From a young age, Leah Johnson knew she wanted to be an artist or work in a creative field. At the age of nine, after her father built her a drafting table, she regularly worked on creative projects from editing and designing magazines to writing and illustrating stories. Her interest with art carried on through high school and she went on to pursue the arts as a major, obtaining her Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in Painting from Lewis & Clark College in Portland.
Leah grew up in the woods outside of the small community of Joseph, Oregon. Once in the Portland area, she met her husband James, who also grew up in a small town (Banks, Oregon). When their daughter, Haven, was about to enter school they began to look for ways to get out of the city and back to a more simple, small-town life. The family moved to Joseph and eventually became owners of Joseph Hardware. While her husband ran the store, Leah took a job at Community Bank as a personal banker. Within a couple of years she was promoted to operations supervisor.
After she had been working for the bank for five years, a new marketing director came on board and immediately saw the need for an assistant within the department. With Leah’s background in the arts and experience on the operations side of the bank, she was hired as the marketing coordinator. “I got very lucky to end up with the most creative job you could have with a bank.” She felt fortunate to have a wonderful mentor in her supervisor, Keith Burghardt, and to have the opportunity to learn about marketing on the job. Currently Leah serves as Community Bank’s marketing manager and is celebrating 15 years with the company.
Becoming a full-time banker did not take Leah away from her interests in the arts. She continued to paint in acrylics and draw in charcoal and pastels but she was looking for new inspiration. She would end up finding that inspiration in wax and resin. About six years ago, Leah and a fellow artist friend traveled to Montana for a private workshop led by an artist who specialized in encaustic painting. For those unfamiliar, encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using melted beeswax, resin and colored pigments. The liquid is applied to a surface — usually prepared wood, though canvas and other materials can be used. Tools and objects are used to add texture and designs to the surface as the wax cools. A blowtorch or heat gun is applied to the surface to fuse each layer of wax and resin to the previous layer.
The workshop in Montana sparked a whole new direction in Leah’s art-making. “It was very hands-on for an entire weekend,” said Leah. “I just fell in love with the tools like blow torches and razor blades, the smell of melted beeswax, the whole process of encaustic painting.” Leah has been experimenting with encaustic painting for five years now and has created a number of beautiful landscapes reflecting the horizons of the Wallowa Mountains and valleys that surround her.
Leah’s encaustic paintings have been shown at the Josephy Center for Art & Culture and Art Center East in La Grande. She currently has her artwork displayed and for sale at Mansion Creek Cellars tasting room in the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla.
You can also see and purchase Leah’s work on her website, www.leahjohnsonart.com. Prints are available on canvas, fine papers, wood, metal and acrylic in a variety of sizes. Frames are available as well, direct from the printer. The website has a feature called augmented reality which helps you decide if the piece will work in your space. Using your camera on your phone, it allows you to superimpose the selected artwork onto a wall inside your home or business.
Leah plans to begin teaching encaustic workshops in the near future out of her home studio in Joseph. To find out about these upcoming opportunities, you can follow Leah Johnson Art on Facebook or on Instagram @leah_johnson_art.
Encaustic fun facts:
Behind the Banker
Tory Nixon serves as Umpqua Bank’s senior executive vice president and chief banking officer. He joined the bank in 2015 after doing more research than most on his prospective employer. For Tory, the choice to join Umpqua was significant. At the time, he was living and working in San Diego, a place where he had deep roots. “Everything was in San Diego, our entire world was in the region,” recalled Tory.
With the support of his wife Michelle, they both left their careers and family in Southern California and planted roots in Portland. Tory says it was a risky move, but looking back it was more than worth it. “Sitting here today, it has turned out far better than I would have ever imagined,” said Tory. He says his biggest surprise about Umpqua Bank is that it “lived up to the hype and then some.” He’s a big believer in the bank, but for him, the real differentiator is its people.
As Umpqua Bank’s first chief banking officer, Tory oversees all customer-facing bank divisions and focuses on creating seamless, human-digital customer experiences across the bank’s retail, home lending, commercial and wealth management business lines. Tory’s approach to his position starts with the understanding that you can always be getting better. “If you are resting on your laurels then you’re already slipping,” said Tory. This mindset was instilled in Tory by his father, and also ingrained in him through his own personal experiences.
Tory was born in Eugene and moved to Phoenix, Arizona at the age of eight. At the age of 15, Tory and his three siblings lost their mother after a battle with cancer. He describes it as a tortuous event to endure as a child. “The impact was felt in a lot of different ways, over a long period of time,” recalled Tory. Looking back, Tory can now see that even through tragedy, good lessons can be learned. “My brothers and sister may disagree, but I became an adult at a much younger age.”
In high school, Tory was a student athlete, playing both basketball and football. He was committed to a career in basketball following graduation, but a broken ankle during his senior year put his aspirations on pause. He wrestled with whether he should take another track in life or to keep trying to do what he loved. He decided to keep with athletics.
Tory rehabilitated in earnest. Following graduation, he went to the University of Arizona in hopes of playing basketball but did not make the team. Once again, Tory was confronted with the thought, “Now is it over?” Instead of giving up his dream, he shifted his focus, initially attending a community college to play football and earn a chance to play for a major collegiate program in the future. This, he believed, was his one last shot to fulfill his dream, and he was resolute in giving it another try. Through hard work and dedication (and a little luck, according to Tory), he ended up receiving multiple scholarship offers from universities across the country.
After several recruiting trips, Tory settled on San Diego State University (SDSU). The school had solid athletics and academics—and being by the beach didn’t hurt either. At SDSU, Tory got to start as a junior for two years playing defensive back. While excelling academically in pursuit of a finance degree, Tory was making a name for himself. He was selected as Defensive Team Captain and honored as SDSU’s top Scholar/Athlete. People began to take notice, and by the end of his collegiate career, he was one of the most highly regarded defensive backs coming out of college. In the 1995 NFL draft, Tory was selected in the second round by the Washington Redskins. After a long, unpredictable road and much hard work, Tory felt like he had finally “made it.” A long and successful NFL career awaited him.
Tory’s entry into the League ended up a rocky start. Negotiations between the Redskins and Tory’s agent resulted in him missing the first two weeks of training camp. The delay setback his performance, but he also admits he could have done more to prepare himself between the time he was drafted and the start of training camp.
Before the NFL season even began, Tory was caught off guard when he learned that he had been traded to the San Francisco 49ers. The trade was tough, and he felt like he had to start all over again. “I got a great opportunity, but didn’t recognize it,” Tory reflected on being a high NFL draft pick. “I once again learned that you can never ever stop working at getting better at what you do.”
In San Francisco, Tory enjoyed success with his new team. The 49ers made the playoffs during his first two seasons but were unable to advance to the elusive Super Bowl. That changed during Tory’s fourth season when the 49ers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals to become Super Bowl XXIII champions. “The feeling of winning the championship is difficult to put into words,” recounts Tory. “It’s a special moment that you’ll never forget. It’s etched in time. We’ll always be Super Bowl champions.”
The very next season, Tory would find his life once again turned upside down after a career-ending injury. But Tory was always planning for the end of his NFL career. “I just shifted,” said Tory. During his first offseason with the 49ers, he had completed his finance degree at SDSU. After his NFL career came to an end, he took his education to the next level and obtained an MBA from the University of Southern California. From there his career in banking took flight.
What have all of Tory’s life experiences and lessons added up to? A fundamental philosophy of working hard and doing your best. “Tiny things add up to make a huge difference: the difference between winning and losing. One must have the urgency to get things done and done right,” said Tory. He’s also learned that from a team perspective, whether business or athletics, selflessness is required. “It’s not about me, it’s about the team.”
Tory says you can learn a lot from winning; and likely more from losing. “But it’s a heck of a lot more fun to win.” He feels incredibly lucky for his four-year career with the 49ers and grateful for the opportunities that have led him back to Oregon and Umpqua Bank.
Piotrek (pronounced pee-oh-trek) Buciarski (pronounced boo-chee-are-ski) was born Behind the Iron Curtain in Warsaw, Poland. At the age of eight, his family moved to Denmark where his father had accepted a position as the Danish Olympic Track and Field head coach. Piotrek attended an international school where he had 18 classmates from 15 different countries. “It was probably the best and most impactful education I had ever received,” recounted Piotrek.
“My family is an athletic one,” stated Piotrek. That might be a slight understatement. Piotrek’s father represented Poland in the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games, finishing fifth in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. He was also the first Pole to clear 18 feet in the pole vault, holding the Polish national record for many years. Piotrek’s mother was a PE teacher in Poland. His parents met at the Warsaw University of Physical Education and, along with his younger sister, still reside in Copenhagen today. Piotrek’s wife, Rachel, represented the United States at the 2012 London Olympic Games in the javelin throw. “She has by far the strongest and fastest arm in the family,” quipped Piotrek.
Sports were central to Piotrek’s upbringing. In school, soccer was the one thing he had in common with his international classmates. So much so that some of the first English words he learned were “pass,” “I’m open” and “goal!” It wasn’t until he was 15 that he began to follow in his father’s footsteps by signing up for track and field and taking pole vaulting more seriously. Piotrek’s father served as his coach up until he was offered an athletic scholarship at the University of Oregon.
In 1996, Piotrek left the University of Copenhagen where he was studying economics and transferred to UO where he would eventually obtain his BS in Economics and an MBA in Sports Marketing. While Piotrek was busy earning his education, he was also racking up wins on the field. He won the PAC 10 Championship two times and earned All-American honors three times. His top achievement while still in college was a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Representing Denmark, Piotrek would later compete at two World Indoor Championships (Birmingham and Budapest), three World Outdoor Championships (Edmonton Paris and Helsinki) and the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Piotrek’s first career after pole vaulting was in business development for a medical imaging clinic in Eugene. He worked there while also competing in the Olympics. “I enjoyed receiving emails of support from my work colleagues and coming back to the office afterwards,” stated Piotrek. “As payback for my prolonged absence, I had to give three presentations during our lunch hours, showing pictures and telling behind the scenes stories from the Olympics. It was a lot of fun.”
Piotrek then went on to become a part owner of one of the largest track and field athlete management agencies. During his seven-year stint as a sport agent, Piotrek represented many Olympic medalists, including Ashton Eaton who holds the world record in both the decathlon and indoor heptathlon events. Seeking more geographic stability, Piotrek took a position at TrackTown USA in 2015 as the senior director of marketing and sales. In this role, he was able to take advantage of his international connections to help secure sponsorships with large corporations such as Uber, Budweiser and Comcast. He also developed good relationships locally with small businesses and generous individuals in Portland and Eugene. This, along with his athletic career, has provided Piotrek skills that lend well to his current role as vice president of corporate business development at Summit Bank.
“In athletics, and especially in pole vaulting, you learn that success and victory don’t come without years of disciplined training and sacrifices,” stated Piotrek. “I think that helps in business development, as it often takes dozens of calls and many meetings that don’t necessarily lead anywhere before you land one or two clients. I’m also very comfortable walking into a meeting with people who I have never met or picking up the phone to call someone I don’t know, which I often credit to years of performing in national and international events.”
According to Summit Bank CEO Craig Wanichek, hiring Piotrek was a bit unconventional. Piotrek thinks Craig is probably right, but he also believes it was a natural fit. “I always had an interest in the financial services sector, and if track and field hadn’t hijacked my professional career, I would have been working in the banking industry a lot sooner. When I saw an opportunity to take the experience, knowledge and connections I had gained from my earlier places of employment and apply that to banking, I seized it. I arranged a meeting with Craig and sold him on hiring a pole vaulter to be a banker at Summit Bank.”
In addition to dreaming of being a soccer player growing up, Piotrek wanted to be a pilot. Fast forward to today, and he not only plays on Summit Bank’s coed soccer team, but he’s also logged 600 flight hours. “It was always a childhood dream of mine and a nightmare for my parents,” stated Piotrek. Oddly enough, at the age of eight, Piotrek was told that he was color blind and therefore could not fly. After his track and field career, Piotrek researched flying a little further and found out that he could be a color-blind pilot in the U.S. so long as he only flew during the day. “That was good enough for me,” stated Piotrek, “so I found an instructor, scheduled my medical exam and found out that I was never color blind to begin with.” Piotrek now owns a four seat Mooney (M20E for other pilot bankers out there) and flies on nice weekends with his family when he can “talk them into it.”
Piotrek and his wife are parents to two energetic children. Maya is four years old and a lead singer and performer at her Montessori school. Maks is two and likes to hang with his mom. “We often get asked if they will follow in their parents’ footsteps,” stated Piotrek. “I think that Rachel and I will be just as proud of them if they grow up to be respected artists, scholars or community members. We’ll let their passions guide their careers.”
Stressful. Crazy. Lots of hard work. Exhilarating. Those are the words Casey Ryan uses to describe his successful run for Mayor of Troutdale. With four kids in tow, a full-time banking career, and involvement with numerous nonprofit organizations, Casey is ambitious yet clear about his priorities: “I balance my life in three ways: family first, work second, and then Mayor.”
Casey’s desire to bring positive leadership to Troutdale was the motivating factor behind his decision to run for office. After seeing the city council bogged down for years, Casey thought he might be able to make a difference. “Troutdale is an amazing community with many things going its way. We needed leadership that could harness the good parts and move us in a positive direction,” stated Casey.
The process of running for Mayor was trying, and Casey acknowledges he would have struggled without the support and counsel of his wife Sarah. While skeptical of the idea at first, Sarah was one of Casey’s greatest assets. During the campaign, Casey and Sarah knocked on over 1,500 doors to meet with Troutdale residents. “Sarah was my secret weapon,” recounted Casey. “People would see her and automatically be pleasant. They would think, no way a person that beautiful would marry a horrible person!”
Casey may joke about the reason, but something about him and his message struck a chord with voters. On November 8, 2016, the people of Troutdale delivered Casey a resounding victory. The first-time politician had defeated a two-term city councilor with a 60 percent margin. After the election, Casey was eager to put the campaign behind him and begin work on the challenges facing his community.
During his four-year term as Mayor, Casey is focusing on issues familiar to many expanding cities. “As our city grows, we need to assure that we are dealing with traffic issues, housing affordability and where people will work. And as with any city, we need to assure we are balancing our budget, providing a good quality of life for our citizens, and investing in our infrastructure for future generations,” said Casey.
While moonlighting as Mayor, Casey will continue his day job as senior vice president and regional manager at Riverview Community Bank, where he oversees the bank’s Oregon retail branches. He loves being a community banker, but it wasn’t always part of his master plan. He grew up dreaming of becoming a sports broadcaster. After high school, he was a bull rider at rodeos in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Canada. Following college, he spent much of his 20s in a variety of jobs as he searched for his calling in life. One of those jobs was selling cars, and he was pretty good at it. In 1998, Casey was the number two Isuzu Trooper salesman in the U.S., earning him a free trip to Las Vegas.
Casey’s career journey eventually led him to a position at U.S. Bank, and six years later at Riverview. Casey recalled, “That was the start of an amazing chain of events that changed my course in life. It was the first time in my work life that the job fit me like a glove.” Today, Casey is all about “spreading the gospel of Riverview to the non-believers,” as he likes to say.
Casey may be a notable public official now, but he’ll never forget his roots. He grew up in rural Wallowa County, which he describes as the most beautiful part of Oregon. “Those mountains, clean air, and good hometown people hold a special piece of my heart. I am blessed to have been raised in a blue collar family where I learned how to work hard.” There is, of course, something else that holds an even bigger piece of Casey’s heart: his family. He is, first and foremost, a husband and father. For Casey, that is his greatest honor.
Many in the Oregon banking community are familiar with the Postlewait family. Fred, the dad, is president and CEO of Oregon Coast Bank in Newport. His three children, Jake, Jill and Joe, also work at the bank. Like his siblings, Jake’s professional career followed in his father’s footsteps, but his passion for taxidermy can be traced to his mother’s side of the family.
Jake has fond memories of visiting his maternal grandparents’ 80-acre hobby farm in Canby when he was a young child. The farm was actually the largest private aviary in Oregon. “We aren’t talking about a guy with an extra parakeet,” stated Jake of his grandfather. In fact, the farm had over 1,000 exotic birds ranging from South African whooping cranes to peacocks to black Australian swans. Jake remembers a story about a barn owl his grandparents raised that would fly in the kitchen window and perch on the refrigerator. “The place was winding down once I was old enough to remember what I was seeing,” stated Jake. “But that little bit was probably what started me down the taxidermy path.”
Jake’s foray into taxidermy started with a how-to magazine, a video and a taxidermy catalog. In his sophomore year of high school, Jake transferred to Corvallis, just a short drive to a branch of one of the largest taxidermy firms in the United States. He was fortunate to be able to visit the branch from time to time. Jake recollects, “I was 15-ish with a dimple, so the ladies there gave me the run of the place.”
For the next few years Jake’s taxidermy was a lot of trial and error. At the age of 18, while hunting in the south Willamette Valley, Jake was fortunate to cross paths with a taxidermist who had received both national and world competition honors. Jake sought his counsel and the man obliged. From there, Jake spent most of his days helping out on the man’s property, but in the evenings, Jake would work on taxidermy projects with him. Throughout college, Jake continued soaking in what he could from his mentor.
Speaking of college, let’s wander a bit off the taxidermy path because there is something else very interesting about Jake that deserves attention. Jake attended Oregon State University on a full baseball scholarship. In his junior year, he turned down the Texas Rangers in the MLB draft. A year later, after a couple of Pac-10 All-Conference performances, Jake was drafted in the seventh round by the Colorado Rockies. He signed a contract with the team and another with Topps/Bowman. He spent three years in professional baseball before he was forced out due to injury. During one of his outings, he suffered a stress fracture in his shoulder. Jake would later need reconstructive surgery on his elbow.
During his time playing for the Rockies, Jake spent his first offseason living in his mentor’s shop. Jake would take on his mentor’s projects and any he could bring in on his own. He continued refining his craft during subsequent baseball offseasons while living in Cheshire, Oregon.
During spring training one evening, Jake’s dad mentioned joining the bank during the next offseason. “I remember him saying if I don’t like it I can just go to the next spring training and not come back,” recalled Jake. In 2007, Jake decided to take his dad up on the offer and has been at the bank ever since. While officially vice president of commercial and consumer lending, Jake simply describes his job as “cutting deals with borrowers no matter the type of loan.” In addition to underwriting loans, Jake finds himself being the “maintenance guy” and “errand boy” from time to time. In his role as a banker, Jake enjoys witnessing the success of others, learning the ins and outs of a business, and structuring loans to fit the customer’s model. Outside of banking, Jake has volunteered for various boards and committees and currently serves on the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.
Two years ago, Jake was contacted to help start and coach an American Legion baseball team. Being 10 years removed from baseball, Jake figured it was time to get back into the game. Coaching eats into his taxidermy time, but I’m guessing it’s worth it to Jake. Jake shared that he asked his young baseball players to search his name on eBay. “You should have seen their faces,” stated Jake. “Priceless.”
Nowadays, between coaching, three kids, his bank career and a hunting addiction, Jake’s taxidermy is strictly hobby-based, yet his dedication to the craft remains. He is currently working on a life-size bear. His prior body of work includes badgers, beavers, caribou, cougars, coyotes, albino nutria, otters, raccoons, porcupines, bobcats, squirrels, blacktail and mule deer, Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk, warthog, several antelope species, and an assortment of ducks, geese and upland birds.
Eric Bjella (pronounced bee-yell-uh) grew up in the port town of Silver Bay on the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. He obtained his college degree a few hours south at the University of Minnesota where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. Following college, a former roommate convinced Eric to join him in Alaska to seek employment. Eric, open to some adventure, packed his bags, sold his truck, and bought a one-way ticket to Juneau.
Eric landed his first job in Alaska at a local community bank, where so many do, on the teller line. Over the course of what would become a 32-year banking career, Eric had the opportunity to wear many hats. He learned the ropes as an operations officer, consumer loan officer, real estate loan officer, commercial loan officer and branch manager. Eric’s career eventually led him to assume the responsibility of leading the marketing department at First Bank in Ketchikan, Alaska. In his role as vice president, Eric oversaw all advertising, public relations, promotional campaigns and community development activities.
After 22 years at First Bank, Eric decided it was finally time to move to the lower 48. In 2008, Eric and his partner Tricia settled in the community of Ocean Shores, Washington. He took a one year hiatus from banking before joining Bank of the Pacific as vice president and marketing manager, a position he holds today.
When Eric and Tricia made the decision to settle in Ocean Shores, it was in part because of the town’s convention center. Back in Ketchikan, they had been involved in something called a “wearable art show” and they wanted to bring one to Ocean Shores. In case you’re wondering, a wearable art show is exactly what it sounds like: people create art that can be worn, and either the artists themselves or models display their artistic expressions on the runway for show attendees.
The dream of producing their own wearable art show literally landed in their lap when Eric and Tricia learned that an acquaintance of theirs happened to be the producer of a wine festival in Ocean Shores. Their acquaintance felt that adding a wearable art show to the festival would make for a great entertainment element. So, in 2012, Eric and Tricia took the plunge and produced their first show, drawing a crowd of over 200 people.
The success of their first show provided Eric and Tricia the assurance needed to make a go of it as a standalone production. The Ocean Shores Wearable Art Show will celebrate six years this June and is expected to draw nearly 350 people. In addition to providing a forum for artists and designers to display their work in a fun, safe and encouraging environment, Eric sees the show as a way to support the local community.
The array of skills Eric picked up along his banking career has proven to be a valuable asset in his role as producer of the event, which is a true labor of love. Preparation for the Ocean Shores Wearable Art Show begins a good eight months in advance. Eric handles every aspect from recruiting and managing volunteers, soliciting artists and entries, handling the needs of each unique entry, identifying people to operate sound, lighting, video and photography, and working with the event venue. This list does not include all the efforts that go into promoting the show, which is also extensive. In addition to creating various forms of promotional collateral, Eric and Tricia make rounds to local radio shows and talk to anyone who will listen.
All the hard work finally starts to take shape two days prior to the show when the stage and runway are set. The night before, a full rehearsal with the emcee and models is conducted to practice order and timing. The preparation can only go so far, however, as live events have a way of bringing surprises. During a live show, the typical evening for Eric involves running between the backstage and front of house addressing “a million minor catastrophes that happen in live theatre,” as Eric describes.
The live show begins with Eric taking the stage to welcome the crowd, introducing the opening act and the emcee, and then “letting things fly.” Eric describes the evening for him as “riding a go-kart down a steep hill with no brakes for 90 minutes.” But Eric somehow finds the will to carry on. “I’ve found that even when things don’t go right and you might be feeling like it is time to let it all go, you still have a bit more to give.”
Despite its challenges, producing the Ocean Shores Wearable Art Show has been a rewarding endeavor for Eric. The positive feedback from audience members has been uplifting, including the fact that people travel from all parts of Washington year after year because they simply can’t miss it. For Eric, the most important thing about the show is its community benefit and providing a place where artists and models of all kinds can show off their creation in a supportive and non-competitive environment.
Eric is a strong believer that a career in banking is really a career in caring about the community. “Whether it is a small town on an island in Alaska or a major metropolitan area, community bankers are a driving force in keeping their community vibrant and growing. From direct cash donations to the arts, education and social services to lending management and financial expertise to local nonprofit boards, community banks and their employees truly care about their communities. I’m proud to be part of this professional family.”
Learn more about Eric’s wearable art show, taking place June 3, 2017 in Ocean Shores, Washington at www.oswearableart.com.
Photos courtesy of Rod Whitten - Rod Whitten Photography, Randy Foster – Foster Graphix, Ken Ham – Ken Ham Photography and Chris Dimond.
Jeff Gusinow was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, where he obtained his degree in Political Science and Economics from the University of Wisconsin. He felt banking would be a good fit for him (he was right), so with an open mind he applied for positions all over the country. When First National Bank of Oregon called, Jeff jumped at the chance to start out as a management trainee in Eugene.
Now entering his 40th year in banking, Jeff serves as the senior vice president and professional banking team leader at Oregon Pacific Bank in the newly established Eugene Professional Banking and Trust Office. Jeff works to procure new clients in niche markets. The position is ready-made for him as he spent much of his career working in a similar capacity at the former Siuslaw Bank. It’s also been a good fit because Jeff is by nature a people person. He enjoys the relationships he builds with his clients, helping their businesses grow and their dreams become a reality.
In addition to his banking milestone, Jeff is also celebrating 30 years of marriage with his wife, Susan. Together they have two kids, Sander, a playwright in New York City, and Alex, a budtender (Google it if you must). Jeff jokes, “I can’t say my kids don’t think outside the box.”
Outside of work and family, Jeff is, as the Eugene Register Guard put it, the “Poster Guy” for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). That label, in part, stems from a national LLS ad campaign which featured Jeff and eight other blood cancer survivors. But the main reason for that label, one would argue, is Jeff’s extraordinary work to raise money for lymphoma research.
It was 10 years ago that Jeff was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a blood cancer and the most common slow-growing form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He was referred to OHSU where they recommended he receive 21 radiation treatments, in hopes of halting the spread of the blood cancer. Jeff opted to forgo chemotherapy and other treatments after his initial radiation therapies, a decision his doctor, Jeff Sharman, thinks is a good one.
While the life expectancy for someone diagnosed with follicular lymphoma may exceed 10 years, it’s not uncommon to see even longer term survivors, according to Dr. Sharman, who also serves as the director of research at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute in Eugene and as the medical director of hematology research at the US Oncology Network.
It happens that Dr. Sharman is not only the first blood cancer specialist in the Eugene area, but also a leading researcher. Dr. Sharman views Jeff as an inspiration to other patients living with follicular lymphoma. “Having a favorable disease course and being very public about his disease has helped many to understand that this does not need to represent a 'death sentence' but instead an opportunity to choose how somebody wants to live,” stated Dr. Sharman.
Jeff describes his cancer as one that waxes and wanes. He gets scans every year and follows a “watch and wait” approach. Treatment for his lymphoma isn’t needed until it becomes more aggressive, which can take many years, as it has in Jeff’s case. For him, that is the exciting part, “The longer I can wait, the more likely it is that an exciting new protocol will be available. Gene therapy is just around the corner,” states Jeff.
Jeff has made a conscious decision to enjoy life to the fullest. As he puts it, he doesn’t know when his cancer is going to catch up to him, so he says “yes” to everything. Before his diagnosis, the only family trips he’d ever taken were to Disneyland and Wisconsin. Today, Jeff boasts an impressive resume of travel excursions: he’s walked the Great Wall in China, played with wild monkeys in Bali, snorkeled in Mexico, attended an opera in Florence (Italy), prayed at the Wailing Wall, motorcycled through Barcelona, walked the ruins of Pompeii, saw the Pope in St. Mark’s Square, looked down at Athens from the Acropolis, stood on the track of the first Olympics, and saw the Beatles show in Las Vegas.
By now, you might be getting the picture that Jeff is not someone to rest on one’s laurels. Instead, he is taking life by the reins. “I definitely appreciate my life more,” states Jeff. “I don’t wait for things to happen, I make them happen. I don’t have the luxury of waiting around anymore. Professionally, that can make me a pain for my employer at times, but it’s great for my clients. Personally, my wife loves it. She gets a husband that wants to fly off on vacation at the drop of a hat and one that still does the dishes, just like before.”
Jeff’s overwhelmingly positive, can-do attitude feeds the success he has achieved through his annual Light the Grill fundraiser benefiting the Oregon chapter of the national Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The idea for Light the Grill came to Jeff seven years ago while attending a local LLS dinner. The speaker at the dinner challenged those in attendance to make a difference. It was then that he came up with the concept of a barbeque fundraiser. Light the Grill attracts hundreds of attendees each year and has become an annual tradition, complete with lunch, live music, a silent auction and raffle prizes donated by local businesses, many of whom are Jeff’s clients. The donations range from conventional to unusual. As Jeff states, “We get a little of everything, from a $10 coffee gift card to a trip to Mexico, with a vasectomy or two thrown in for good measure.”
Light the Grill is always held on a Friday afternoon in September, which is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. Funds are raised through a small fee for lunch and from the proceeds of the silent auction and raffle tickets. In total, Jeff’s Light the Grill event has raised $176,326 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. And in the last two years, Jeff has raised more money for LLS than any other individual in Oregon. Of course, Jeff admits he can’t take all the credit. Oregon Pacific Bank has been a major financial sponsor and has provided volunteers from the bank to work the event. The bank's marketing director, Ellen Huntingdon, has been a big help, as has Jeanette Beard, who has worked with Jeff dating back to the Siuslaw years and who helps coordinate the event.
Jeff, as you may have guessed, is not shy about discussing his illness. “It helps me to be upfront,” states Jeff. “I feel a definite espirit de corps with others in the community who are helping me fight this disease: my doctors, family, friends, and other patients. We’re all fighting this together.” His transparency with his illness has led him to become a resource for support and information to others who have been recently diagnosed with the disease. “Fortunately, I’ve been on this journey longer than most and I appreciate any opportunity to be a resource to the community,” states Jeff.
Jeff’s message is simple: don’t wait. “When it came to pursuing my dreams I’d always say, I’ll do it tomorrow. But I got cancer before tomorrow came. So do your job with integrity and passion and meet the needs of your clients. But when you walk through the door to go home, follow your dreams. I was lucky enough to learn that lesson before it was too late. Some aren’t so lucky.”
You can support Jeff and his cause by coming to Light the Grill on September 8th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Alton Baker Park in Eugene, or by donating an item for the silent auction or raffle. For more information, contact Jeff at (458) 210-2010 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.lightthegrill.org.
Jeri Reno is the executive vice president and chief operating officer at People's Bank of Commerce in Medford. Outside the bank, this industry veteran has been working under the alias "Farmer Jeri" for the past 13 years. Jeri and her husband, Ric, operate a 20-acre working farm called Pheasant Fields Farm. Each October, the farm holds its annual Harvest Festival, at which time it transforms into a Rogue Valley destination for fun, family, food, education, and above all, memories. Jeri also transforms. In addition to working part-time at the bank during the month of October, she kicks into high gear at the farm, working 12 hour shifts for 31 straight days.
Jeri is a California transplant, moving here with her husband just one year into their 38 year marriage. Before coming to Oregon, Jeri attended San Diego State University with the intent of becoming a medical lab technician. "Funny how you can end up with a career so different than what you first thought," recounts Jeri.
Her banking career began as many do in the industry, as a teller. She started at Western Bank in Ashland and, at a young age, became a retail branch manager. Years later she took on the position of operations officer at the bank's largest branch, which opened new doors for Jeri. She eventually became the regional service officer for the bank's southern territory, covering 15 branches. When People's Bank of Commerce was established in 1998, the founders, Mike Sickels and Ken Trautman, wanted Jeri on board. She obliged and joined as the bank's cashier and secretary. She was later promoted to her current position as chief operating officer.
Banking is a career where Jeri feels she can make a real difference in people's lives. "It's helping others to become better than they are today," states Jeri. "It's helping business customers become more successful; its helping young families reach their dreams of buying their first homes; it's coaching staff and providing opportunities so they can reach their career goals."
Jeri fondly recounts People's Bank of Commerce's 15th anniversary when staff and customers were invited to an open house. The event was well attended by business people and branch customers. "I recall looking over the room and feeling a sense of pride. It came from the realization that the years of hard work building a bank for all involved - from the board room to frontline staff - collectively played a part in helping those attend succeed. This is why I enjoy being a banker."
The reward and pride Jeri gleans from being a banker, from making a difference, is the same motivation that drives her and what she is able to accomplish at Pheasant Fields Farm. Jeri and her husband envisioned a place where they could share their farming experience and products directly with the consumer. They have achieved that and so much more.
Through their annual Harvest Festival, Pheasant Fields Farm be comes a true destination for agritainment. Each weekend in October, the farm is open to the public for a myriad of activities including a corn maze and pumpkin patch, hayrides, a cow train, face painting, a pear shooting gallery, live music - the list goes on. The farm also boasts a country store and kitchen. The kitchen's signature product, homemade caramel apples, sells out by midday, despite the fact that Jeri makes anywhere from 80 to 100 each morning.
Pheasant Fields Farm also serves as an education tool for area youth. During weekdays in October, the farm hosts field trips for schools and other organizations. Each year, over 4,500 students and parents receive agricultural lessons based on real-life examples from the farm.
The Harvest Festival is the most popular draw to the farm, but that may be changing. Four years ago, with the prodding of guests, Jeri began offering the farm as a wedding venue . She learned early in her banking career to capitalize on opportunity when it knocks on your door. Today, Pheasant Fields Farm is one of the premier wedding venues in the Rogue Valley. The farm also hosts farm-to-fork dinners and corporate events, making use of their magnificent 100- year-old pole barn and beautiful vistas.
For Jeri, the farm is more than a hobby or a job. It's about helping people build family traditions and make lasting memories. "I love hosting all the guests on the farm, particularly families out to enjoy each other's company as they wander our corn maze, take a hayride, pick a pumpkin in our patch or just sit under the shade of our 125-year-old walnut trees enjoying pumpkin pie. Seeing grandparents and young families come together to visit the farm year after year brings me back to my roots growing up."
Having a passion outside of banking has created a more balanced lifestyle for Jeri. It gets her out of the office and physically active. She encourages everyone to pursue their passion because, "if you do, you may wonder why you didn't do it sooner ."
Charlotte Boxer serves as executive vice president and director of commercial real estate at Pacific Continental Bank, a full time job to say the least, but not for Charlotte. When she’s not at the bank, she spends Thursdays through Sundays overseeing her restaurant in Newport, The Deep End Café.
Opening a restaurant was always something Charlotte had ambitions of doing. She grew up working in her parent’s restaurant and seeing the pride and joy it brought them. She recalls how her father, a former Jesuit priest who left the church to marry her mother, never found his calling in life until they opened up their restaurant. “It was the happiest he had ever been, and my mother and father enjoyed working together,” stated Boxer.
Charlotte attributes her success as a restaurateur in part to her 45 year banking career. “It taught me how to manage money, pay bills, buy real estate, manage employees, and live within my budget.” For Boxer, honesty and integrity are keys to success. As are hard work and perseverance. Boxer possesses all these traits.
Charlotte grew up in Spokane, less two years in Phoenix (too hot), Los Angeles (too crowded) and Sacramento (bad water). After college, Charlotte was confronted with two job opportunities on the same day: one with the Spokane Credit Bureau and one with Commerce Mortgage Company (soon to be U.S. Bank). The bureau job was 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the mortgage job was 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Boxer admitted to taking the mortgage job, simply because she could “stay out later having fun.”
Charlotte’s career started in the bookkeeping department but it didn’t take long for her to enter the commercial real estate (CRE) business. “I was smitten by real estate the first year, and I’ve called myself a real estate junkie ever since,” recounts Boxer. She joined Pacific Continental Bank in 2004 and has had various roles over the years, including CRE lending, serving on the Leadership Team and her current position managing her own CRE portfolio, originating new business and helping others underwrite CRE loans in each of the bank’s markets.
Pacific Continental Bank gave Charlotte opportunities she never dreamed possible, which in turn allowed her to rise to the top of her game. While extremely grateful for her banking career, the dream of owning a restaurant endured. In 2011, Charlotte took her first steps toward restaurant ownership by spending two and half years taking business classes at night, talking to restaurant owners and learning the do’s and don’ts of the business. She purchased a building for the restaurant and spent nearly two years remodeling it. This all while working full-time at the bank.
The Deep End Café, which Charlotte affectionately named in response to how people reacted when she told them she was opening a restaurant, officially opened on December 27, 2013. The timing was purposeful to assure she could iron out the kinks before the busy tourist season. “It paid off,” stated Boxer. “We made our mistakes and learned a lot in a very short period of time.”
While busy with her banking career, Charlotte points out that she is not an absent owner and that restaurant ownership is no hobby. She employs up to 25 people and takes that responsibility seriously, noting that her employees are “people who have families and depend on a paycheck.” Charlotte pays her employees good salaries and provides paid vacations, something you don’t always see in the hospitality industry and in coastal communities.
The key to running a successful restaurant, she states, is like any other business: “Hire the best people and let them do their job.” She has given free rein to her chef, whose “kitchen is his kingdom,” and has hired a manager for the front-of-the-house. Charlotte, meanwhile, oversees all financial aspects of the business, as well as equipment procurement, facilities management and, of course, greeting guests as often as possible.
The Deep End Café is located in the charming Nye Beach neighborhood in Newport just steps from the beach. The restaurant serves fresh seafood and makes everything from scratch. Whenever possible, Charlotte buys her crab and fish directly from the commercial fishing vessels located on Newport’s Bayfront. Next time you find yourself in Newport, be sure to stop by for their signature Crab & Shrimp Mac N’ Cheese.
When asked what advice she would give fellow bankers on pursuing their passion, she lamented, “Banking is such a regulated industry that we get little to no chance to dream and create – the regulators see to that.” But luckily for Charlotte, her parents instilled in her at a young age that she could do whatever and be whomever she wanted, and she believed them. Charlotte’s advice: “Find a passion, pursue it, and it will enhance your life in ways that will astound you.”
Farhad Dadkho serves as vice president and business development officer at MBank in Portland. His path to becoming a banker was an unlikely one, which we will get to shortly. Farhad is also a U.S. Soccer Official, refereeing games for the National Women’s Soccer League, including the Portland Thorns and Seattle Reign, as well as games for the United Soccer League’s Timbers 2 and Sounders 2 (Major League Soccer’s reserve squads for the first teams). Soccer has always been a major part of his life. Having grown up in Iran, there are two sports that everyone knows: futbal (soccer) and wrestling. “I wasn’t built like a wrestler,” states Farhad, “so soccer it was.”
Farhad was born in Tehran following the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Realizing that Iran was no longer a beneficial place to raise a family, his parents decided to try and come to the United States. As the Iranian hostage crisis and diplomatic ties between Iran and the U.S. worsened, the decision to move to the United States became easier, but increasingly difficult to achieve. His parents spent the next 15 years saving money and searching for countries with U.S. Embassies in order to apply for a Visa.
It wasn’t until 1994 that Farhad’s family was approved for a Visa to the United States. Farhad and his family flew to Los Angeles where they would start their new life in Orange County. Farhad recalls being enrolled midway through eighth grade at Imperial Middle School in Fullerton. At that time, he did not speak one word of English. The next few years would prove difficult. In addition to the huge language barrier, life in the states was a culture shock.
With the difficulties Farhad faced adjusting to his new life, there would prove to be one thing essential to his acclimation. “I found sports to by my savior,” said Farhad. He played soccer, water polo and swam. He also fell in love with the Los Angeles Lakers. His family could not afford cable TV at the time, so Farhad would follow the games on the radio. He vividly recalls listening to hall of fame Lakers announcer Chick Hearn on AM 570 KLAC, and falling asleep to the same station listening to oldies and jazz music. Farhad believes the combination of listening to the radio and the ESL classes he took in middle school helped him pick up English quickly, and also lose his accent. By his junior year in high school, Farhad was accustomed to English and comfortable reading and speaking before his classmates. In 1999 he graduated from high school with honors.
In 2001, Farhad and his family moved to Portland. He spent the next several years traveling abroad. Farhad returned to Portland in 2007 and graduated from Portland State University a few years later. While Farhad was in college he was approached by a friend to see if he wanted to make some extra money officiating soccer. Of course, he agreed. He started in 2008 as a Grade 8 referee (the designation for entry level officials) where he would often officiate between four to eight games per weekend. Today, Farhad is a Grade 4 National Referee, which enables him to officiate games at the national level including professional soccer. One of his most memorable games was a United Soccer League match between the Portland Timbers 2 and the Sacramento Republic 2 played in Portland at Providence Park. It was the first time his father was able to see him officiate a game in person.
After college, Farhad sat down with his dad to discuss a career in banking. In the Iranian/Persian culture, it is common for children to get the blessing of their parents for pretty much anything. So, with his dad’s approval, Farhad landed a job as a teller at U.S. Bank, with the hope of building a strong foundation for a long-term career. Now with MBank, Farhad has five years of banking under his belt and is working toward becoming a member of the senior management team. He is currently enrolled in the Oregon Bankers Association’s Executive Development Program, an intensive year-long course designed to cultivate and prepare future banking leaders.
On top of his full-time banking career, Farhad takes the physical fitness aspect of refereeing very seriously. He spends Monday through Friday running, lifting, studying, and mentally preparing for the next match. On the weekends, he is up at 5 a.m. to watch his beloved English Premier League. He admits that officiating is a major time commitment, which can have an impact on his personal life. In order to enjoy officiating as a hobby, Farhad manages his time very delicately.
His hard work and commitment have allowed him to pursue his professional goals while doing something he loves. “Having a hobby that is not related to one’s primary career is very important,” states Farhad. “After a stressful day or week, a hobby can rejuvenate and energize you, and officiating has been that tool for me. I also love soccer.”
Russell Seewald has been a banker for 28 years. He currently serves as vice president and loan officer at Bank of Eastern Oregon where he splits his time between offices in Ione, Oregon and Pasco, Washington. Like many seasoned bankers, he got his start out of college through a management trainee program at U.S. Bank. His uncle, who worked in the industry, helped draw Russell into the banking profession where he would have the opportunity to work with small business owners, farmers, ranchers and real estate professionals.
While clearly dedicated to banking, Russell acquired a new passion in 2008 when he began participating in hill climb competitions and other quasi racing events. In 2010, he started full time road course racing. “The competition and challenge of controlling a vehicle at speed is exhilarating,” says Russell. “It requires a great deal of focus and the satisfaction of doing well is like nothing else I have experienced.”
Russell is committed to racing. During the racing season, which runs from March through September, he travels up to 15 weekends. That’s on top of the seven weeks he spends preparing his car, making repairs and conducting testing. Speaking of his car, Russell currently sports a 1990 BMW 325 that was stripped down to its shell and rebuilt for racing. That will change soon, as he is in the process of building a new car that he plans to race in 2017 and qualify for the Sports Car Club of America Runoffs to be held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The new car, a 2005 BMW 330, will be raced in a class called SpecE46, which will allow Russell more opportunities to race in other parts of the country.
Russell competes in a racing class called PRO3, which is the largest and arguably the most competitive race group in the Pacific Northwest. The races he competes in are sanctioned by The International Conference of Sports Car Clubs. Races are held at road course tracks in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. At two of the tracks, Russell is racing at speeds up to 130 miles per hour. He has gained some success in his new sport, having won two championships and finishing in the top five the past two seasons.
His wife Kim has been very supportive of Russell’s hobby and even attends races when she can. Russell acknowledges that she does have some concern about the dangers (he has been in a couple fender benders), but that it’s very rare to get injured at this level of racing. His three children are happy and appreciative that their father is doing something he really enjoys. To which Russell states, “Don’t wait to do what you love. There is always a way to make it happen if you have the desire.”
After completing her MBA in 2004, Jill Postlewait Meengs was confronted with the realities of a poor job market and little work experience. She set foot into the family-run Oregon Coast Bank, and 10 years later has not looked back. Recently, Jill was inspired to take up one of her lifelong passions: writing. With a lot of hard work and dedication (and a little bribing from her husband), Jill published her first book Trigger in 2014.
Trigger is a mystery novel written in the vein of the Bourne Identity series. The inspiration for Jill’s book came from her many travel experiences, including backpacking in over 30 countries.
Jill serves as vice president, commercial lending at Oregon Coast Bank in Newport. She works at the bank alongside her father and two brothers. While she has en- joyed her 10 year banking career, she’s always had a passion for reading and a skill for writing. It was six years ago when Jill decided to put a concerted effort into writing a book, and in the process, discovered that it was an artistic outlet she had been yearning for, and in a lot of ways, therapeutic.
When I asked Jill what inspired her to write Trigger, the answer was a bit surprising: “I was bribed,” she said. In fact, Jill’s husband, whom she had met in graduate school and who knew how well-regarded her writing was, ultimately provided her the final piece of motivation needed: a flat screen TV for the bedroom and a shopping spree. It must have been an attractive offer because, after just one month, Jill had developed a complete outline for her story.
“I thought about a lot of things in that month,” said Jill. “I knew that I wanted to incorporate experiences from my travels and that it needed to have a strong female lead character. I wanted it to be a fun and exciting read, and it also needed to be realistic.”
It took Jill one year to write the rough draft, which she completed while still working full time at the bank. It then took another year to get the book edited to the point where she felt good about submitting it as a complete manuscript. “It became a labor of love and basically a second job since you really have to commit to make the time to write and then to getting it published,” said Jill.
Jill notes that anyone can self-publish, but getting an established publisher to put your book out there is tough. Writing a book is one thing, but, “in order to succeed, it had to be something I focused a lot of time and energy on.” Jill added, “I had to spend a lot of time contacting literary agents and independent publishers until I found one I could work with.” This included researching who she could submit to, how to submit, and then preparing the book for submission. After that, it’s a matter of playing the “waiting game”.
“It’s a very time consuming and frustrating process that makes it hard not to get discouraged to the point that you quit,” stated Jill. “After working so hard to actually complete a book that I was proud of, I wasn’t going to let anything stop me so I just kept at it and finally found a small publishing company in Seattle that wanted to publish my book.” When all was said and done, it ended up taking Jill longer to publish her book than it did to write it.
Jill’s book is published through a company called Booktrope, which uses a concept called “team publishing” where the author, editor, proof reader, book manager, project manager and cover artist all communicate via a private website. The process allowed Jill to be a part of everything from cover design to marketing. “In the end, it is really my book in every way,” said Jill. After the more than two year process, Trigger became available for purchase in December of 2014.
Jill drew upon her own experiences backpacking through Europe for material for Trigger. It was important to her that the book told a story that she herself would want to read. This meant the book had to be feasible, packed with adventure, exotic locations, mystery and romance. “I let my imagination do the rest,” said Jill. “Two of the best pieces of advice I have ever received are: to write what you know, and to write what you want to read — and that is what I did.”
“The Bourne Identity books and movies are similar to Trigger in many ways because they are set in Europe and have an international espionage element, though my heroine is a young woman on summer vacation.” stated Jill. There is a lot of adventure and action in Trigger as there is in the Bourne books. I very much wanted my main character to be strong and interesting, but also relatable. She also had to be part of the action, not just a damsel in distress. She had to be someone who got involved and could throw a punch but also get beat up because, in the real world, if you are in a fight you get hit.”
In what free time she has outside of her banking career and raising her daughter, Jill is busy jotting down ideas for future books. In fact, she is already working on a sequel to Trigger, as well as an outline for a third book.
When asked what advice she would give fellow bankers about the importance of pursuing their passion, Jill responded, “Make time for it and never give it up! Everyone has a busy life and has things that come up that make it difficult to continue to pursue something they love, but it is so important to have a passion in your life, a goal, something that drives you, and when you make time for it you feel better about everything, and when you achieve that goal, there is no better feeling in the world.”
Behind the Banker profiles Oregon bankers and their lives outside of their professional career.
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