Family Patriarch Elmer Nordstrom Dead At Age 88

Elmer J. Nordstrom, patriarch of the Nordstrom family, died yesterday at Swedish Medical Center. He was 88.

Nordstrom was co-chairman of Nordstrom Inc. with his late brothers, Everett and Lloyd, until the late 1960s. He continued to be active in the family business until his death from complications of pneumonia.

The brothers built their shoe-store chain, founded by their father, John, in 1904, to 10 stores before they expanded into apparel. The brothers purchased the shoe company from their father and his partner, Carl Wallin, in 1928. Today, there are 72 Nordstrom stores in 11 states.

Born in Seattle in 1904, Nordstrom grew up here, graduated from Broadway High School in 1923 and from the University of Washington.

One of the traditions of the Nordstrom family has been hard work. All Nordstroms have worked their way up in the corporation.

Elmer Nordstrom didn't want to quit working. He was in his office late last week.

In a letter to employees published in November, Nordstrom recalled, "The depression hit us in 1929, and for five years we struggled with the store. Everett and I put in long hours, did janitorial work, trimmed windows and helped with our books.

"I feel so very fortunate that I was able to see the growth of our company," he added, noting that Everett died in 1972 and Lloyd in 1976, before the major expansion that has created the Nordstrom of today.

Besides his interest in building the successful department-store chain, Nordstrom also had a deep interest in the growth and development of Swedish Medical Center. His father-in-law, Nils Johanson, founded the hospital in 1908.

Nordstrom joined the hospital board in 1935 and remained on the board for more than 50 years. He served as its president four times and was instrumental in many of the strategic planning decisions for Swedish, one of the city's major medical centers. The Nordstrom Medical Tower at Swedish is named for him.

Donald Graham Jr., Swedish board vice chairman, said Nordstrom's death is a loss to the community and to the hospital. "He gave generously of his time and wise counsel in helping guide the progress of the hospital, and his commitment and caring spirit will be sorely missed," he said.

Nordstrom also served as the representative for the majority ownership of the Seattle Seahawks football team from 1976 to 1982. The family decided it needed to devote all of its time to its retail business and sold the team.

He served on the boards of nonprofit organizations including the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation, the Northwest Kidney Foundation and The Arthritis Foundation.

He served on the corporate boards of Transamerica Insurance and Pacific Mutual Bank.

Bill Nordstrom, corporate merchandise manager for Nordstrom's Rack and one of Elmer Nordstrom's grandchildren, said Nordstrom set "a wonderful example for his grandchildren because of his sense of humor. Hopefully, we all will be able to learn from his outlook on life."

Survivors include his wife, Katharine (Kitty), Seattle; sons, James and John Nordstrom; seven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Memorial services are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 4804 N.E. 45th St. Remembrances may be made to the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation.