Sporleder built reputation over decades in retail

Fred Sporleder, one of the co-founders of a clothier and downtown fixture bearing the family name, has died.


Fred Sporleder, a retail businessman whose more than six-decade career in apparel set a local standard for clothing and customer service, died Monday at his Walla Walla home. He was 94.

"The greatest gift that he gave to his family was such a good name," said daughter Susie Sporleder this morning. "No matter where I've worked or wherever I've been in town when people have asked my name, they say, 'I know your dad.' I've always been proud to be my father's daughter."

The Sporleder name was a household word in the Walla Walla Valley for decades. In 1947, with a dream to open the best men's clothing store in Walla Walla and a partnership with his brother, Edwin, Sporleders came to life on downtown's Second Avenue.

The operation grew from $80,000 and four employees into a million-dollar annual sales volume over the years, surviving the coming and going of chains and shopping malls as well as trends in clothing. Along the way, Fred Sporleder became known not only as a savvy businessman but a generous community volunteer and advocate.

His affiliations and memberships are too great to list. But he had been one of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce's Award of Merit recipients and a national director of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. He raised money to build the Lillie Rice Center and was a more than 50-year volunteer for St. Vincent de Paul, where he served as a board member and treasurer. He was chairman in the organization of the migrant day care center at the Walla Walla Farm Labor Homes, which at the time was believed to have been the first project of its kind in the country.

A sportsman and outdoorsman, he became at 85 the oldest jet boat pilot running the Snake River into Hells Canyon.

But for many in the community, the name Sporleder will always be associated with the historic retail business.

Granddaughter Jessica Peters said this morning back in his retail days her grandfather could size up a man the moment he walked in the door -- "no measurements needed."

His career in retail went back to the early 1930s when he started part-time at Wades Clothing Store during his junior and senior years of high school. One of 10 children born to Edwin and Lydia Preas Sporleder, he continued in retail after his 1937 marriage to Dorthea Mengee and a move to Oakland, Calif.

In 1938 he sold men's wear for Vagh's at Sather Gate in Berkeley and became the store manager two years later. He returned to Wades in 1943 but was then drafted in 1945 in the U.S. Navy, serving in World War II.

Upon his discharge two years after that, he and his family returned to Walla Walla to start the store.

It didn't take long before the business was expanding. In 1951 the Sporleder brothers outgrew their initial location and moved to 1 E. Main St., where for the next two decades they expanded into the basement, raised the ceiling and took over neighboring space.

When they had found every inch of space they could fill over three decades, they had no choice but to move to a larger location. In 1980, Sporleders relocated to 51 E. Main St. Ed Sporleder retired, and his son-in-law Dave McClelland bought his half of the business.

The two operated the store together until 1994. Under new ownership, it became Walla Walla Clothing Co. That business continues to operate today at the corner of Main and Colville streets.

Fred Sporleder had once attempted to retire. That was in 1990 at 74. At the time he told the Union-Bulletin he planned to work part-time. "My heart is still in the store. But I'm more likely to go fishing than I did before," he quipped.

His plan didn't turn out quite as he'd imagined. "The town just wouldn't let him retire," Susie Sporleder said. Finally in 1994, the sale of the store gave him more time to go fishing.

Even through a long illness -- diabetes took a leg from him a year and a half ago -- he still found his way to the water. "Three weeks ago, he was fishing," she said.

Sporleder is survived by three daughters, Randy Warren, Ann Cox and Susie Sporleder. He was preceded in death by his wife and two sons, Fred "Duke" Sporleder Jr. and Marc Sporleder.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.


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