Editor’s note: Community Builder is a periodic Q & A series providing perspectives from local people who have been involved in significant change in Southern Oregon. Today’s conversation is with Emily Mostue and Karen Allen, president and vice president/secretary, respectively, of the Carpenter Foundation.

Q: How did the Carpenter Foundation begin?

Karen Allen: Alfred and Helen Carpenter set it up in 1942 as the Jackson County Recreation Association, to provide recreation for soldiers at Camp White. Alfred was our great uncle. In 1958 they turned it into the Carpenter Foundation. Our parents, Dunbar and Jane, were president and treasurer for years, but Alfred and Helen Carpenter formed it.

Q: What do you remember about Alfred and Helen?

Karen: They were very community-minded, contributing substantially to the original construction of Rogue Valley Medical Center and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Alfred came to the Rogue Valley with his brother (Leonard) in 1909 and set up an orchard. At one point, Alfred took off traveling and met Helen. They met and married in Egypt. In the mid-'20s, they moved back here and built a house over on Old Stage Road. They raised their kids and lived there.

Emily Mostue: He had a wonderful, impish sense of humor. He was really fun. Alfred loved putting the cat amongst the chickens, so to speak. I remember we all got to go out there and swim when we were small children. He loved throwing a quarter into the bottom of the pool and seeing who could get there first. He’d chuckle away as all of us tried to do our best.

Q: How did your father get involved in the orchards and farming?

Karen: Our family moved here in 1946, right after the war, and our father, Dunbar, took over the farm that Leonard and Alfred established.

Q: What’s the focus of the Carpenter Foundation?

Emily: It’s really a multipurpose foundation. We fund in four different areas: human services, education, the arts and public interest; public interest being a little bit of a catch-all.

Q: What’s your role with the foundation at this point?

Emily: Well, I’m president of the foundation and have been since my mother semi-retired in around 2004 or 2005. I’ve been playing that role since then. And Karen is vice president and secretary and is the legal counsel for the foundation as well, so we’re in multipurpose roles.

Q: How have community needs changed based on the requests that come to the foundation?

Emily: A couple of years ago we decided that we really wanted to do a comparison, and I think we went back probably 20 or 25 years and did all the data for how many applications we had received, how many we funded, what the average size of the grant is, etc. The needs and the number of requests has just skyrocketed in comparison. It’s just phenomenal how much it has increased.

Q: Why might that be?

Emily: The community has certainly gotten much bigger. I think a lot of people are more aware of services and how you go about accessing those services. Human service needs have increased hugely. Education, the funding for our schools has diminished, and we do sometimes fund things that help schools operate better.

Karen: More drugs, a more disrupted society. I suspect that there used to be a lot more … domestic violence, for example, that nobody knew about. Alcoholism maybe that nobody knew about. Probably sexual abuse, as well. So I think there’s more reporting, more openness and more awareness of these kinds of issues, but families seemed more stable, and it was easier to find work without being educated. I think not having reasonably good jobs for uneducated people has created a lot of disruption.

Q: What have you seen change in the Rogue Valley in 40 years, 50 years?

Emily: It’s bigger. When I was growing up, I went to Lone Pine School, and we lived on Foothill Road. I could walk down the center of Foothill Road to school and back and be passed two or three times maybe by cars. It’s just … it’s more complex. It’s harder to get a handle on. It’s a little harder to have impact.

Karen: Medford was probably 10,000 to 15,000 people. And there were jobs for people who were not highly educated.

Emily: When you’re young, you don’t realize the implications of finishing your education. But you didn’t need to then, there were jobs in the mills and in the forests.

Q: Based on the kinds of programs the Carpenter Foundation funds, what are the challenges that exist for us in the Rogue Valley?

Emily: Well, I think employment is always a challenge. Getting a good education is a big challenge throughout the country.

Karen: Health care. We have good medical facilities, but getting medical care to folks without resources is a serious challenge. Employment is critical in creating resources for stability for families. We fund several organizations, the Salvation Army and others, who are providing funds for heat, funds for rent, funds for basics, lots and lots and lots of food pantries. I mean there are people who don’t have stability for living, kids who are homeless. It’s scary.

Emily: What is absolutely unbelievable, in all the years that I’ve been involved with this foundation, which I think is probably since 1985, the people who are committed to helping in the community are just phenomenal. Their organizations are phenomenal. What they do is just amazing on shoestrings. Trying to figure out what’s the best way to make things functional and really help their clientele. That is a resource that this community has that is just phenomenal, its people.

Karen: I have a couple of examples of people who are just hugely creative. The Family Nurturing Center, for example. We were lucky to get the founder, Mary-Curtis Gramley, for our board. The Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team is another valuable nonprofit organization created locally. I mean, it’s just really incredible when people are committed to some particular project. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church has set up its own pantry for fresh food. What Kids Unlimited has done is just astonishing.

Q: What are some things that you love about Southern Oregon that keep you here?

Emily: A lot. The community as a whole. The environment. The place where we live. It’s a wonderful community. It’d be hard to leave it.

Karen: Much the same thing.

Emily: The other treasure we have is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which the foundation has been involved with for 55 years now. I think we’ve funded them 55 years in a row. They’re just a real jewel for this community.

Q: What hopes do you have for this place that you call home?

Karen: We should keep taking care of our kids. I mean, get them dental work. Get them housing. Get them food. Get them support. Support their parents so they can support the kids long-term.

Emily: There’s an area that has always struck me that it’s been missing in some ways, and that’s aesthetics. I think this community needs to focus and work on its aesthetics. An attractive community brings people in and makes people proud. And making it more human so it works on a human scale and not let’s make this the straightest and most direct route. I think there’s been some improvements with some trees being planted and some of those kinds of things, but I think it should be a thread running through everything. I think that would make a huge difference to how this particular community, at least in the Medford area, sees itself.

Q: What would your parents or your great aunt and uncle think of the foundation if they could see it today?

Emily: Early on they made an awful lot of decisions totally on what they wanted to fund and what they were interested in supporting. One of our favorites was an early grant that Alfred and Helen made to the American Necktie Association for $2. Now, we made it very much a democracy, we have six family positions that can be re-elected, and then we have four associate trustees or public trustees that only can serve four years. It’s really a great system that has both the longevity from the family members, along with the turnover that happens every few years with the public trustees. When we had our 50th birthday in 2008, I think we were up to 700-something organizations that we have funded, that would be remarkable to Alfred and Helen.

Q: The Carpenter Foundation provides scholarships for many graduating high school students. How did this become a focus?

Karen: Jane, our mother, at the request of the foundation board, went to talk to Dr. (Leonard B.) Mayfield, who was the school superintendent in Medford, about a college scholarship program. She ended up proposing scholarships as a major program to the foundation board, and they adopted it. Last year the foundation gave $100,000 to Jackson County high schools to award as scholarships.

Karen: Financial need is a high priority. And schools can award the scholarship over the four years. And we do give $25,000 a year to Rogue Community College for scholarships.

Emily: Phoenix-Talent School District has asked, for probably 12 years, for scholarships for kids who attend the Academia Latina summer program at SOU for Hispanic students. Teresa Sayre (former superintendent of Phoenix-Talent School District) came in, and our mother said to Teresa, “Well, are you keeping track?” Teresa said, “Well, no, we haven’t, but …” and then she started keeping track, so every time Phoenix-Talent would come in they would report about the distinction between the kids who went to Academia, what they had done, the classes they’d taken and the activities that they’d participated in. Teresa showed up the last time — around just as she was retiring as superintendent — saying, “Here’s our records.” She wanted to come to this meeting personally to give the final evaluation of what had happened with all those kids and, boy, is it remarkable!

Q: What have you learned about the community by your involvement in the Carpenter Foundation?

Emily: I think the thing that keeps coming back to me is the incredible good work that the people are doing in this community; the nonprofit organizations that are here. These are the people who are making things happen. It’s just phenomenal.

Karen: It is amazing. I mean there are really amazing people providing really creative, resourceful and helpful services.

— Steve Boyarsky is a retired educator and longtime resident of the Rogue Valley. He continues to be involved in educational and youth programs.