Hall of Fame: Jim Sumner

Salem-Keizer Education Foundation started 35 years ago as a hopeful vision between a small group of dedicated individuals. One of those individuals would go on to complete the vision as the founding president of SKEF—Jim Sumner.

In 1981, what was to become Oregon Ballot Measure 5 was in the wind, and it eventually passed in 1990. The measure would limit property taxes, and at this time, these taxes were the primary revenue for schools.

Jim was approached by four local parents, Bonnie Hero, Susan Gleason, Naomi Jasso and Madge Bauer. The goal was to create an organization whose purpose was to raise money for local teachers and schools—beyond the newly decreased district budget.

Looking back on the infancy of the organization, Sumner recalled the excitement of creating and hosting the Awesome 3000. “What a joy to raise money and simultaneously see so many children and parents happy, behaving healthily and joyfully,” he stated. The first run in 1983 that Sumner pioneered has become a community rite of passage with over 3,000 participants today, and it is recognized as one of the only timed youth runs in the nation.

The organization grew from a mere fundraising center with a single program to a nationally renowned education foundation with a handful of programs ranging from our after school Enrichment Academy to Innovation Grants for classroom teachers. Neither Jim nor his fellow visionaries could have anticipated the growth that their dedication to education catalyzed.

In reflection on his years as president, Sumner commented, “It is satisfying to know we did some good, we honored some teachers, we assisted some students and most importantly, we launched something that is now much bigger, better and more important: SKEF. It is such a vital, broad, growing, worthwhile and effective entity that positively impacts so many local students, teachers, staff and schools.”

Thank you, Jim Sumner, for the vision that turned into a mission, for taking an integral first step to grow an organization that stands for student achievement, equity and access, integrity, leadership, spirit of community and stewardship.

Most recently, Jim Sumner was Vice President for Enrollment at Willamette University. His strong sense of community shows through his involvement as a past board of directors member for SKEF, past treasurer and board of directors member for the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce and founding past member of the board of directors for Third Century Education Foundation.