• Community Godfather Online Reviews
Community Godfather Online Reviews


Great book on a very interesting man

Amazon Customer
November 9, 2015

Great Read. This is a great book for my generation and all who have come to live in the Tri City area. Sam Volpentest made so many things happen that would not have without his hand in it. Mr. Smith did a great job telling the story and I will hope that my kids and grandkids will use this book as a reminder of our area history and how we got to where we are today.

February 9, 2014

Disliked the man.
Not sure whether he served the community or his business cronies.

L.C. Manning
January 5, 2016

Excellent read. It would be reasonable to ask why it is wor th your time to read a 500-page book about a man probably as well known today as when he died at age 101 in 2005.But you would be asking the wrong question.

Mark Smith’s book “Community Godfather: How Sam Volpentest shaped the history of Hanford and the Tri-Cities” is much more than the story of Sam.

In more than 75 interviews, Smith tells the story of how one pint-sized giant of a man with strong determination and powerful political connections could almost single-handedly prevent a large portion of Eastern Washington state from sliding into economic depression.

It’s a story of how, over 50 years, powerful local leaders used Sam – and how Sam used heavy hitters on the local, state and federal levels – to prevent the Tri-Cities from drying up and blowing away when the federal government determined it had enough plutonium to exterminate not just the Russians but the world, and started shutting down all of Hanford’s reactors.

Some of that activity by Sam was self-serving. Most was not.

This book tells more than what happened to the Tri-Cities: it tells how it happened, who did it, to whom – and how. Together, these were the people who were responsible for much of the excitement, vitality, insecurity, fear, politics, and dreams that have made the Tri-Cities what it is today.

As a Tri-City Herald reporter, editor and publisher from 1960 to 1997, I thought I know some of the “how” things happened over the years. I didn’t. Reading the book  was a trip down the lane of stories missed.Sam was rarely if ever an instigator of projects. He was more of a bloodhound: lead him to a field, show him the scent. And he’d almost always bring home the prize.

Smith shows masterfully how Sam and others did that on project after project. They skillfully navigated the community’s love/hate relationship with Hanford as they steered the often conflicting demands of growing a Tri-City future independent of Hanford while at the same time preserving the very necessary Hanford jobs.

The book is full of stories that concern not just Hanford. They include how Sam and others thwarted the conspiracy of Yakima and Pendleton interests who wanted the interstate highway no closer than 30 miles to the Tri-Cities.

How many knew that Sam’s financial interest in gambling machines had him warned out of Las Vegas by Mafia types?

The book tells how Richland got the federal building, HAMMER, LIGO and how a piece of human bone determined where Battelle was to place one of its major labs.

Sam was not all sugar and spice. The book deals with the family life that Sam sacrificed for the sake of his economic development work.

It also chronicles what his friends and all re porters knew: that Sam , who regarded himself always as under appreciated and underpaid, yearned for praise and adulation.He never forgot a slight – even imagined ones.

There are times in the book where a reader can be forgiven for speed reading – such as the details of Washington Public Power Supply’s woes And the family details that would perhaps have been better as an addendum.

But those are nitpicks.

Mark Smith has done history a service by masterfully chronicling, through the life of Sam and his contemporaries, how the Tri-Cities was 50 years ago, how it is today – and how it got there.
It’s an absorbing book.

(Editor’s note: C. Mark Smith of Richland is an economic developer whose previous book was “Raising Cain – The Life and Politics of Senator Harry P. Cain” the colorful and controversial former mayor of Tacoma; war hero, and U.S. Senator.)

Jack Briggs
December 31, 2013

Funding of Hanford. I love this book.  It explains how a very poor boy from Seattle could
come to Richland, Washington that bordered the Hanford Site which contained  eight active nuclear reactors and become the Tri-Cities Godfather.  

Sam Volpentest was instrumental in supporting new projects to replace the closed reactors andobtaining funding for these project s through his connections with Senators in Washington DC and Presidents of the United States.

A great read.

Robert Larson
December 10, 2013

Love it! I love this book! As an amateur historian, I’m hungry for information on our are and my older home, in particular. This book fills in a lot of gaps that no one else has bothered to write about, and that might otherwise be lost in history. I’m so glad the author decided to take on Richland, Hanford and Sam Volpentest.

February 6, 2016

Insightful, useful . . . and fun! An insightful narrative supported by thorough research and frequently amusing anecdotes. Aside from the fact that Sam was truly one of a kind, the book should be required reading for anyone hoping to understand the Tri-Cities and Hanford — or who wants to know how to work within the system to get things done for the survival and growth of a community. Besides, as Sam once said, “Do something nice for your community. It will make you feel good.”

JP in WA
June 15, 2015

The Community Godfather is a must read. The Community Godfather is a must read for the history buff in all of us. Smith was a true insider and brings that true insider color to the history of our nation’s nuclear legacy, the development of The Hanford Nuclear Reservation and the history of The Tri-Cities. I was fascinated by the personal back-stories. Jeff Bailey, author of The Defect.

Amazon Customer
February 8, 2016


April 13, 2013

Andy Miller rated it as amazing

As others have noted, this biography of Sam Volpentest becomes almost a history of the economic development of the Tri Cities after the story of Volpentest’s follows his move to Richland from Seattle in the late forties. I enjoyed the story of his early life, he was born into an Italian American family of modest means and became a successful salesman before moving to Richland. The biography then recounts Volpentest’s early years as a tavern owner in Richland before he was struck with cancer in the late fifties. 

The story of course focuses on Volpentest’s life as community leader, helping form the Tri City Nuclear Industry Council(TCNIC) and lobbying the federal government and sometimes private businesses to invest in the Tri Cities, an effort aided by his incessant fundraising for political officers

While this biography is admiring of Volpentest it is balanced by frank discussions of his thin skin, grudge carrying, need for credit and the cost to his family life due to his economic development zeal. The book also gives an insider’s insight of tensions between TCNIC and its successor TRIDEC and the Chambers of Commerce, good roads committee, and the Hanford Communites group

The biography also hints at possible shortcomings of the Volpentest and TCNIC approach. Volpentest guarded access to federal and state officials when they came to the Tri Cities and didn’t want other Tri Citians to lobby and meet with them in trips to Washington DC. While Volpentest raised much money for their campaigns and brought money federal dollars to the Tri Cities economy, the focus may have been too much on how much the federal money would help the Tri City community instead of the value of these projects to the taxpayer and lead to an overestimation of the power that Volpentest, TCNIC and the Tri City Herald had in the Tri Cities. For example, Mike McCormack was elected to Congress in 1970 over strong opposition of the Herald and no TCNIC support, but when he had that support in 1980 he lost his Congressional seat due to his poor showing in Benton County. Warren Magnuson was roundly rejected by Benton County voters in 1980 despite Magnuson’s success in ushering in great economic times for its citizens. Patty Murray seemed to adopt a “What’s good for Volpentest is good for the Tri Cities ” attitude which may help explain why despite often saving the Tri City economy she is always soundly rejected by Tri City voters. A possible lesson is that while in no way diminishing Volpentest’s efforts and successes for the Tri Cities, we may have been better off with a more inclusive approach that emphasized the quality and value of the work done with federal dollars instead of overly touting the “pork” value

Again, this is an excellent, well written biography that is also a history of Hanford economic development–a five star choice.

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