By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: An ironic local twist to Ron Stover story

Picking up, as promised, from last week:

Former McMinnville wheeler-dealer Ron Stover faces federal indictments alleging wire and bankruptcy fraud, with pending charges of theft, racketeering and securities fraud. On the day that story appeared in The Oregonian, the News-Register published an obituary for Norman Combs.


Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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It was a small but poignant piece of irony.

Norm, 20 years my senior, graduated from Oregon State in food technology and returned to the family grocery store at 12th and Baker streets in McMinnville. Arthur and Winnifred Combs opened the store in 1943, and Norm ran it until the mid-1980s.

But as the late Paul Harvey always reported, there’s more to the story.

Combs Market was a small, wonderful place that could have been pictured in “Norman Rockwell’s America” — I would have been the 9-year-old turning in pop bottles. But nostalgia turned into frustration for Norm about 1980 when the Thriftway grocery cooperative of which he once served as president supported development of a large supermarket across Baker Street.

As I wrote years later: “Norm joined another local development group to build a beautiful new supermarket at the other end of town, next to Bi-Mart. That business failed in a few years. The facility was remodeled into a “luxury supermarket” named LoPiparo’s.”

The new Combs (Sentry) Market, which opened in September 1983, was challenged to draw customers to the far south end of town. But when Norm closed his market in February 1987, a hugely expensive renovation already was under way in preparation for the May 30 opening of LoPiparo’s. It was a spectacularly short party for the Portland-based operator, who walked away after just seven weeks leaving a wake of unpaid bills and unfulfilled promises.

Ron Stover had his fingerprints all over the deals involving Combs and LoPiparo’s markets. A year after LoPiparo’s closed, Stover’s personal bankruptcy listed debts of more than $24 million to banks, food groups and investors.

It’s all history now. Zupan’s took over the supermarket for a few years before Roth’s IGA finally became its successful, longtime owner/operator. Stover went on to file another multi-million-dollar bankruptcy, this time in Texas, and now is accused of financial frauds on a bigger stage.

Norm Combs lived out his life in Aurora. When Norm’s younger brother, Bruce, died last year, his obituary referred to “his beloved brother, Norman.”

Many local tentacles to the Combs/LoPiparo/Stover stories have faded from memories, and probably that’s for the best. Norm Combs, I think, would have agreed.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.

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