Older Vernonia Grads Are Giving Back

Many Vernonia Alumni are still connected to their former community, particularly their old school and now the new school.

Jim and Kathy Eckland started The Vernonia Alumni Sports Initiative in October, 2012, to raise funds for the completion of athletic fields and facilities at the new schools.  According to Jim Eckland, during the past 15 months over $50,000 has been contributed by 130 Alumni, in amounts ranging from $20 to $10,000.

The VHS Class of 1973 raised over $10,000 at the Give Back Bash  and donated it towards the Alumni Sports Initiative.

The VHS Class of 1973 raised over $10,000 at the Give Back Bash
and donated it towards the Alumni Sports Initiative.

In addition, members of the Class of 1973 organized the “Give Back Bash” in early August and donated over $10,000 to the fund.  An additional  $4,000 was contributed through the Gary Davis Memorial last winter.

With almost $65,000 raised in just over a year,  the Vernonia Education Foundation now has enough money set aside to begin work on a softball field at the new school campus later this spring.

Significantly, most of the $50,000 the Ecklands have raised through the Alumni Sports  Initiative has come through the hard work and generosity of past graduates.  Even more significantly, 98% of those funds were contributed by Alumni who graduated prior to 1975.

Every summer, on the third Sunday of August, over 100 former Vernonia High School grads from the 1940s thru the 1960s return to Vernonia and gather at Anderson Park to meet classmates and relive old memories. Many of these same Vernonia Alumni have contributed monetarily to the new schools, some during the construction phase and many to the Sports Initiative project.

“The vast majority (95%) of the Alumni who have contributed thus far are considered “senior citizens” or over the age of 55, and graduated somewhere between 1940 and 1975,” said Eckland, who lives in Keizer, Oregon, during a recent visit to Vernonia.  “This segment of the Alumni population makes up only about a third of the total number of Vernonia grads.  In other words, two thirds of Vernonia Alumni (those who graduated after 1975) have not been asked to donate yet to the Sports Initiative.”

Another interesting statistic provided by Eckland is that 80% of the Alumni who have contributed thus far reside outside the Vernonia School District. “This is very understandable since District voters passed a bond measure in 2009 and local taxpayers have seen an increase in their property taxes and utility rates in recent years,” says Eckland.

According to Eckland, $30,000 was raised  through just four donations; two of $10,000, one of $7,500 and one of $2,500.  But Eckland seemed just as pleased with the ten donations of $200, the thirty-one donations of $100, the twenty-nine donations between $99 and $50 and the forty-five donations of $25 and less that the fund has received.  “They are all adding up!,”  says Eckland.

Eckland also provided an additional interesting breakdown of where the money has come from:  graduates from the 1940s have donated over $12,000 or 24% of the total; grads from the 1950s have donated almost $22,000 or 43% of the total; and  grads from the 1960s have donated over $14,000 or 28% of the total.  Grads from the 70s and 80s have donated $1,320 or just 3% of the total. According to Eckland no other graduating classes have been contacted and asked to donate in an organized way.

Eckland says the older Alumni were originally contacted by direct mail, using address lists that were painstakingly gathered from reunion committees.  A second mailing of 200 was sent out  by the Ecklands this past December, at a cost of  $150.  According to Eckland, 110 of those mailings went out to Alumni who had already donated; ninety were mailed to new contacts.  Fifty Alums responded, a 25% response rate, contributing over $13,000.  Twenty-one were new donors and twenty-nine were repeat donors.

The next challenge, according to Eckland,  is to try to locate the “younger” Alumni, who graduated after 1975, and ask them to contribute to the Vernonia Alumni Sports Initiative so that more fields and facilities can be completed.

If you would like to contribute, you may send your tax-deductible donation to the Vernonia Education Foundation, 1201 Texas Avenue, Vernonia, OR 97064; or log on to www.vernonia.k12.or.us


Jim Eckland, Class of 1962, currently resides in Keizer, Oregon, with his wife Kathy Minger Eckland, Class of 1965.