Bill and Esther Littlejohn are pictured at a groundbreaking ceremony at the Olympic Medical Cancer Center in April. The event honored major donors to a campaign that raised $1.2 million of the $4.4 million OMCC expansion. Bill Littlejohn, a longtime businessman and philanthropist, died Dec. 12. Sequim Gazette file photo by Michael Dashiell

Bill and Esther Littlejohn are pictured at a groundbreaking ceremony at the Olympic Medical Cancer Center in April. The event honored major donors to a campaign that raised $1.2 million of the $4.4 million OMCC expansion. Bill Littlejohn, a longtime businessman and philanthropist, died Dec. 12. Sequim Gazette file photo by Michael Dashiell

‘He loved Sequim; it was his life’s passion’: Littlejohn, longtime Sequim philanthropist and businessman, dies

Bill Littlejohn, a Sequim businessman who owned numerous senior care facilities and whose philanthropy and advocacy boosted dozens of local organizations, has died.

Littlejohn died Thursday, Dec. 12; he would have turned 73 on Dec. 18.

The son of Dr. Robert Littlejohn, a physician on the Olympic Peninsula for four decades, Bill Littlejohn was a business owner and developer who owned and oversaw several senior living facilities, including Sherwood Assisted Living, Fifth Avenue Senior Independent Living and the Lodge at Sherwood Village.

Littlejohn, who owned Thomas Building Supply and Olympic Ambulance, was a significant contributor to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic Medical Center Foundation.

Esther Littlejohn, Bill’s wife of 51 years, said last week that her husband’s passing was expected — he had an as-yet named neurological disease, she said — but his health deteriorated quickly.

“He was able to let us know what his wishes were,” Esther said. “He fought to the very end. He loved life.”

The Littlejohns were honored with the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 2007 Humanitarian Award.

Among a number of philanthropic endeavors, the Littlejohns also bestowed scholarships annually to local high school students.

“My dad (Dr. Robert Littlejohn, a local physician for 40 years) was always very generous, and the way we look at it is Sequim’s been very good to us,” Bill Littlejohn said in a 2007 interview. “We like Sequim and we want to give back to Sequim. We enjoy giving to the community. I love it. I grew up here and anytime we travel and go anywhere, we’ve never found anywhere as nice as Sequim.”

Said Esther, “I think it was important to him to leave Sequim a better place. This has been his home; he grew up here. It has always been important to us to give back to our community and our employees who have been so wonderful and hard-working.”

A memorial/celebration of life service is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 11, at Sequim Community Church, 950 N. Fifth Ave.

Senior housing, health

Bill Littlejohn’s family moved to the Sequim area when he was 1, and in 1966 while studying business at Walla Walla College he met Esther. Formerly of Pendleton Ore., Esther was pursuing a nursing degree.

A year later, they married.

Bill had plans to pursue his business degree, Esther said, but his parents needed some assistance in running their Sequim nursing home business.

“(They asked him) to come back to Sequim to help run it,” Esther said, “and we never left.”

The couple eventually built their home beside Bill’s parents.

The Littlejohns also started Olympic Ambulance Service, Inc., in 1971, opening its doors with just one ambulance and five part-time employees.

Back then, Esther said, all you needed to run an ambulance service was a Red Cross certification, so Bill got certified and drove the converted van while Esther was in the back with the patient.

“We were a pretty good team,” she said.

Started in 1973, Sherwood Village off North Fifth Avenue eventually saw the rise of 187 homes/condominiums.

Over the years, Littlejohn built nearby senior housing options Fifth Avenue (opened in 1986) and The Lodge at Sherwood Village (opened in 2005) as well.

For Bill, Esther and their daughter Lindsay Littlejohn said, it was “Find a need, then fill it.”

“Gradually we added businesses and all of them grew,” Esther said. “For years he didn’t take a salary. He just kept putting money back into the businesses.”

“He started them all from the ground up,” Lindsay said.

“(And) he helped a lot of people in need,” Esther said.

Cancer center

Bill Littlejohn was also a significant backer of the Olympic Medical Cancer Center, serving as chairman of the capital campaign.

“The cancer center was his real pride, to have an asset … so people didn’t have to travel” Lindsay said. “He was always super proud of that.”

“His dad’s dream was to have a hospital in Sequim,” Esther said.

OMC Foundation Executive Director Bruce Skinner worked with Littlejohn closely the last three years, particularly the past year when Littlejohn served as OMC Foundation president.

“We set a preliminary goal of $500,000 (with the capital campaign), and would have been very happy with that,” Skinner wrote in an email after hearing of Littlejohn’s death. “When Bill became chair, he raised that figure to $1 million. We ended up raising $1.3 million.

“No one has given more of (their) time and resources to the Sequim-Port Angeles communities than Bill and Esther.”

Eric Lewis, Olympic Medical Center’s CEO, said Littlejohn not only gave back with generous donations but that he encouraged others to do the same.

“What struck me (about Bill) is he cared about the Sequim community and Clallam County as a whole,” Lewis said.

An advocate for youth

While much of his commercial interests had to to with developments, Bill Littlejohn followed in his father’s proverbial footsteps in his support for local youth facilities.

Mary Budke, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, said Robert Littlejohn was on the ground floor of getting Sequim’s Carroll C. Kendall unit built. In the preceding years his son Bill made donations of varying amounts, with his annual Duck Derby sales benefiting the club and, most recently, the donation of a 1963 VW Volkswagen for the 2019 auction that netted the club $14,000.

When club officials were seeking significant donations for the soon-to-be-built Port Angeles facility, Budke sat down with Bill to see if he’d contribute once again.

“I was nervous —” I said, ‘Bill, you’ve already given so much to the B&G club … (but) I have something to ask of you.’” Budke proceeded to ask him for a $250,000 donation.

“He got a huge smile on his face, and he said, ‘Is that all?’ And he said yes.

“He’s just been there. He ever told me ‘no.’”

The Littlejohns in 2001 stated a scholarship foundation, not only for local high school students but for the boarding schools they attended and for employees. They also helped fund the expansion of the nursing program at Peninsula College (Esther was part of the first graduating class of nurses at PC).

The high school scholarships are renewable up to four years.

The goal in establishing the foundation, Esther said, was to “help the kids doing the best they could do, to encouraged them to go further.”

Every year at Sequim High School’s Scholarship Awards night, Bill would hand the scholarships and shake hands with the future collegians. That was until this year, Esther said, when she and Lindsay did the honors.

“I’m so sad about this loss of the community and for Esther and (their daughter) Lindsay, but (I’m) so thankful I got to know him,” Budke said.

Care for community

Littlejohn served in a number of leadership roles, but in the health care arena — he was as an OMC hospital board commissioner from 1986-1996 — as well as in business and community board, including the Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council.

“He has been an active leader in Sequim and the county,” said Colleen McAleer, executive director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council in an email sent to several people on Dec. 13 with the news of Littlejohn’s death.

His various community activities and donations include the Sequim Irrigation Festival, Olympic Peninsula Humane Society and Peninsula Friends of Animals, Dungeness Health and Wellness Clinic, Dungeness River Audubon Center, Peninsula College nursing program and others, as well as OMC foundation fundraising events such as the Festival of Trees, Harvest of Hope, the Red, Set, Go Luncheon and the Great Olympic Peninsula Duck Derby.

Littlejohn, Lewis noted, was consistently the top Duck Derby seller each year, including 2019 when he sold 2,601 ducks.

“When there were opportunities to do something great for the community … he would step up and be that catalyst,” Lewis said. “(He leaves) an extremely positive legacy. He will definitely be remembered and appreciated.”

Passion for the peninsula

Brown Maloney, a friend and fellow Sequim businessman and philanthropist, noted that Littlejohn was an avid hiker who had traversed nearly every Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest trail.

Among his favorite parts of the peninsula, Esther said, were High Divide, Baldy Trail and Tyler Peak

While he did some hikes with the family, Esther noted, “He did a lot of solo hiking.

When he was up in the mountains, he was closest to God.”

Littlejohn’s interests varied, Lindsay said, from fishing and cycling to spending time with their golden retrievers to hours upon hours of landscaping. That came both at home and in the family business properties: Lindsay noted Bill planted and pruned the cherry trees on North Fifth Avenue.

The Littlejohns in 2007 agreed to purchase and preserve 40 acres of farmland in front of their home on medsker Road

“He loved Sequim,” Esther said. “It was his life’s passion.”

Looking after the employees

Budke said several Boys & Girls Club employees went on to work for Littlejohn and they typically stayed under his employ for years.

“Once you start working for him you stay,” she said. “I think people knew that they thought they were worthy.”

The last project the couple had in mind — one that is still going to happen, Esther said — is a series of affordable duplexes for employees of the Littlejohn’s businesses.

“It’s been something on our mid for a while,” Esther said. The plan took on greater significance, she said, when last year’s winter storm kept residents from getting from Port Angeles to Sequim or the reverse.

Permitting for the 30-unit project just south of Sherwood Village — one composed mostly of duplexes — is nearly complete, Littlejohn family members said.

“It’s not going to be a moneymaker for us at all (but) we want our employees to be safe and comfortable,” Esther said.

Esther and Bill Littlejohn stand in front of the 40-acre parcel of farmland of Medsker Road they helped preserve in late 2007. Bill Littlejohn died on Dec. 12, less than a week short of his 73rd birthday. Sequim Gazette file photo

Esther and Bill Littlejohn stand in front of the 40-acre parcel of farmland of Medsker Road they helped preserve in late 2007. Bill Littlejohn died on Dec. 12, less than a week short of his 73rd birthday. Sequim Gazette file photo

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