Who is Robert Vinson? Some people knew the former Colville resident, and the legacy of community involvement left by his parents, Otto Floyd and Myrtie Vinson.
Whether you knew him or not, the Vinson name will always be synonymous with generosity in Colville. After his death in West Los Angeles on Nov. 18, 2012, at the age of 90, Robert Vinson left $650,000 to be distributed among various community organizations, clubs and the City of Colville.
A memorial celebration will be held Friday, July 5 at 11 a.m. at Yep Kanum Park in Colville to honor the Vinson family and distribute each donation to the benefiting organizations, which includes Colville Kiwanis, Stevens County Historical Society, Colville Masonic Temple, Colville Rotary, local Boy Scout troupes, Colville Public Library, and the City of Colville, among others. The public is invited to attend.
“He was just a very generous man,” said Colville Mayor Deborah Rarrick, adding that she did not know the exact amount of money the city would receive until the memorial event Friday. “I knew his family had a long history here, but I had no idea he planned to do this (after his death).”
Money to be used for
Rarrick adds that it was Vinson’s wish that the money be used to enhance and promote art and culture within the City of Colville.
Known as “Mr. Television” to coworkers, Vinson made much of his fortune in broadcasting when television was just beginning in the 1950’s. He was born in Colville, on May 16, 1922, the second son of Dr. Otto Floyd Vinson and Myrtie (Melcher). His older brother, Floyd Jr. was born in 1918. Otto, originally from Ukiah, Oregon, community, and Myrtie, whose parents settled on Rock Creek, near what is now the town of Sprague, were married in 1913.
After taking the train to Spokane for their honeymoon, they moved to Colville where Otto established his dentistry practice, with an announcement in the Colville Examiner that stated he was prepared to do, “Strictly first class work.”
“From what I understand, the family was always involved in the community, and they really invested their lives in it,” says Sharon McGrane, who helped organize Friday’s Vinson Celebration.
Myrtie was also heavily involved with the creation of the Colville Public Library and the Colville Library Improvement Club. Her work can still be found in a book that chronicles the club’s history, available for viewing at CPL.
“This is an amazing thing that is being done for us,” says Amanda Six Director of Stevens County Libraries, who will be accepting Vinson’s gift of $50,000 to the CPL on its behalf. “His mother was one of the original founders of this library and its improvement club, so this means a lot.”
The couple’s oldest son, Floyd Jr., died at the age of 39 because of complications due to Diabetes. He was born with the disease, which in 1918 was usually a sentence of a very short life. Insulin was discovered that year, but was considered experimental and not widely distributed for several more years. Upon reading about a doctor in Seattle authorized to test insulin on children, Myrtie packed up her car (whilst pregnant with Robert) and drove with Floyd Seattle. Once there, she convinced the doctor that her son would be a good candidate for insulin treatments.
Thanks to his parent’s persistence and attention to diet and good health, Floyd grew up to obtain a law degree from Harvard University and become active in law and politics before his untimely death.
As for Robert, who showed early proficiency in music and showmanship, his parents always encouraged he and his brother to chase after what they wanted and be involved in their community. Robert graduated from high school in 1939 and entered the University of Washington, where he studied music and drama and earned a bachelor of arts and music degree in 1943.
During World War II, Robert enlisted in the Army Reserve Corps. Immediately after graduation from the UW, he entered active duty. After training, Vinson was assigned to the 97th Infantry Division and combat in the European theater.
As a unit of Gen. George Patton's Third Army, the Division swept through Belgium, crossed the Rhine River, and drove through the German heartland to Czechoslovakia. Earning the rank of Technician Fifth Grade, Vinson was awarded the Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman Badge.
On to Hollywood
Following V-E Day (Victory in Europe) in 1945, the 97th was transported to the Pacific Theater and Vinson served with the occupation forces in Japan until his discharge in early 1946.
Seeking a career in broadcasting, he relocated to Hollywood, Calif., to study at the NBC University of California-Los Angeles Radio Institute. There he began writing for the freelance radio market. He acquired writing credits in such programs as "Smile Time" with Steve Allen, "Skippy Hollywood Theater," the "Elgin Hour of Stars," Father Peyton's "Family Theater," and the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS).
One of his scripts for AFRS was the top award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews on the subject of "Brotherhood" in 1947. This was presented to him by the first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, in a Washington, D.C. ceremony.
Throughout his life though, Vinson would return to Colville and the surrounding areas, purchasing a summer cabin named “The Rustic Roost” near Lake Thomas. Long-time Colville resident Shirley Dodson can remember Vinson playing taps every night as the sun set over the lake.
Dodson’s daughter, Colville Kiwanis member and North¬east Washington Fairgrounds Manager Lori Matlock, will be attending Friday’s memorial, considering Vinson left $100,000 to the Kiwanis Club.
“It can be considered one of the most gracious things I have ever seen,” says Matlock. “Most people don’t even know who he was, but he remembered where he was from.”
Vinson left no immediate family members after his death. His estate, accumulated through a lifetime of in¬vesting, has provided for th4 establishment and continuation of scholarship endowments for high school and college graduates, and for philanthropic gifts.
“We’re thrilled,” says Stevens County Historical Society President (SCHS) Janet Tho¬mas. Vinson left $50,000 to the SCHS. “The money will be well-used in a way that honors the (Vinson) family.”