John O’Brien Scobey was born on July 5, 1854, in the town of Summit, New York. He was the third child of Zephaniah Drake Scoby, a Methodist minister, and Eleanor Anderson Scobey. Later, John moved to Brookings and married Mertie E. Walker on November 24, 1880. Here he was active in business and politics. In 1891 he came to Pullman and became the Professor of Agriculture, one of the five original faculty members of Washington Agricultural College. In the mid-1890s, he moved to Olympia and bought a newspaper because of his interest in the welfare of Washington. He thought that living in Olympia and owning a paper would help him be able to use his influence for the good of the state. He was elected to the state legislature and was very influential in selecting the Regents at Washington Agricultural College. He ran for Governor but lost to a Mr. McGraw, who lived in Seattle and drew a plurality of votes in the heavily populated King County. In 1905, he sold the paper and moved to Portland, Oregon. He passed away on April 21, 1910, at the age of 55. This scholarship is established in memory of John Scobey by his daughter, Helen Scobey McElwaine. Helen was born in Olympia in 1898. Through friends she met Montgomery “Monte” McElwaine, and they were married on June 9, 1927. Helen was an active woman with diverse interests. She was an avid golfer, bridge player, gardener, cook, and she took on a home business for the Curtis Publishing Company, where she became the highest-selling representative. She was a life-long member of the Haller Lake Improvement Association and an active member of St. Andrew’s Church in North Seattle. Helen had very strong feelings about the beauty and integrity of the State of Washington, and for the people and institutions that built it. She felt her father had made a significant contribution to our agricutlural and scholastic heritage in the early history of statehood, and she wanted to recognize this by establishing the John O’Brien Scobey Scholarship at Washington State University.
The John O’Brien Scobey scholarship will be used “to attract outstanding agricultural students to the institution,” honoring Mr. Scobey as a member of the original faculty of Washingston State University and a supporter of the institution during later careers as a newspaper publisher and state legislator.