Savoring the excellence of thank yous and goodbyes

 In Campaign, News
Surprise major gift announced

The event was billed as thank you and goodbye, yet the evening was equally about welcome and hello.

Savoring Excellence, held at the Hilton Vancouver Washington on May 24, 2022, was the first in-person event Clark College Foundation has hosted since 2018. It brought together donors, partners, alumni, students, faculty and staff into an exquisitely decorated and equally delicious gala to highlight the foundation’s final stages of its $32 million Promising Pathways fundraising campaign. Several hundred guests were reunited and welcomed with laughs, hugs and the chance to say hello in person once again.

Several individuals received awards for their generous financial support, decades-long volunteering and outstanding contributions as Clark alumni and community friends. It was during the acknowledgment of exceptional partners that Tom Cook, a major contributor, pledged $2 million to Clark’s cybersecurity program. Guests leaped to their feet and the room erupted into applause as one of the top 10 largest gifts in the campaign was revealed.

Cook, who was one of two to receive the foundation’s prestigious Award for Excellence, is a self-made Clark County businessman who has built one of the largest restaurant franchises in the country with sales approaching $1 billion. He recently sold most of this culinary empire and is focusing on philanthropic efforts.

“You know this community has given me so much, and it’s now an opportunity for me to give back to the wonderful people of Clark County,” Cook expressed in a video during the event.

Cook then appeared on stage to accept the award and publicly make his latest pledge to Clark College. He was flanked by CEO Lisa Gibert, and foundation board chair LeAnne Bremer and vice chair, Patrick Ginn. Watch Cook’s video

Jerry Smith also received the Award for Excellence for his sustained giving to the college’s nursing program in memory of his wife, Lou. Smith told an emotional story via video of how he came to support Clark just months after the death of his wife, who was a registered nurse. Giving to Clark has been the solace Smith needed while he grieved. He has since financially supported dozens of nursing students who pursued their passion, graduated and passed their medical exams. Smith saves thank you letters he gets from the students, attends their pinning ceremonies and frequently meets with them and their families.

“That’s one of the high points of my life: to meet the nursing students face-to-face and talk to them, hear their story … and see the joy it brings them,” he said. Smith then joined Gibert and others on stage to accept his award. Watch Smith’s video

Goodbye to a CEO

The evening was about recognizing and saying goodbye to outgoing CEO Lisa Gibert, who has served in that role for 16 years at the foundation. Throughout the night, four separate video clips of Gibert’s reflections broadcast some of her experiences, such as her favorite Clark College Foundation project (Oliva Early Learning Center); her next step in her career (real estate projects at the foundation); a job that evolved into a passion; and the need for the next campus in Ridgefield, Wash.

Toward the end of the evening, Gibert took to the stage, wearing a magnificent deep green sequined dress that matched the glittering crystal beads that were the backdrop of the stage. With emotion thickening in her voice, she spoke of family support, the death of her beloved husband, Brett, her “amazing staff” and the foundation board and the hundreds of people she has forged lasting relationships with while serving as the foundation’s leader.

“To my friends, community supporters, there are so many of you… I am so grateful to you,” she said.

Gibert then turned her attention to a special person who has stood by her for the 23 years that she has been employed at the foundation.

“Mr. Keith Koplan has stood by Clark College and Clark College Foundation in good times and during challenging times. But there was never a doubt that he was fully committed to the success of the two entities and the benefits that a good education can provide,” she said.

Following a video about Koplan’s commitment to Clark, Gibert awarded him the foundation’s first Lifetime Achievement for Volunteerism Award for his 34 years of continuous service. Koplan’s wife, Merle, joined Gibert on stage to accept the award on his behalf and said a few words for Keith who was unable to attend the event. Watch the video

Music, alumni and hellos

Sprinkled throughout the show were live performances by Clark’s Concert Choir; as well as jazz trio Chris Ramirez on bass, Michael Rodenkirch on piano and Kiran Raphael on drums—all Clark students; and a vocal performance by Christina Bulanov ’20 accompanied by the jazz trio. The musical numbers were performed in the back of the room opposite the stage while two jumbotron screens projected their images for the audience and virtual viewers.

Clark President Karin Edwards took to the stage and spoke about the effects the pandemic has had on Clark students and the decline in enrollment, yet she said the virus had not defined what Clark represents to the community. Guided Pathways, an academic and support services makeover set in motion before the pandemic, is already improving completion rates for students. And she talked about the remodeled Tod and Maxine McClaskey Culinary Institute, thanks to a major gift from the McClaskey Family Foundation during the Promising Pathways campaign; and state funding for Clark College at Boschma Farms, a new Clark campus that will break ground on June 1, 2022, in Ridgefield.

Five special alumni were highlighted for their substantial contributions to their communities. Sen. Annette Cleveland ’87, author Cosette “CoCo” Leary ’09, government official Marissa Madrigal ’96 and Dr. Tom Maresh ’60 are the newest recipients of the Outstanding Alumni Award for 2021-2022. Activist Jasmine Tolbert ’95 is the Rising Star Award recipient.

The event wrapped up with a “welcome and hello” message from incoming foundation CEO, Calen Ouellette, who noted he has big shoes to fill following in the footsteps of Gibert. Ouellette began his new role on May 31, 2022.

Watch a quick recap of the highlights of the Promising Pathways campaign.

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