Charlie Walker: Reflections from a founding board member
When Dr. Charles Walker served as president of Linfield College in the 1970s, one of his first duties was to visit personally with each of the college’s trustees. In fall 1975, he called on a trustee who had a great interest in the college but rarely came to meetings. The trustee was Kenneth Ford. That meeting marked the beginning of a productive friendship that had an enduring effect on the philosophy and structure of The Ford Family Foundation.
After his retirement from Linfield in 1992, Walker began working with Kenneth Ford to develop the mission of The Ford Family Foundation. Those discussions led to the establishment of The Ford Family Foundation Scholarship Programs in September 1994, and eventually to the founding of the Ford Institute for Community Building in 1999. Walker served on The Ford Family Foundation’s Board of Directors from 1996 until 2004, and served as special advisor to the board for two years after that. Thirty-six years after that initial meeting with Kenneth Ford, Walker reflects on the past and the future of the Foundation.
How did you and Kenneth Ford work together?
Mr. Ford wanted to become clearer about the goals of the Foundation. I would come to Roseburg, listen to him talk during the day, and we would have dinner in the evening. I would then come back home to Neskowin and write what I’d heard. By fall of 1993, it was clear—he had two goals: to help individuals become successful professionally and personally, and to help rural communities become more viable, appealing places to live.
What makes the Foundation unique today?
One thing that is very different is the clarity of Mr. Ford’s two goals, represented by the Foundation’s two flagship programs: the Ford Family Scholarship Programs and the Ford Institute for Community Building. Another unique element is that the Foundation operates these programs itself.
What do you see in the future for the Ford Institute for Community Building?
The element we have developed least fully is economic development. If the viability of rural communities is to exist in a more sustainable way, then more has to be done. I don’t think there is any other organization in the state that is likely to try. It is venturesome, entrepreneurial, and I think risky, but I would welcome seeing the Institute working with pilot communities to enhance their economic base.
Finally, there is one element of Mr. Ford’s vision that never got implemented—strengthening Oregon through a “think tank.” One thing foundations do well is convene people to help address major issues. A think tank that involves convening groups of Oregonians around a limited number of topics could lead to statewide participatory programs that could help strengthen Oregon.