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Community Godfather


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How Sam Volpentest shaped the history of Hanford and the Tri-Cities

One Person CAN Make A Difference…

Sam VolpentestHe was known as Mr. Tri-Cities, Mr. Sam, the Man from Hanford, the Godfather, and, occasionally, by far less flattering terms. For more than 60 years, just about everyone at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities knew who Sam Volpentest was, even if they didn’t fully understand the ways in which he was shaping their future.

In Community Godfather: How Sam Volpentest Shaped the History of Hanford and the Tri-Cities, they find out. C. Mark Smith traces the life of this remarkable man who was born in 1904, grew up in poverty, began work when he was 10, became one of Seattle’s first Eagle Scouts, led a radio dance band, spent two decades selling wholesale groceries during the 1920s and the Great Depression, and became the lifelong friend of some of Washington state’s most powerful politicians.

In 1949, he moved to the Tri-Cities to benefit from the growth of the Hanford Engineering Works which produced plutonium for the atomic bomb. He became a successful businessman but was stricken with cancer in 1957 and given only a month to live. He survived, sold his businesses, and dedicated the rest of his life to community service. He used his political associations to funnel billions of dollars into Hanford and the Tri-Cities over the next 48 years. Along the way, he co-founded one of the most effective local economic development organizations in the Pacific Northwest.  He was still working those relationships and shaping the future of his community when he died at the age of 101 in 2005.

At a time when many communities seek effective leaders, Sam Volpentest’s story is a shining example of how one person—perhaps any of us—can shape the future of their community.


Sam_MarkC. Mark Smith is the award-winning author of Raising Cain: The Life and Politics of Senator Harry P. Cain. He spent 40 years managing economic development organizations at the local, state, and federal level, but his greatest interests have always been found at the nexus of history, politics, and community service. Smith first met Sam Volpentest in 1970 and worked closely with him after he became the City of Richland’s economic development manager in 2000. He presented Volpentest with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Economic Development Council on the occasion of his 100th birthday in 2004.