Dick Withnell is truly a sports fan – some might call him a "sports encyclopedia” - who has a deep interest in and appreciation for what athletics can offer to young people. He has served as a past president of the Salem Sports and Breakfast Club and the Willamette Cardinal Round Table. (Notes Dick on the latter, "not bad for a Linfield grad!”) However, what brings Dick Withnell to the level of a Beacon award winner is his willingness to give of himself to support Salem-Keizer athletics and athletes. He and son David have stepped up again and again to provide opportunities for student-athletes in Salem-Keizer. Whether it be advertising at individual schools, sponsoring youth athletic teams, or providing funding for turf fields at South Salem, North Salem, and McKay High Schools, Withnell has been one of those "go to” community members. He is a man who has used his business success to aid causes ranging from athletics to attacking methamphetamine use to poverty reduction. It is apparent that Dick Withnell is a leader in the Salem-Keizer community and for whom philanthropy is a passion.
Dick was born and raised in Roseburg, Oregon where he played basketball as both a junior and senior at Roseburg High School. He then attended and graduated from Linfield College in 1964, together with his wife Gayle, also a '64 Linfield grad. Dick and Gayle recently celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary.
Upon graduation from Linfield, Dick began with U.S. National Bank in installment lending, but soon after went into the car business. He purchased his first car dealership in 1980 (when the "prime interest rate” was 23%!). From those beginnings he built Withnell Dodge into an auto dealership powerhouse and one of the best known businesses in the Salem-Keizer area. In 2002, Dick sold Withnell Motor Company to his son David.
For the past 16 years, Dick and Gayle Withnell have been deeply involved in civic development. Honored for his hands-on "sweat equity” and philanthropy, Dick was most recently the recipient of the 2015 "Samuel C. Wheeler Freedom Award” by DePaul Treatment Centers, while in 2011, he received the "Al and Pat Reser Civic Leadership Award,” a Governors’ Gold Award (conferred by four living Oregon Governors). A member of the United Way of America’s national Alexis de Tocqueville Society "Million Dollar Round Table”, he has also been twice-named "Philanthropist of the Year” by the United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley. Corban University conferred to him an honorary "Doctor of Humane Letters”, and he received the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce’s "First Citizen Award”.
Statewide, Dick currently chairs the Oregon Corrections Enterprises Advisory Council, and is part of the Oregon Business Council’s Poverty Reduction Task Force. He previously held governor-appointed positions on the Governor’s Re-Entry Council, Oregon Education Investment Board, Early Learning Council, Public Safety Commission for Sentencing Reform, and as chair of the Oregon Commission on Children and Families.
Locally, Dick helped co-found Salem’s Relief Nursery, Family Building Blocks, and "No Meth – Not in MY Neighborhood”, as well as serving as a member of the Marion County Children and Families Commission (including its Executive Committee). He was a member of Marion County’s Reentry Council; acted as convenor for the Marion County Casey Partnership Team, which focuses on foster care and family preservation; and he served on the Board of Directors for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) of Marion County.
During his 22 years at the Withnell Motor Company helm, Dick was active in local, state, and national automotive-related organizations. He served as president of both the Salem Automobile Dealers Association and the Oregon Automobile Dealers Association, as well as National Dodge Dealer Chair (representing 4,000 Dodge dealers). Recognition of his automotive achievements include his selection as one of 10 finalists nationwide for TIME magazine’s "Quality Dealer Award,” and he was also one of eight national finalists for the American International Automobile Dealers Association/Newsweek magazine’s "All-Star Dealer Award.” Dick was one of 10 dealers nationally to receive the Good Housekeeping/Automotive News "Automotive Dealership Service Excellence Award,” and was the recipient of "Business of the Year,” "Employer of the Year,” and "Showcase” Awards from the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce.
Dick and Gayle continue to be involved with their alma mater, Linfield College. In 1992, in honor of his late father (also a Linfield alum), Dick and Gayle established the "Harold J. Withnell Endowed Scholarship Fund” for students, beginning in their sophomore year, who were accepted to Linfield on a scholastic probationary basis as freshmen and then "turned themselves around academically.” This scholarship is renewable each of their remaining years at Linfield, providing they remain in good academic standing. Dick is a Trustee Emeritus, after serving as a member of Linfield’s Board of Trustees for 25 years.
In 1996, the Withnells began an essay-based, college scholarship competition for high school music students in the Salem-Keizer School District, with well over 100 scholarships awarded to date. The "Harold J. Withnell Music Scholarship” was named for Dick’s father, who had been a music teacher, and more than a half-dozen recipients have since returned to the Salem-Keizer School District as music teachers. A separate, financial need-based scholarship was added in 2008 to provide private music lessons—both instrumental and vocal—for middle-school and high-school music students who demonstrate exceptional musical talent.
Dick and Gayle Withnell have two children—son David, President of Withnell Motor Company, and daughter Gina Ochsner, international award-winning author and "Writer-In-Residence” at Corban University—and five grandchildren: Connor, Daniel, Jake, Nathasha, and Soren as well as great-grandchild Dustan.