Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

When it comes to education, Whittaker has left her mark


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: DANNY ABREGO / PORTLAND REIGN PHOTOGRAPHY - Wilsonville resident Kathryn Whittaker is one of four nominees for this years Wilsonville First Citizen award. If it has to do with schools in the Wilsonville or West Linn communities, odds are that Kathryn Whittaker either has a hand in it or knows someone who does.

From her past role as the president of the West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation to volunteer work with Lego Robotics, dance, Boy Scouts and much more, Whittaker stays involved in enough different activities and organizations to keep several people busy. And that’s on top of raising four children with her husband, Ken, a pediatrician.

All that has not gone unnoticed in Wilsonville, where Whittaker recently was named as one of four finalists for the 2014 Wilsonville First Citizen award.

I just felt so, ‘Wow, people took the time to make the nomination,’” said Whittaker. “I feel so appreciative. And then I thought, ‘OK, I could think of 10 to 20 individuals I could nominate, easily,’ so I feel very honored to be in good company of so many people across Wilsonville.”

The First Citizen award winner will be announced at Treasures of Wilsonville, the 13th annual Wilsonville Rotary Club Heart of Gold Banquet, set this year for 5 p.m. March 15 at the Wilsonville Holiday Inn, 25425 SW 95th Ave.

In addition to Whittaker, this year’s nominees include Wilsonville residents Leigh Crosby, Vern Wise and Steve Perry.

At the Heart of Gold banquet, there will dinner, as well as silent and live auctions prior to the awards. Tickets are $50 each, or $400 for a table of eight. Tickets can be purchased from Bob Harland at 503-705-9727, online at wilsonvilleheart.com, or from any Wilsonville Rotarian.

“I feel very honored,” said Whittaker, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to Oregon nearly 20 years ago. “There are tremendous people here who volunteer for causes around the city, and I’m tremendously honored and humbled, and confused in the sense that there are many people in this town that deserve this honor and recognition.”

Whittaker recently completed a three-year term as president of the West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation. For two of those years, she engaged primarily in the thankless job of fundraising by engaging the community and starting new campaigns. And that’s just the start of her school-related activities.

“That is a huge job, and the people who have volunteered for that are some of the finest people we have,” she said. “They are leaders and they are not afraid. It’s a job you have to do because you’re dedicated to the school children in the area and you want to make things right.”

Her penchant for volunteerism, like most of those nominated for First Citizen, has its origins in Whittaker’s childhood. Now the mother of a second-grader at Boones Ferry Primary School, she still remembers being that age and watching her father leave the house on weekends to volunteer as a town councilman, planning commissioner and finally mayor of Moraga, Calif.

“I would always go with him to the town hall, usually on Saturday and Sunday,” she said. “And it’s just something I’ve always done, to volunteer for some organization that needs the help. I see a need, and I want to do something about it.”

As a college student at the University of California Berkley, Whittaker took students each summer to Washington, D.C., for internships. After earning her law degree from the University of Michigan, she continued volunteering even after taking a clerk position with a federal judge in Atlanta.

“I wanted to connect, so I volunteered for the food bank there,” she said. “I think it’s the greatest way to connect to a new community.”

Life took her back to the West Coast and then north to Oregon, where she met her future husband, who grew up in Wilsonville and attended Wilsonville Primary School when it was the only school in town. Since then, she’s watched the town grow in size, yet retain its small-town atmosphere and community spirit.

And when it came time to give back, she turned inward for inspiration. Having given up a promising legal career with the birth of her first child, Kylie who is now 17, it was only natural that those attentions should also include her children.

“We have four kids, so the need that was most directly presented to me was in the schools,” she said. “We wanted to figure out something that could help all the schools across West Linn and Wilsonville.”

Four years ago, that work culminated with her role in reviving the once-moribund West Linn-Wilsonville Education Foundation. She has now finished a three-year term as president and leaves behind a much stronger organization that has provided the West Linn-Wilsonville School District with several hundred-thousand dollars in donations during that time.

“The foundation was something I thought needed some support and help, it had been defunct in the schools, and we had been going through tough times with school funding,” she said.

Whittaker also has served on the school boundary committee that redrew boundaries for the opening of Lowrie Primary School in 2012. She currently mentors and judges the mock Congressional hearings for eighth-grade students at Wood Middle School and last year coached the team to a second-place finish at the national competition in Washington, D.C.

She also works with Lego Robotics, the Willamette United Soccer Club, Boy Scouts, the Wilsonville High School Dance Team and the West Linn-Wilsonville School District’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) program.

“I will be humbled,” she said when asked how she would react to being named First Citizen. “There are excellent citizens that have lived in this community for a long time and who have given in so many different aspects. I’m very humbled, because no one person can represent all of that. It’s about just doing your best and contributing something to inspire another generation to be involved in their community.”