Lyn Hennion reads to kids Wednesday at the Learning Loft Preschool at Kid Time in Medford.

Community Builder: A cheerleader for Southern Oregon

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 Lyn Hennion, a businesswoman and member of many local boards who describes herself as a cheerleader for Southern Oregon.

Q: How did Southern Oregon become your home?

Lyn: I was home alone one Saturday in November 1984. Bill Smullin, who I didn’t know then, called my late husband, insisting that Reeve call him back. He said, “Now, I know United Press (where Reeve was Western Division manager) is going through some difficult times. He needs to talk to me. I’ve got ideas for him.” Reeve and I spent the afternoon at a Stanford football game, and I pummeled him with questions about Mr. Smullin and Medford. Reeve called him back on Monday. Bill asked him if he would come up and be the general manager for California Oregon Broadcasting, not just KOBI, but the whole schmeer. Within a couple of soul-searching weeks, we had made the commitment to move here, and I’m forever grateful to the Smullin family.

Meanwhile, I was working for the Franklin Funds in San Mateo. The company asked if I’d go out to the field. I said, “Well, sure, if I can be in the Northwest, based in Medford.” Perfect storm! A few years later, Franklin Funds asked me to take over the mid-Atlantic, so for four years I was covering Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. More than once, a great, one-of-a-kind guy, Fitz Brewer, called saying, “When ya gonna get some sense in your head and come home, Honey? I need ya!” I loved Fitz. I miss him. His voice still echoes on the walls. In 1994, I finally hung up my frequent flyer card and joined Fitz and Dick Entinger at Strand Atkinson, now Umpqua Investments.

Q: Tell me about Buncom.

Lyn: Those first 10 years Reeve and I lived here, I was traveling lots. When Reeve had time, he would go exploring. He got lost and found the old ghost town of Buncom. Years later, we were looking for a “weekend place.” One day a Realtor called asking, “Have you ever heard of Buncom?” Reeve said, “Sold. We’ll work the details out later.” We immediately met some fantastic neighbors, cut blackberries, built our home. With neighbors who know that “Buncom is a state of mind,” we delighted in the annual Buncom Day celebration bringing the Applegate community together. Before he died, Reeve put Buncom on the map, literally. Pick up the official Oregon map at a visitors’ center and you’ll see.

Q: What boards have you been on in Southern Oregon?

Lyn: When I was a traveling salesman, I found it difficult to commit to meaningful volunteer activities, so when I was back in Southern Oregon for good, I jumped at opportunities offered to me.

I was on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival board and the Shakespeare Endowment board in the late ‘90s, when a number of arts organizations were trying to figure out, “How can we all come together and give the state Legislature a plan for support of arts and culture?” Kathleen Davis, the first staff member for the Oregon Community Foundation in Southern Oregon, asked if I would go to Portland to speak to a conference of arts and culture organizations encouraging cooperation. She thought I would be effective since I was an “unknown, with no particular ax to grind.” That conference led to the establishment of The Oregon Cultural Trust, where, much later, I served as vice chair of the board.

In 2002, I joined the OCF board. That year, Reed Walker died, leaving the residue of his estate to the Oregon Community Foundation for programs to help break the cycle of poverty, particularly among kids, in Jackson County. At the time it was a $30 million bequest. Huge! We had to figure out how to honor the Walkers’ wishes and to grant money in the most effective way. The Reed and Carolee Walker Fund of OCF now gives some $2 million a year to local charities.

Q: What did you learn about the needs of the state and our region?

Lyn: One of the things we discovered right away with The Walker Fund was a huge need for children’s dental programs. Who knew? Dental issues aren’t usually addressed unless there is a medical issue. Too many kids rarely saw a dentist. Anyway, we have given millions of dollars to organizations like La Clinica and the schools to have every kid go through dental screening and treatment. Dental health has since became a statewide priority for the Oregon Community Foundation.

When the Walker Fund came about, I asked my daughter-in-law in Eugene, who was involved in social issues, “If you had $2 million a year to give away, what would you do?” She gave me a book called “Ghost from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence.” It woke me up to the extraordinary, rapid brain development of those little blobs of protoplasm we call babies. The brain is 90 percent developed by the time kids are 4 or so. If they’re neglected or exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), the damage is often irreversible. But if we nurture the kids, the need for remedial services declines substantially, which lowers the costs for health care, special education, and even jails. I have developed a real passion for the importance of early childhood issues.

Q: Where is Southern Oregon relative to the entire state?

Lyn: Southern Oregon is perceived as a different country by many in the state. Everything is so driven by Portland and Salem. It’s hard. Local issues are not that much different from state issues except that because we are smaller, we can be more effective because we can drill down a bit more. I want the rest of Oregon to realize what really good people, great programs and tremendous opportunities there are here.

Q: What boards do you currently serve?

Lyn: I am vice chair of the Southern Oregon University board. That has been an amazing experience. It has been a steep learning curve as SOU transitions from being governed by a state board of higher education to a local governing board. I was happy to chair the search committee and thrilled when we found the president we did. Linda Schott is phenomenal.

I also serve on the board of The Children’s Institute, a group based in Portland, but with statewide impact. It’s even getting some national recognition for putting research on early childhood programs into action. The focus is on quality day care, quality preschool programs, getting access to prenatal care. KidTime in Medford is just one of the local organizations implementing “Preschool Promise,” a state program for which the Children’s Institute advocated.

Q: How can Southern Oregon be a better place to live?

Lyn: If I had just one thing to say it would be … the babies. My dream, my put-a-man-on-the-moon dream, is that every baby in Southern Oregon — and everywhere — would be born wanted and free of drugs and alcohol. If we had that beginning, the cost savings and the benefits to our communities would be fantastic. If we could just get parents, grandparents and all the aunts and uncles to nurture that child from the very beginning. Sometimes, all it takes is one caring adult.

Oregon Community Foundation is bringing awareness to the fact that when you’re born in poverty it’s really hard to get out of poverty. Some 53 percent of the babies born in this state are born on Medicaid. It’s going to be extremely hard to bring those kids into the middle class or beyond. The book “30 Million Words” highlights the difference between somebody who is raised in a low-income environment where the parents don’t have the time or inclination to read to or just to talk with their kids versus a higher-income household where they are read to and talked with. Over the first three or four years of life, it’s a difference of 30 million words! The difference it makes in the child’s brain development, all those billions of neurons connecting every second, is critical.

Q: You’ve been instrumental in promoting women in leadership. Why is that important?

Lyn: Jeanne Stallman at SOU had an idea of putting on a conference to help promote women in leadership positions. The first conference was held in March 2013 and was a rousing success. Women in the area were hungry for knowledge. They wanted to know “Where do I start?” “How do I find a mentor?” People like Lindsay Berryman answered questions about how to run a small business, how to and why run for office? The sessions with local women telling their stories and encouraging others were inspiring.

The second year, we brought Anne Doyle in from Detroit. She was the first woman to go into the pro locker rooms after games as a sports reporter. Anne had written the book “Powering Up” and gave a session the night before the conference that was for male leaders, “Women in Leadership, What’s in it for Men.” We brought together many of the CEOs of the big companies in town, and they realized that, where before they might have seen this as a competitive thing between women and men, they began to realize this is for everybody’s good. We welcome men at the Women’s Leadership Conference.

At one conference, three of us — Patsy Smullin, Sue Kupillas and I — were surprised when we were named the “godmothers” of the conference. A great honor! Every year has been a sellout with a waiting list. People want to attend from other parts of the state, and Southern Oregon is making a name for itself in encouraging women to become leaders, to run for office, and to bring their strength into the public eye.

Q: What would you like as a legacy?

Lyn: If I could pick a legacy, there would be two things: I would like to be known as a cheerleader for Southern Oregon and as a “connector.” I so enjoy putting people or ideas together to make them bloom. Through all my work, I have gotten to know a lot of people, and when I get calls asking, “what you do think about…” or “can you help me find somebody who can…,” I may not always come up with answers, but often I know people I can call who will help. Southern Oregon is not only on the map, it’s Oregon’s hidden jewel.

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

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