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Fred Fields' bequest: a legacy for Oregon

Earlier this month, the board of directors of The Oregon Community Foundation was able to make the announcement of a lifetime: that OCF was the recipient of a $150 million gift to support education and the arts in Oregon.

This extraordinary bequest is from Fred W. Fields, the late Oregon businessman and philanthropist who, along with his wife, Sue, gave generously during his lifetime — and has now created a fund that will benefit Oregon forever. The Fields bequest is the largest single gift ever made to OCF and one of the largest single gifts ever made to an Oregon institution.

While OCF is honored to be the steward of Fred Fields' legacy, his is truly a gift to all Oregonians. The Fields Fund will initially provide more than $6 million annually to support essential education and arts programs in communities across the state — and OCF will strive to grow the fund to increase the available grants.

When Fred wrote this bequest into his estate plan, he specified not only that the fund be used to support education and the arts, but that it be a permanent endowment at OCF. Endowments such as this are designed to keep the principal amount intact while using the investment income for charitable purposes. It is a model that has served Oregon well. OCF's careful fund management over four decades is one of the reasons Fred entrusted the foundation with this remarkable bequest. We believe that another reason is that OCF plans carefully to ensure that donors' generosity makes a real difference for Oregon.

Our experience at OCF demonstrates that impact. The Reed and Carolee Walker Fund of OCF was created in 2003 with a bequest of $37 million from the Walkers' estate. The Walkers stipulated that the new fund be used to provide grants to nonprofits to assist the poor and needy in Jackson County. OCF engaged the community to determine where grants could have the biggest impact. Since its establishment, the fund has distributed $16 million to nonprofits for mental health, drug and alcohol treatment and children's dental care. And the corpus continues to grow, now valued at $42 million — providing more grants annually than when the fund was started.

What drew Fred Fields to OCF is, in fact, what the founders of OCF envisioned: a permanent endowment for Oregon that can address today's issues while being flexible enough to address future needs that we cannot now foresee. It is why donors, whether wealthy or of modest means, trust OCF to help them achieve their charitable giving goals — strengthening the organizations and the causes they care about so passionately.

Fred and Sue Fields' passion was education and the arts. The Fields believed that education prepares young people to be innovators; that art stretches the imagination and spurs creativity. This will be foremost in our minds at OCF as we begin a thoughtful process to determine the ways in which the new Fields Fund can be used. I am chairing the OCF Fields committee that will involve our board members from around the state, the Foundation's experienced staff, community members, arts and education organizations, and creative thinkers within and beyond Oregon. We look forward to the process and to sharing with the community our plans to implement Fred's vision for his legacy.

Because of Fred's generosity, great things will happen in education and the arts for years to come. We hope others will follow his example and see the value of creating a permanent legacy for Oregon.

Sue Naumes is a member of The Oregon Community Foundation board of directors.