A Brief History of Mel and Grace McLean, the founders of the McLean Foundation.
Mel McLean was born in Madras, Oregon, on land homesteaded by his parents. His mother died when he was 11, and Mel lived with aunts and uncles. He graduated from high school and attended one year at the Columbia Academy in Walla Walla, Washington. He worked at various jobs at a very young age, always making the most of each experience.
Grace Rudge McLean was born in Boise, Idaho and graduated from Boise High School. She did not attend college but moved to Portland, Oregon and ended up owning a small donut shop called Kirk’s Donut Shop. It was in the little donut shop that she met Mel.
In December 1937, while Mel was a truck driver for Rose City Pies in Portland, Oregon, he met and married his wife of 52 years- Grace Rudge. After they married, they moved to Castle Rock, Washington
where Mel and Stanley Shaffer operated a tie mill.
In 1946, Mel and his apartment neighbor, Robert Boggs, started the B & M Stores of Everett, Washington. This venture started as a corner grocery store, but soon grew to a five-store chain of very large supermarkets with land holdings for several shopping centers and future stores. These stores were extremely successful and were sold in 1986.
By 1948, Mel, Stanley Shaffer and George Lindsey (Stanley’s father-in-law) purchased a redwood mill on the Bar W Ranch near Bridgeville, California. This was the start of the Lindsey Lumber Company. In 1950, a fire destroyed the sawmill, so with a timber contract from the Fairhurst interests covering the Perry, Wheat and Whitlow Ranches, they moved to McCann, California. The company grew to ten tie and 2×4 mills and a planing mill. The 1955 flood took out the planing mill, and subsequently, they rebuilt a large state of the art 2×4 mill and a planing mill and started operations again.
As the timber was running low at McCann, Mel looked for another sawmill operation. In 1958, Mel and Stanley purchased the Johnnie Voll sawmill at Metropolitan, near Rio Dell, CA. This was the beginning of Eel River Sawmills. They poured all their profits into expanding the mill and their timber base. They were able to run a very successful mill. Then, again – another devastating flood in 1964 wiped them out. Logs and lumber were scattered throughout the valley and up the Pacific Coast. Mel and Grace, however, were determined to rebuild. In a later interview from the local paper, Grace said, “It was either go down the road with a gunny sack of clothes on your back–or hard work and start over again!”
Mel’s partner, Stanley Shaffer, was hesitant about the rebuilding, so Mel bought controlling interest in the company and proceeded to build one of the finest fir mills on the Pacific Coast. Mel went on to being one of the founders of the North Coast Chip Export facility at Samoa and he also built the Fairhaven Power Plant in Samoa in 1987. This plant was a very successful wood-waste power plant that produced clean energy-nearly enough electricity to provide for the city of Eureka’s power needs.
Before Mel and Grace died, they decided to start a trust in their name to give back to the community that they loved so much. Grace died in 1989 and Mel died in May 1999. After his death, his appointed trustees officially opened this foundation on the January 1, 2000.
Grant making from The McLean Foundation has touched all of Humboldt County and continues to support a wide spectrum of needs for the community of the North Coast of California.
Watch a brief history of how the Foundation came to be.