Merle Scott West was a member of one of Mt. Vernon, Iowa's early pioneer families. He was born January 4, 1886 to Isaac and Eva Scott West. Isaac West was one of ten children of Wesley and Polly Ann McKay West, who came to Iowa from Ohio in 1859.
Merle West was brought up in Mt. Vernon, and upon graduation from high school, enrolled at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon. He majored in civil engineering and was a member of the College Adelphian Literary Society. He also was a member of the college varsity football team, lettering in 1906, 1907 and 1908. In that era five points were still awarded for a touchdown.
Merle West graduated from Cornell College with a Bachelor of Science degree on June 17, 1909. Soon after graduation he moved from Mt. Vernon to Douglas County, Oregon, where he was involved in surveying and timber cruising. While in Douglas County, Merle S. West and Emma Jane Osterman were married at Sutherlin, March 1, 1911. Emma Jane Osterman was a native of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Later in the same year, Mr. and Mrs. West moved to the little town of Klamath Falls, Oregon, where he was employed by Long Bell Lumber Company at its Klamath Falls retail yard. Very shortly, Merle was promoted to manager and remained six years with the Long Bell operation.
Big Lakes Box Company
In early 1917 Merle and partners organized a new company which bought a milling yard for manufacturing box shook, i.e., the wooden parts used in making wooden boxes. In a short time, the firm Big Lakes Box Company outgrew its small space, and a new plant was built. The expanded operation included both a box factory and a sawmill. The box factory and office stood very near where the City of Klamath Falls Street Department's maintenance building is now located.
For several years Big Lakes also operated a sawmill at Canby, California. Later the firm expanded further into the finish lumber business, supplying pine lumber for furniture, sash and door manufacture, coffin stock, and common and select lumber for building construction. Big Lakes lumber was shipped to all points across the United States as well as into Mexico and Israel.
Merle West was one of 15 charter members of the Klamath Falls Rotary Club at its organization in early Spring of 1922 and was its president from 1928 through 1929. He served many years as a director of the Klamath Union High School District after having served nine years on the high school budget committee. Merle served two terms on the City Council and many years as a director and officer of the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce.
By 1949 cardboard boxes were replacing wooden boxes and pine stumpage was in short supply. The Big Lakes Box Company was liquidated. About 10 or 12 years later, Merle became sole owner of the Winema Hotel. By 1958 the Winema Hotel had been expanded and remodeled in a major operation that added a ballroom for major community and social functions.
The Emma West Estate
Following a lengthy illness, Emma West passed away on March 1, 1971, the couple's sixtieth anniversary. Mrs. West's estate was given to the Shriner's Hospital for Crippled Children. The West's philanthropies continued. By October, 1976, Mr. West's arthritic condition had deteriorated to where he did not venture far from home. He dispatched his friend and advisor, R.H. Lung, then Vice President and Trust Officer of the United States National Bank of Oregon, with a $1 million packet of blue chip securities to Cornell College, his Alma mater. The contribution was used to help build a new science building on the campus, a building which became known as The Merle S. West Science Center for Biology and Chemistry. Later, just prior to April 18, 1979, the West Trust donated $1 million, this time to the Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Klamath Falls. As a gesture of appreciation, not just for his monetary contribution but for his lifelong devotion and concern for Klamath County and its people, the hospital complex was renamed the Merle West Medical Center, even though Merle directed that the contribution was in honor of his mother, Eva Scott West.
The Merle West Estate
Merle's death came on December 20, 1983, just two weeks and a day before his 98th birthday. On December 23, 1983, Ray Lung came to Merle's Rotary Club friends to announce that Merle had left another $300,000 to the Shriner's Hospital for Crippled Children and several minor bequests. Because Merle believed that every person should have the opportunity for education beyond the high school level, the residue and remainder of his estate, which totaled over $3 million, formed the corpus of a new scholarship fund to be known as the Merle S. and Emma J. West Scholarship Fund. This fund, in perpetuity, provides renewable scholarships to graduates of Klamath County High Schools. U.S. Bank was named as Trustee.
In accordance with Mr. and Mrs. West's wishes, the selection of scholarship recipients was delegated to a Scholarship Committee. The five member committee is comprised of four residents of Klamath County and an officer of U.S. Bank who are appointed by the trustee.