Meet Jan and Jack McGowan, the first Beerchasers-of-the-Quarter in 2020.
Oregon Governor Tom McCall, the founder of SOLV, once said, ”Heroes are not statues framed against a red sky. They are individuals who say, ‘This is my community and it is my responsibility to make it better.’”
There can be no doubt that by Governor McCall’s eloquent definition, Jack and Jan McGowan are true heroes, as few Oregonians have given as much time and effort as they have to making all of Oregon’s communities better.
SOLV has played a special role in modern Oregon history, and Jack and Jan’s intelligence, integrity, and indefatigable energy were instrumental in its success.
When I asked Kerry Tymchuk, Executive Director of the Oregon Historical Society, a good friend of the McGowans, to write a short commendation to start this post, he agreed immediately. Kerry, himself, is an outstanding Oregonian, having received Oregon Business and Industry’s (OBI) Statesman of the Year Award in 2018.
The picture above was taken on the seventeen-acre property at which Jack and Jan McGowan reside – about seven miles outside of Sisters, Oregon bordering Indian Ford Meadows.
The couple moved into the house and became caretaker/managers of it multiple properties near Sisters in 2008 through the generosity of very close friends.
They returned to make Sisters their home almost twenty-three years after they were married in nearby Camp Sherman and had their rehearsal dinner at the Sisters Hotel.
It’s a beautiful forested acreage with geese flying, hummingbirds fluttering, eagles swooping, woodpeckers tapping (four species – White-headed, Downy, Hairy and Northern Flicker) and wild creatures ranging from deer and elk to bear and coyote.
here are guest quarters and a wonderful greenhouse in which Jan spends a lot of time during the winter when the average snowfall is about eight inches and the temperature stays around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. (Jack doesn’t even have the key to the structure housing the plants.)
Both Jan and Jack had extremely interesting and divergent backgrounds before they met – when they worked for former Portland Mayor Bud Clark starting in 1985. I’ll explore each’s story, but their collective legacy is the leadership and sustained effort they devoted in shaping and developing SOLV (Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism).
SOLV was created in 1969 and celebrated its fifty-year anniversary in 2019. (The non-profit dropped the words from its name to just the acronym in 1998 and added the E in 2012 to reflect its expanded mission in the community and environment.)
What is Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter?
For context, besides visiting and reviewing bars, pubs and breweries, each quarter on this blog, I “honor” an individual(s) or an organization who may or may not have anything to do with bars or beers.
Past recipients – almost all of whom I have known personally, have included authors, athletes, media personalities, academicians and military veterans. (To see their posts, click the tab below the header at the top of the page.)
They all have interesting stories, notable achievements in their careers or public service and deserve recognition for their contributions to make it a better world.
Although there has been a father-daughter awardee (Jack and Amy Faust) Jan and Jack McGowan are the first couple to be so named and by inference, the organization they co-directed to become a powerful and effective force in Oregon environmental history.
Lessons to be Learned!
When reviewing their tireless efforts for SOLV, there’s a distinct lesson for those who feel overwhelmed and powerless to address complex Oregon or national problems. Pay attention to this story……
The story of SOLV and the McGowans epitomizes using one’s energy, talents and creativity to build and sustain a successful non-profit organization. And most Oregon citizens, political officials, corporate and non-profit leaders and media outlets understand and respect SOLV’s contribution to their State.
As just one example, Jack and Jan are on the cover of the December 2003 Oregon Business Magazine recognizing SOLV as one of the recipients of the Oregon Philanthropical Awards in 2017 for effecting dynamic changes in Oregon communities. And Jack McGowan, as was Jack Faust mentioned above, was the recipient of the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors Portland First Citizen Award – Faust in 1993 and McGowan in 2006.
Jack was the Grand Marshall of the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade in 2009, the Oregon State Parks Foundation published the couple’s book The Oregon Coast – a Legacy Like No Other in 2017 and Jan continues to lead her successful firm consulting for non-profits formed in 2008.
Jack received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Pacific University. Among his political mentors were US Senator Mark Hatfield and State Senator Ted Hallock.
The couple’s other honors and civic service are too numerous to mention here. As Jack’s profile on Linked-in states, “Retired, but still very much involved!”
It’s a saga of smart and creative marketing and use of the media, cultivating fruitful partnerships – including their marriage – political savvy, perseverance through challenges, dynamic management and maybe a little bit of luck as well.
In 1990, Jack McGowan became the first paid director of the organization founded by Governor Tom McCall in 1969 as a result of a heated political compromise with the bottle and beverage industry over Oregon Bottle Bill Legislation. It was a joint decision by the couple based on their love for Oregon as Jack’s initial annual compensation was $10,000 with no benefits.
Jack smiled when he stated, “When I started SOLV had no staff, no office, no phone, 100 sheets of letterhead and $12,000 in a checking account.” The office for the first five yeas, was in the family room of their house in Helvetia.
Besides having an infectious grin, is a splendid story-teller and several times during our conversation such as when talking about his parents or about returning to Manhattan with the Flight for Freedom from Portland in 2001, he teared up. Although it is a cliché, Jack truly wears his heart on his sleeve – in this case a western ranch shirt…..
After Jan joined the effort in 1991, they operated out of their home for the first five years. And from that staff of one and budget of $12,000 to the time of their retirement in 2008, it grew to a staff of twenty-six (now 32) and a budget of $2.6 million and tens of thousands of volunteers.
The Beach Cleanup….and Then Some!
The initial Oregon Beach Cleanup was in 1984. The McGowans have been to 34 of the 36 including the first one for their son, Travis, when he was three years old. It has become an Oregon tradition involving countless individual volunteers and hundreds of organizations.
“Alarmed by the dangers of plastics to wildlife, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife employee Judie Neilson Hanson organized the first state-wide beach cleanup, and SOLVE helped.
That year, 2,100 volunteers collected 2,800 bags of trash. In 1986, Hanson coordinated beach clean-ups with similar efforts in fourteen coastal states. The following year, SOLVE took over leadership of the Oregon’s beach clean-ups, which have continued to be successful.” (From the Oregon Encyclopedia)
SOLVE is now the largest volunteer organization in the Northwest. And the initial beach cleanup has expanded to become a Beach and Riverside Cleanup with far greater scope. (Take a look at this graphic demonstrating the involvement in the 2019 Cleanup).
Janet Van Domelen, was born in Anchorage and raised in Banks, Oregon. Her dad was career Army and she was one of six children. I first met her when we both worked at the Oregon State Bar in 1979. “Jan Van” – her moniker – was the Bar’s only receptionist and first rate at what most of her co-workers viewed as a terrible and stressful job.
Any person who was dissatisfied with the service provided by his or her lawyer, believed their attorney had committed malpractice or had violated Bar ethics rules — or just didn’t like lawyers in general……would call or write the Bar which was the admissions and disciplinary arm of the Oregon Judicial Branch.
Membership was approximately 7,500 Oregon lawyers at that juncture. (In 2019, that number had grown to over 12,000.) So you can imagine the volume of calls and letters received was significant
And many of the callers were harsh and rude – sometimes under-standably, and they vented on Jan Van. She handled them with grace and aplomb. We all knew that she would move on and have a great professional career.
That started when she left in late 1984 and interviewed to the Executive Assistant for future Mayor Bud Clark who took office in 1985.
Jack who was to become the Mayor’s Press Secretary was working with the Transition Team and he was one of four people interviewing the finalists. Jan later told a friend who inquired about the interview:
“I think the interview went well, but even if they offered it to me, I don’t think I could take it. Jack McGowan is the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen and I wouldn’t get any work done.”
She obviously overcame this concern and served for six years as Coordinator for the Mayor’s Office of International Relations. She headed the Sister City Program and traveled throughout Asia in this role. When she left, Portland had expanded to seven Sister Cities. (More on Jan’s post SOLV career below.) They couple started dating and got married in 1986.
When my wife and I joined the McGowans at the Sisters’ home – the first time I had met Jack, I knew immediately I would relate to him because of our mutual New York roots. In face, both of us born in 1948 – Jack on August 2nd and me eighty seven days earlier. (Jack treated me like a respected elder…..)
Jack was born in Jackson Heights – a multi-ethnic neighborhood in the Borough of Queens and I in Merrick, Long Island in Nassau, County right outside the City – according to Google Maps – as infants, we lived only an about an hour or twenty-three miles apart by the Sunrise Highway – part of New York State Route 27……..
Jack’s grandfather, John, came to America from Ireland and met his future wife, Nora. They had three children, one of which was George (Jack’s dad), John – the oldest and Marie. They lived in Manhattan.
His grandfather held numerous jobs (dockworker, chauffer for a prominent NYC family and lastly, the owner of a bar on West 57th St. in Manhattan named “McGowan’s.” When Prohibition came, John continued to operate it as a speakeasy.
During a botched hold-up, Turner killed John, was arrested, found guilty and sent to Sing Sing Prison’s electric chair where he was executed on February 2, 1933.
The picture below shows confessed killer, Turner, handcuffed to Detective Jacobs, waiting for a grilling in the DA’s office. Throughout the trial, he showed little, if any, remorse and played solitaire. It’s from the book New York Noir – Crime Photos from the Daily News Archive.
Nora converted their Jackson Heights home to a three-bedroom boarding house. Jack’s parents, George and Rosemary had a one room apartment several blocks away and Jack was born in 1948. He slept on a convertible sofa in the living room through high school.
Fast forward to 1966 when Jack graduated from high school.
He and his buddy, Richie Grasso, went to work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as floor clerks. (“In our neighborhood, every guy had an “ie” attached to his first name. I was Jackie and Grasso was Richie.”)
Starting as a floor clerk and then to a floor broker was about the only honest way a kid from New York City with no higher education could grow up to be a millionaire.
Richie loved the work, but after four years Jack, who was then living in Greenwich Village – across the street from Bob Dylan – grew disillusioned with the job, the War in Viet Nam and wondered what he was going to do with his life, so he quit in 1970.
Having never been west of New Jersey, he decided he was going to hitchhike to California for a new beginning. (Stay tuned for a marvelous follow-up story about Richie and Jackie below.)
But fate intervened when he and a friend were waiting for a light at the intersection of 6th Ave and 61st Street in downtown Manhattan.
I don’t know if Jack was humming “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” but singer, Paul Simon, was also waiting for the light and they started what ended up being a twenty-five minute conversation in which the noted singer advised Jack not to go to California:
“Try the Pacific Northwest – Seattle is a lot like San Francisco and Portland is a great smaller city.” (Jack has the ability to keep people actively engaged in even a curbside chat!)
So Jack went up to Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts and joined two guys who were looking for a third person to share expenses and drive to SF. He got to Portland, by also sharing a ride – where he had no family, no car, no friends and no job, but decided “I need to get serious.”
Thus, while living in an $82 per month (including utilities) apartment – one of four in an old house at NW 24th and Pettygrove, he worked as a roofer, fork-lift operator and talked his way into a sales job at the British Motor Car dealer in Portland. (He had his mom send out his New York suits and told the manager that he had just left his job on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.)
With his sights set higher, in 1974, using his personal appearance and ability to speak, he coaxed his way into becoming on-air host and Director of Promotion/Public Affairs at KINK-FM – a job he had for four years. This was the first step in what was to become his first career – in broadcasting and public relations and the chance to use his creative talents as shown below:
1978 – 1981: Public Relations Director for the Oregon Zoo. He created and produced the “Your Zoo, And All That Jazz” concert series, the world’s first musical series held in a zoological park.
1981 – 1984: Partner, Biggs-McGowan Public Relations/Marketing. He conceptualized and co-produced Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz.
1984 – 1986: Assistant to Portland Mayor J.E. Bud Clark. He was liaison/spokesperson to the Portland/National media and business communities.
From 1986-1989, Jack was a correspondent and on-air host for NBC Affilitate, KGW -TV Northwest News with Teresa Richardson and Elaine Busby. He covered Oregon issues and hosted various international programs from Japan, Australia and the Amazon region of Brazil.
Besides his part-time broadcasting gigs, Jack was a house-husband, doing freelance writing and taking care of the McGowan’s son, Travis, who was born in 1987. Jan was still working for Mayor Clark. And then in 1990, SOLV came into the picture for Jack and Jan left the City in early 1991 and became Co-Director.
So Jack and Jan “retired” in 2008 and are living in Sisters. SOLVE celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009. Jan, based on her extensive experience with non-profits and her entrepreneurial inclinations, formed a successful sole-proprietor consulting firm – in 2008 to assist non-profits in strategic planning, fund-raising and leadership development.
Her first client was SOLVE and she now has clients in Oregon and Washington. Typical of the reviews is this one from Gwen Wysling, Executive Director of Bethlehem Inn in Bend – a shelter and resource for homeless persons:
“Jan is a gifted facilitator and strategic thinker. She worked closely with our staff, board and stakeholders to quickly navigate and help bring about positive and dynamic organizational change and development. She employs her talents genuinely and unselfishly.”
Meanwhile Jack starts serving on various non-profit boards such as Oregon Public Broadcasting, the Providence Medical Foundation and is elected to the Board of the Sisters/Camp Sherman Fire District.
In 1993, he narrates a documentary for KPTV named “Beyond Eden’s Gate: The Legacy of the Oregon Trail” which wins the Western Heritage Award (“Established in 1961 by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. The award honors the legacy of men and women for their works in literature, music, film, and television.”).
Winners receive “The Wrangler,” a bronze sculpture of a cowboy on horseback and it is proudly displayed on the McGowan’s deck.
The Oregon Flight for Freedom
In 2001, we were all stunned by the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. But Jack, having grown up there said, “When I saw the Towers go down, it affected me viscerally.”
Portland travel agency icon, Sho Dozono, his wife Loen, the late Commissioner Nick Fish and Oregon Congressman David Wu, John Ray along with Portland influencers, Len Bergstein and Elaine Franklin collectively began orchestrating the concept in the lobby of KGW television studios shortly after the attack on NYC.
At the time, Jack was co-hosting the local part of a national broadcast and pledge drive for the rescue workers.
Elaine Franklin originated the name “Flight for Freedom” and Loen Dozono came up with the vision of a “Reverse Oregon Wagon Train” – only by air.
When New York City was struggling with the aftermath and people were avoiding airline flights as being too hazardous, they decided let’s get a group of Oregonians and “Fly to New York City, look terrorism in the face and not blink!”
Jack and John Ray went three days early as an advance party to pave the way for the official flight, which included Oregon dignitaries (even Mayor Vera Katz notwithstanding her fear of flying) and regular folks who felt compelled to show their support for New York and provide an urgently needed economic shot in the arm. (Jan stayed home because she was coordinating the Beach Cleanup) The Oregonian’s story was remarkable – especially for Jackie McGowan from Jackson Heights!
The unique group of about 500 flew into Manhattan where the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel was virtually empty. (Delta Airlines gave a great deal on cost of the flight.) Few people were going to Manhattan unless they absolutely had to – especially tourists. The Oregonians filled the hotel – the only cost was for the room tax. All other lodging expense was gladly absorbed by hotel management. The Flight was covered by national and international print and broadcast media.
And according to Jack:
“New York City went crazy! Cops hugged us. We went to a restaurant and when the maitre’d announced that we were the group from Oregon, we got a standing ovation and multiple parties debated as to whom would pick up the bill for the meal.
We met with Rudy Guliani and Governor Pataki and had appearances on Good Morning America and Today.”
But the highlight for Jack was when they asked ten of the Oregonians, including him, to ring the traditional opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on October 8th. They gathered next to the Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.
Jack who ended up standing next to the NYSE Chair and CEO (from 1995 to 2002) who according to print media sources was making approximately $140 million annually, looked to his side and exclaimed,
“Hi Richie. How are you doing?” And Richard Grasso, responded, ‘Hey Jackie!” It was the first time they had seen each other since 1970.
Jack said that the trip to New York was, “One of the most profound experiences of my life,” and he was also involved in a reunion tour ten years later to commemorate the anniversary of the event with hundreds of firefighters from all over the country and to coincide with the World Trade Center Memorial opening on September 11, 2011.
Well, the McGowans are now enjoying their well deserved retirement, staying active and traveling. Last fall, they toured the Southwest in a seven week RV trip. This wonderful couple, who shuns the limelight, has a lasting Oregon legacy and earned a well-deserved toast as Beerchasers-of-the-Quarter.
Jan and Jan served on the Board of the Sister’s Quilt Show and the Sister’s Folk Festival, respectively. What are Jan and Jack’s future plans for public service in their community? Time will tell but maybe it can best be described as:
“Retired, but still very much involved!”
And if you want to honor their service and commitment, consider making a donation to SOLVE – or better yet, participating in the 2020 Spring Beach Cleanup on March 28th.