Larry Epping, a longtime real estate developer in the Mid-Willamette Valley, died Thursday, October 22, 2015, at his Salem home. He was 94.
His family said he had been experiencing recent health complications, but up until around the time he celebrated his birthday in August, was still showing up to work almost daily at his office on Lancaster Drive NE.
Epping launched his development business in 1946, after returning from service as an officer in the Navy during World War II, and he became known for building affordable homes.
In recent years, he was known more for his philanthropic activities. The Larry and Jeannette Epping Family Foundation donated $200,000 to the Oregon World War II Memorial project, for example, and he helped cut the ribbon at the dedication ceremony June 6, 2014.
“He was absolutely pivotal in making that happen,” said Lou Jaffe, president of the foundation that raised money for the memorial on the grounds of the State Capitol.
Epping’s wife preceded him in death in 2013. The family foundation also donated land for Blanchet Catholic School and land for a future park in Silverton.
“The most important thing was his desire to give back to the community,” said son Randy Epping, noting that his father’s family came to Oregon after losing their farm in North Dakota during the Dust Bowl. “They had no money. The kids worked in the fields. His life in Oregon is a true success story, to be able to build up his business to where now most all of the money goes to supports the foundation.”
Mike Erdmann, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Marion and Polk Counties, said Epping’s death would be felt across the Mid-Valley. He said Larry and his wife gave a tremendous amount to the community, and that almost all of it was “off the radar.”
“Larry was without a doubt the patriarch of the home-building industry in Salem, but he never sought public recognition for his generosity,” Erdmann said. “He gave because it was the right thing to do. He sold affordable homes to home buyers and gave them financing when others wouldn’t. And he did the same for countless homebuilders over the years. When other banks wouldn’t lend them the money, Larry would. That was Larry. He will be missed.”
Epping’s World War II service, until just a few years ago, also was under the radar. He was modest about being called a hero when he spoke to a Statesman Journal reporter in 2013.
Epping served on the USS Gambier Bay, an escort carrier that was sunk during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which is considered the greatest naval battle in history. He clung to the rim of a life raft for nearly two days in shark-infested waters.
The old saying goes, “In a life raft, there’s no one that doesn’t believe in the Lord,” he said at the time.
After the war, Epping started his development career. During his induction to the Oregon Building Industries Association Housing Hall of Fame in 2000, it was noted that he started with a single property lot and by that time, had built more than 1,000 homes priced for first-time buyers.
“Larry has been so instrumental is making sure that poor, vulnerable families, pregnant teens and foster children could be proud of where they lived,” said Jim Seymour, executive director of Catholic Community Services. “One way he did this was by making housing available to them and making sure it stayed in good shape.”
A rosary will be held in Epping’s memory at 7 p.m. Sunday, October 25, 2015, at St. Vincent Church in Salem. After a funeral mass will be held at St Mary’s Church in Mt. Angel, with burial following at Calvary Cemetery with full military honors.
Christian, grandson of Larry, Randy, son of Larry