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Celebrating Generosity

by Claire Sykes • July 2017

The sounds of gypsy jazz from The Djangophiles wafted through the large, open-air space as everyone mingled about and nibbled on tasty hors d’oeuvres. Here at the Pearson Field Education Center on that gorgeous June 30th morning, more than 400 public officials, community leaders and partners of the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust, from around the Pacific Northwest, joined its staff in celebration of Founder’s Day 2017. Together they honored the legacy of Melvin J. “Jack” Murdock, and the Trust’s strong relationships with nonprofits and others throughout the region.

The day’s program was led by the Trust’s four, summer interns—Meaghan Bradley-Bussell, Stuart Gillin, Allison Liedtke and Grace Packer, all college seniors or recent graduates—indicative of the long-time commitment of Murdock’s investment in emerging leaders. Packer started with the numbers: Since the Trust’s beginning in 1975, Jack Murdock’s original $91 million endowment has funded nearly 6,200 grants totaling almost $900 million for 2,500-plus organizations in the areas of health and human services, arts and culture, education, conservation and scientific research. Today, the Trust’s endowment tops at $1.1 billion.

How fitting that the annual Founder’s Day event took place, once again, at the historic Pearson Field municipal airport in Vancouver. An avid aviator, Jack Murdock (cofounder of the now-world-renowned Tektronix) ran a Piper Aircraft distributorship here, his favorite plane the two-seat, single-engine Piper Super Cub. Terry Stokesbary, Senior Program Director for Enrichment Initiatives, 20 years with Murdock Trust, told the story: Upon Murdock’s untimely death in 1971, his will named three Trustees to set up a charitable trust. Their mission was “to nurture and enrich the educational, cultural, social and spiritual lives of individuals, families and community.”

Stokesbary then thanked Murdock Trust’s current Trustees—John Castles (and his wife Sarah), there for 22 years; Jeff Grubb (and Sandy) for seven; and Jeff (and Janey) Pinneo, since 2016. As he put it, “They’re very caring and very generous, intellectually curious, and always have the big picture in mind, taking seriously donor intent.”

For the first time, Murdock Trust has a Trustee emeritus, Lynwood Swanson, retiring after three decades. Another transition that was announced is Murdock’s new Chief Investment Officer, Elmer Huh, as of this August. Coming all the way from New York City with his family, he’ll replace Jim Martin who will stay on for another year.

Also on the move soon are Murdock Trust’s offices. Another intern, Gillin, gave the happy news that the Trust is the first official tenant of the new 33-acre Waterfront Vancouver development, currently under construction with a summer 2018 launch. Murdock looks forward to a much larger space; and right there with shops and restaurants, housing eventually for more than 3,000, a hotel, and a seven-acre city park, all connected to the downtown core.

Wherever the Trust’s offices may be, “you are the reason we’re here,” said Stokesbary to everyone in the room. He commended this Founder’s Day attendance roster for its vastness and diversity; gave a sincere nod to Murdock Trust’s investment organizations in all industries and sectors; and praised the great work from its staff, board members and volunteers. “Lives are changed because of you. Thank you. You are our heroes.”

The organizations the Trust serves, said Stokesbary, “are very ‘Murdock-ish,’” as they say there, which got a chuckle. They’re the ones that support the good health of individuals, families and communities—like the YMCAs, which the Trust first supported in 1977. The region’s YMCAs received 60 grants in the past 40 years, crossing the $10 million mark last year.

“We invest in our grantees, service providers and investment managers,” said Martin, who named numerous fund-manager partners. Each Founder’s Day it recognizes one, and this year it’s Van Hoisington with Hoisington Investment Management Company, who has been with the Trust since 1981. Its success, and that of the organizations and individuals it serves, also relies on the team support from its Senior Fellows, said intern, Bradley-Bussell.

Jack Murdock would be proud. And since he loved and supported entrepreneurs, and was one, himself, the Trust asked Omar White and Kevin Shirley, founders of American Soul Brothers, of Vancouver, to attend the Founder’s Day event, and display and provide samples of their seven different gourmet barbeque sauces. Everyone was invited to take a free bottle home with them. Again, applause. Also for Murdock Trust’s 2016 Annual Report, now available on its website.

With that, the program ended, but the Founder’s Day fun wasn’t over, yet. There was still plenty of food and music; and a good hour left to continue conversations and strike up new ones. And a whole day of sunshine ahead for everyone.

Claire Sykes is a Portland freelance writer specializing in philanthropy and the nonprofit community.