So a while back I mentioned that I have set a retirement date. And then I didn’t say any more about it. But now it’s time. I have no idea how this will go, I’m just sitting here with my laptop, watching what happens when I write about why I’m retiring now.
First, it’s pretty weird that I ended up working in the field of philanthropy at all. And downright shocking that I’ve now been doing it for more than 20 years. When I was a little girl in Douglas County, I never met anybody who had much money. I grew up among families of loggers mostly. My own family was a logger family. My dad fell and bucked trees, set chokers, and for many years, rode a crummy into the woods. Sometimes a Great Notion’s vocabulary felt like home to me.
When I was 12, my father was smashed between two logs when one rolled down the hill while he was bucking the other one. He was in the hospital for a long time and his back was never the same, hurting him most every day for the rest of his life. Most of the other loggers we knew were injured in one way or another. Some were killed doing their jobs. They gave their bodies to the woods.
After his accident, he had to find a new way to support our family. That’s when we moved to the metropolis of Cottage Grove (seriously, that’s what it seemed to me), where he got a job as an auto electrician, drawing from his wartime training keeping the troop and supply planes flying over the Himalayas during WWII. Cottage Grove was a pretty prosperous mill town in those days, with a lot of family wage jobs. And even some of the mill and lucrative business owners’ kids went to the community’s public schools.
Many of the mill jobs were very physically demanding and I was around enough of those families to know that mill workers’ bodies, just like loggers, were punished by their jobs, with pain and disfigurement following them into their golden years.
Being part of Oregon philanthropy, I have noticed that many Oregon foundations grew from timber industry fortunes. Thinking back on my childhood, I wonder how so much money ended up in the owners’ accounts. Should they have paid the workers more? Was the pay fair? Did the workers get good enough medical care? What was their standard of living in retirement? Workers in the Cottage Grove mills were in unions, so had some protections. But the loggers I knew along the South Umpqua River in remote Douglas County were not.
Did the owners know how large the fortunes they were amassing were becoming? Did they plan it that way? What did they know and when did they know it?
What about Fred Meyer? Could he have paid his workers more? Was he fair to them? What was their standard of living?
I have the same questions about technology fortunes of a few in the Pacific Northwest, whose riches are still piling up. When will they have enough? Why that much? Are they paying workers enough? Using too many contract workers with no benefits? Could they charge less for their products? Why don’t they?
Working in philanthropy, in many ways I am still a curious child from a logger family in southern Oregon. And I can’t always find good answers to a lot of her questions.
And that’s why, after more than 20 years, in many ways I still feel like a stranger in a strange land.
Next Up: How I found my place in philanthropy…