Rancher carries on a family tradition
Carol Whipple credits her parents for instilling an ethic of community service
Carol Whipple has a long and distinguished record of community service on some of Oregon’s most influential panels, but she says one of the toughest positions she’s ever held was that of school board member in her hometown of Elkton.
Whipple, the second-generation owner of Rocking C Ranch, was asked in the mid-1970s to serve on the Elkton School Board after a contentious recall of three of its members. “I clearly remember the first school board meeting,” she says. “Here’s a gymnasium in Elkton, Oregon, full of people, some on one side, some on the other — people holding different views. It was just very educational, and I’ve never forgotten that.”
They didn’t call it philanthropy — it was just pitching in
Out of that experience came an interest in public policy, and over the next 40 years, Whipple has volunteered thousands of hours to help Oregon chart its course around critical natural resources issues. A former chair of the Douglas County Planning Commission, she has also served on the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission and the Oregon Water Trust Board. She currently sits on the Oregon State University College of Forest Products Lab Advisory Council, the Oregon Water Resources Commission and serves as a senior fellow of the American Leadership Forum’s Oregon chapter.
A family legacy
Whipple credits her parents for instilling an ethic of community service. Her parents, Jim and Mildred Whipple, were lifelong Douglas County residents who were always active in community affairs. Mildred was a schoolteacher, and Jim ran the family’s sawmill in Drain until the early ‘60s, when he managed the family’s forest and ranch land until his death in a farming accident in 1979.
Mildred remained active in business and community affairs until her death in 2006, becoming best known for the establishment of the education-based Whipple Foundation Fund. The Whipple family story is one of dedication to community.
“They didn’t call it philanthropy,” Carol Whipple says. “It was just pitching in. It was about what the community was doing to survive — actually what they were doing to thrive.”
Whipple graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in farm crops, then earned a graduate degree from Colorado State in animal nutrition. She returned to the family ranch in Drain in 1972, and a few years after that, was tapped for the local school board.
It was the start of a long and distinguished career in public service, one that complemented her full life running the Rocking C Ranch.
“I was interested in animal agriculture, I rode a horse, twirled a rope, did all of those things,” she says. “I was working hard and having a good time working with other people.
“In retrospect, being able to match up some of those things is kind of a big deal,” she says. “Being able to do what I wanted to do turned out to be less common than I thought.”
Lessons in leadership
Whipple’s school board experience helped her distill some important lessons in leadership. One of them, she says, is the absolute necessity of gaining experience at the local level before venturing into state or regional service.
“If you are interested in public leadership at all,” she says, “you have to have participated in the local level. I really do think our system requires exposure at the earliest possible time to dealing with neighborhood issues. That’s so much harder. It actually gets easier when you are not personally involved.”
Another critical lesson? It’s one that many leaders have pointed out: Develop a thick skin. “I believe in collaborative efforts but it’s a lot of hard work. You have to have the quintessential thick skin and still be able to listen. It’s nice to have a little support,” Whipple adds, “but you need to know that it may be a fairly small circle.”
Whipple says it’s especially important for often-isolated rural leaders to develop an understanding of the world at large — something that can be done by simply reading out-of-town newspapers.
“I would challenge every female leader to cultivate a world view,” she says. “I don’t think you have to talk about it or spend a lot of time on it, but you have to bring it to every meeting. It will help you understand how people see differently than you.“
Whipple has learned from some of Oregon’s legendary women leaders, including politician Vera Katz and university president Nancy Wilgenbusch. “They were strong women,” Whipple says, “and I am heartened by the work of today’s leaders, women like Tina Kotek and Joyce Akse.” Kotek is the speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, and Akse is director of the Ford Institute for Community Building.
Whipple has never forgotten her service on the Elkton School Board. “In some ways,” she says, “I’m not sure I ever did anything harder than that.”
Advice from Gloria Steinem
Carol Whipple recently had the opportunity to hear legendary feminist Gloria Steinem speak. Steinem’s answer to a question about what she would tell the next generation of women really spoke to Whipple. “Gloria said, ‘I’m not sure that the words really matter — what you need to do is listen.’
“What a wonderful message on the importance of listening from someone who has spent a lifetime as an activist,” Whipple says.