Sterling and Chet Dorman

Former Villa Residents and Gold Medallion Legacy Partners, story told by their son David Dorman

Sterling and Chester Dorman were a team — a remarkable couple who met as young teens in San Diego and embarked on a life-long journey bonded together by love of family and a passion for giving back to their community.

From early on, their eldest son, David Dorman, says, Sterling and Chet gave to causes important to them and, perhaps more importantly, to the needs of wherever they lived. Both had been raised to understand the impact of volunteer efforts and the value and significance of a shared, strong community of active citizens.

Sterling and Chet’s shared values came down from each one’s parents. Both of their fathers had been active in civic affairs in post-World War II San Diego, and this exposure to community service imprinted on them. As young marrieds, Sterling and Chet set a course to do the same.

A graduate of Mills College, Sterling’s passion for education and her understanding of its foundational power influenced the direction of her volunteer work. David recalls that when he and his siblings were still quite young, Sterling, who had volunteered at the kids’ school, identified a need for help in an underserved school district in southeast San Diego. Working alongside the principal, Sterling organized and trained volunteers to help the school.

“She was very active,” David says. “And very good at what she did.”

In addition to their constant and generous giving of time, their charitable spirit spread to a variety of organizations including the YMCA, Mills College, the San Diego Zoo and the Presbyterian Church. The Dormans made and kept a commitment to tithe for a lifetime.

“Their philanthropy was consistent over the years,” David says. “They gave away 10 percent and were open with us about that. … It was a simple message,” David says. “They were clear: To whom much is given there is a responsibility to give back.”

In San Diego, Chet had grown Dorman’s Tires, the business his father had begun, and sold it in the ‘70s to Lucky Stores. Sterling and Chet them moved to Northeast San Diego County, buying 300 acres and, as David put it, “became farmers.” Once again, they gave of themselves and became instrumental with the school board and the volunteer fire department.

“Like both sets of parents, they gave very generously of their time. Both of them did,” David says. “And they modeled that for us,” he says of his siblings. “They made no secret of the importance of giving back to the community.”

The values Sterling and Chet shared were just that, shared.

“They did this as a team from the very beginning,” David says. “They talked about their plans … and that was very clear to everyone.”

After 20 years on the ranch, the Dormans wanted to plan for their future and began looking at CCRC communities in the San Diego area. Their daughter, Mary Dorman, who never left the Portland area after her years at Lewis & Clark College, suggested they look at Mary’s Woods.

One tour later, the deeply-rooted San Diegans found their new home in the Villas at Mary’s Woods.  Early on, David says, they identified the importance of the Residents’ Fund and, once again as a team, decided that was the area they most wanted to support. Both felt it was crucial to help anyone who could no longer support him or herself, David says.

Mary’s Woods became even more important to Sterling after Chet died in 2008.  The love, support and friendships they forged together now helped carry her through the loss of her beloved husband.

As David and his siblings added spouses and children to the ever-growing Dorman clan, Sterling and Chet’s values continued as a guide. Their modeled behavior endures, David says.

About 7 or 8 years ago, Sterling asked that her family discontinue giving her Christmas gifts and instead identify a cause and donate to it. But she asked that each person – adults and children alike – write her a letter to tell her which cause was chosen and why. She kept the letters in an album. On Christmases when they were all together, the family would sit in a circle and read the letters.

“It was very meaningful,” David says. “The four of us are committed to carrying that on.”

The four Dorman siblings – David, John, Anne and Mary — do carry on. Each volunteer and giving to causes — just as they were shown, David says.

“Mom educated us right up to her death in 2019.”

 

To give a legacy gift inspired by Dorman’s story, click here