Students and staff at Washington State University Vancouver are well-acquainted with fountains emblazoned with “Firstenburg.” The Firstenburg Family Fountain located in the central campus plaza is eye-catching, with rough-hewn slabs of basalt and plenty of seating to relax and enjoy the view.
But the rest of Clark County may not realize that by the time the WSU water feature opened to the public, it was the 16th Firstenburg fountain sprinkled throughout the community — the family also donated 15 drinking fountains, unassuming and ubiquitous enough to blend into a street corner.
“This drinking fountain is one of 15 throughout the community designed and generously gifted by Ed & Mary Firstenburg, 2000,” reads a plaque emblazoned on the side of a fountain at the corner of Main and West 12th streets, the former site of First Independent Bank headquarters.
Rumor has it that the late Ed Firstenburg, who founded First Indy in 1934 and eventually became one of Clark County’s best-known and most generous philanthropists, had a simple motivation for donating the fountains: he was thirsty.
“There’s an old rumor that the Firstenburgs had them installed along the areas they liked to walk,” said Julie Hannon, Vancouver’s Parks and Recreation director. “We are unsure, now, why the specific locations were chosen. We do know that the city pays the water.”