Sanford Heilner (c.1885-1978)

Sanford Heilner was born in Baker, Oregon around 1885 to German immigrant parents Sigmund and Clara. They had four children: Joseph, Jess, Mildred and Sanford (he was the youngest).

Sanford’s father Sigmund owned a grocery store in Baker. When two of Clara’s cousins - Gerson and Bert Neuberger - joined the family in Oregon, they went into business with Sigmund and opened up a large dry goods store. Sigmund rose to prominence in Baker and eventually became mayor of the city. He also owned a number of warehouses, a movie theater, and a great deal of land. He allowed the railways to use the land as right-of-way into Baker. As a result, the Heilner family was quite wealthy and lived a very comfortable life.

Sanford spent the majority of his life in Baker. He attended elementary school there, and briefly boarded at the Bishop Scott Academy Military School in Portland before returning to work as a clerk in the store. When he was not working, he passed the time by playing with the other boys in town or going on outings with his family and their friends. 

The Heilners were one of a few Jewish families in Baker who largely stuck together, although Sanford recalls that he was very friendly with the non-Jews and never experienced any antisemitism. His parents were both observant and helped lead Passover Seders in the town, although they attended High Holiday services at Temple Beth Israel in Portland. Sanford himself belonged to the Temple, but married a non-Jewish woman, Marian Yancy.

When Sigmund retired from working in the store, Sanford, his brother Jess, and the Neuberger brothers took over running the business. His brother Joe became a lawyer, while his sister married and moved to San Francisco. Sanford worked in the mercantile business until his retirement. He never left Baker, except to travel to Portland or San Francisco. In fact, he lived on the same property all his life, although he tore down his parents’ original house and rebuilt a larger one on the same plot of land. He and his wife remained there until they passed.

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