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Sue Kupillas is good as Gold

Former Jackson County Commissioner Sue Kupillas will be among the honorees during the annual Governors’ Gold Awards dinner Saturday at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Kupillas will receive the Al and Pat Reser Civic Leadership Award when Oregon’s governors, past and present, pay tribute to individuals, companies, organizations and communities that have contributed to “the greatness of Oregon.”

Gov. Kate Brown and former Govs. John Kitzhaber, Ted Kulongoski and Barbara Roberts will host the annual benefit for Special Olympics Oregon. Other Gold Award recipients include Oregon Health & Science University, Meyer Memorial Trust, Doug Stamm, The Papé Group Inc. and Kerry Tymchuk.

Special Olympics athletes also will be in the spotlight. Master of ceremonies for the event is Drew Carney of KGW-TV.

Kupillas called the honor “a huge compliment” to her decades of work on the behalf of education, civic improvement and healthy forest management.

“I am very excited,” she said.

Kupillas has worked with all four governors who will be in attendance on a wide range of issues, and yet she was surprised to receive word that she had been chosen.

“It’s wonderful to receive this honor after all these years,” she said.

Kupillas served four terms as Jackson County commissioner. Her 16-year tenure is matched only by the late Jack Walker.

She entered politics, not by design, with the determination to save the floundering Eagle Point School District.

With children in first and fifth grades, Kupillas was appalled when the District 9 tax levy failed and schools closed in 1976. During the district’s eight-week closure, she showed up at school board meetings and began knocking on doors and making telephone calls to stress the importance of education.

“It was an overwhelming task, and a bit daunting,” she recalled in a 2016 interview. “That was my beginning.”

She later served several terms on the District 9 board and was president of the Oregon School Boards Association.

Elected to the Board of Commissioners in 1988, Kupillas lists the formation of the White City Community Improvement Association and the White City Urban Renewal Agency in 1990 among her many achievements.

With her guidance, community development grants shored up the area’s infrastructure, renovated residential areas, revitalized the industrial park and created a community policing district.

She also launched the Rogue Family Center in White City, bringing state and county health and human services under one roof and creating Oregon’s first one-stop program.

Kupillas’ work in White City earned accolades across the state and she received a planning award from the state of Oregon.

During her tenure as county commissioner, Kupillas saw the listing of the northern spotted owl as a threatened species in 1990, lived through the timber wars that followed, and was in Portland when President Bill Clinton convened the 1993 timber summit that led to the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994.

While serving as commissioner and later on the executive board of O&C Counties and various natural resources councils and committees, she testified before Congress 15 times in favor of federal forest management policies that ensure healthy forests, sustainable timber production and jobs creation in the wood products industry.

Kupillas said her work afforded her the opportunity to meet three presidents: “Both Bushes and Clinton,” and “some amazing women leaders like Geraldine Ferraro and Elizabeth Dole.”

Although retired from politics, Kupillas continues to work for education and civic improvement and is a long-time supporter of the arts. She’s served as board member for the Southern Oregon University Foundation, Rogue Valley Chorale, Heart of Medford Committee, Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, Rogue Valley Manor and Rogue River Valley University Club.

She currently is secretary of the Butte Creek Mill Foundation, which oversees the rebuilding efforts of the historic mill, and is a member of the Medford Rogue Rotary Club (corrected from previous version).

Kupillas is a recipient of the March of Dimes “White Rose Award” for community service and the Medford/Jackson County chamber’s Outstanding Citizen Award.

The Women’s Leadership Conference recently named her “Godmother” in recognition of her “vision, courage and leadership.”

All proceeds from the Governors’ Gold Award dinner and auctions benefit Special Olympics Oregon, which provides year-round sports training and athletic competitions to thousands of children, youth and adults living with intellectual disabilities.

— Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

Sue Kupillas