more children,” she said.