Mary Monroe Davis Davis has bequeathed $17 million to the Yakima Valley Community Foundation to create the largest college-scholarship program in the Valley. An additional $3.85 million will be made available as financial aid for vocational students at Perry Technical Institute in Yakima.
YAKIMA — Mary Monroe Davis was a committed homemaker who canned elderberry jelly, hand-washed cloth diapers and pummeled rattlesnakes with rocks.
She loved to garden and fish, and she ventured into town with her family once a week to eat dinner and buy ice cream at Dairy Queen. Her health began to decline in later years, but her mind remained sharp until she died Nov. 24 at the age of 94.
“She was really outspoken,” her daughter Joan Moore said. “She’d tell her physical therapist, ‘You’re too big and too fat, I can’t hold on to you.’ She never minced words.”
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Throughout her life, “Mollie,” as she was known to friends and family, chose to reinvest her money rather than spend it on herself. That thrift is now benefiting the Yakima Valley in a big way.
Davis has bequeathed $17 million to the Yakima Valley Community Foundation to create the largest college-scholarship program in the Valley. An additional $3.85 million will be made available as financial aid for vocational students at Perry Technical Institute in Yakima.
Details of Davis’ estate were revealed at a news conference Thursday at the Yakima Convention Center.
For years, local Rotary members knew a big chunk of money was being set aside for a scholarship fund that would be administered by the Yakima Rotary Trust, but only a handful knew the identity of the benefactor.
It was, for many in Yakima’s service community, one of the best-kept secrets in town: Who was the mystery donor?
At Davis’ request, her attorney, Joe Falk, and accountant, John Rothenbueler, kept mum about the name, warding off questions from Rotarians.
“It has been a challenge,” Falk admitted with a smile. “Privacy was very important to her. She wanted to leave an important legacy for the community, but she didn’t want recognition.”
Indeed, Davis shied away from attention her entire life.
When her name was revealed as the $20 million benefactor, many of Yakima’s prominent residents had never heard of her.
She was the wife of a cattle rancher in Thorp, Kittitas County, and she spent most of her years there and in Yakima. She inherited much of her fortune from her parents, who made their living in the lumber and orchard businesses.
But like many prosperous people in the Valley, Davis didn’t wear her wealth and didn’t want people to know she had money. She drove the same white Cadillac since 1988, and she taught her family that they get what they work for.
When she was married and living at Hidden Valley Ranch in Thorp, her husband, Warren Davis, served as president of the Kittitas County Cattlemen Association and was a board member of the Ellensburg Rodeo. Mollie Davis was an intensely private person who chose to stay home with her children.
After moving back to Yakima upon her husband’s death in 1977, she returned to her family’s home near Franklin Park. She didn’t attend parties and neighborhood gatherings and didn’t join any clubs or service organizations.
Davis was so private that she didn’t want pictures of herself handed out. Her paid obituary in the Yakima Herald-Republic did not include a photo.
Those closest to Davis say they knew she was wealthy. But they never dreamed she’d leave $20 million to benefit Yakima Valley students.
“I’m surprised I didn’t figure it out,” said her neighbor, Dennis Green. “Her generosity is bigger than her wealth.”
Megan Rockwell said her grandmother was a religious woman, but she didn’t attend church. She had a few friends and liked to surround herself with educated people.
“Her passion was education, the whole way,” said Rockwell, a nurse at Yakima Regional Home Health & Hospice. “That’s the way she’ll be remembered.”
Even she didn’t know of her grandmother’s intentions with $20 million.
“She kept everything under wraps. She’s always been that way,” said Rockwell, who attended Thursday’s news conference as a representative of the family. “She just wanted to do good for the community.”
Davis didn’t have ties to Perry Technical Institute or the Rotary, but she trusted them to carry out her wishes, Rothenbueler said.
She could have established scholarship funds while she was still alive, but she declined to do so because she didn’t want people to know she had money.
“She had told us from the beginning what she wanted to do,” Moore said. “It was her money, so she could do with it what she wanted. I’m pleased. I think it’s for a good cause.”