What J.R. Simplot gave to Idaho

May 25, 2008 

J.R. Simplot's influence on his home state was ubiquitous. It's impossible to travel far in Idaho without seeing something he built, owned, donated or produced.

Nearly 14,000 Idahoans are indebted to him for their paychecks. That's the combined number of people who work for the J.R. Simplot Co. and Micron in Idaho. Thousands more work in other states and abroad.

He gave so much to so many causes for so long that not even the company he founded has a record of them all, especially from the early years. The fruits of his generosity are like the product that made them possible, seemingly everywhere.

Boiseans take for granted things in their city that probably wouldn't exist without Simplot. Columbia Village, the Boise Factory Outlet, The Grove Hotel and Bank of America Centre, One Capital Center, the Simplot-Micron Center at Boise State University, the Marriott Courtyard, Boise State University's Simplot Center for Athletic Excellence and the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy all relied solely or significantly on Simplot resources.

He donated $12 million to BSU, including $500,000 to help build the Velma V. Morrison Center for the Performing Arts, and several million to the University of Idaho and Idaho State University. He donated so many millions to the College of Idaho (now Albertson College of Idaho) through the years that a complete record does not exist. He donated $3 million to help build the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy and another million to set up an endowment. He donated about $2 million to the Boise and West Boise YMCAs, $500,000 to Boise's Ronald McDonald House and was a substantial contributor to the Salvation Army, Idaho Public Television, the Idaho Zoological Society, Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke's regional medical centers, Fundsy, the Boise Art Museum, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, the McCall Memorial Hospital and the Pocatello Public Library. The S-16 partnership he began for his grandchildren owns property from the Foothills to the Eighth Street Marketplace.

Boiseans who enjoy ice skating or watching professional hockey also owe him. Simplot was instrumental in building both of the city's skating rinks, including the one that helped make the Idaho Steelheads a reality.

He was a pioneer in the development of Bogus Basin, essentially financing its first ski lifts. He also was an early partner in the Brundage Mountain Ski Area at McCall. The J.R. Simplot Co. remains a part owner of Brundage today.

On winter days, the slopes below Simplot's Boise home ring with the shouts and laughter of children who use his hill for sledding and tubing. In summer, they slide down Simplot Hill on blocks of ice.

In a sense, he's even on our vehicles. Simplot was a driving force behind the "Famous Potatoes" slogan that for more than half a century has appeared on Idaho's license plates.

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