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September 21, 2013
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New head of Ford Family Foundation surprised by depth of poverty in rural Oregon

Every morning, Anne Kubisch takes a stroll around Stewart Park. Before heading home to get ready for the day, she stops at a Dutch Bros. Coffee stand for a double-nonfat latte that she no longer has to ask for now that she is a regular customer.

A small-town atmosphere where friends and acquaintances outnumber strangers is one reason Kubisch left the hustle and bustle of New York City to lead the Ford Family Foundation in Roseburg.

“I also appreciate there are local community events designed to bring people together such as the Music on the Half Shell,” Kubisch said. “It’s really about community building.”

Another reason for coming west was the chance to put into practice what she knows about reviving communities.

But since taking over as president and CEO of the nonprofit organization in May, Kubisch, 57, admits she has been surprised at the level of poverty in rural Oregon.

“I think I didn’t quite understand that. I knew it, but I don’t think I realized how serious it was,” she said. “This made me realize we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Kubisch replaced Norm Smith, who retired after 16 years, to oversee a $750 million endowment that provides $35 million in charitable donations every year. The foundation this year completed a yearlong construction project that doubled the size of its headquarters on Stewart Parkway to 18,000 square feet. The foundation declined to disclose Kubisch’s salary, but according to forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service, Smith’s salary in 2011 was $339,510.

“We went out and found the best person in the U.S. that we could find for that position. Anne has spent her life preparing for this job,” the foundation’s board chairwoman, Karla Chambers, said. “This is a growing foundation that really focuses on rural Oregon, and what really stuck out is her experience working with foundations and making good investments.”

Early on in her career, Kubisch worked in the international development field on poverty, health and economic programs in Latin America and Africa. She spent the last two decades with the Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit leadership development and policy studies organization in New York.

Aspen Institute Executive Vice President Elliot Gerson said Kubisch has “done powerful and trailblazing work.”

“So while we were very sorry to see her go, I was not surprised that she was so attracted to the Ford Family Foundation and the special opportunities it affords her for different kinds of impact,” Gerson said. “She is perfect for the job, she felt it was time for a new challenge, and there is no question she will make a major and lasting contribution to the entire region. They are very lucky.”

Roseburg Forest Products founder Kenneth Ford and his wife, Hallie, established the foundation in 1957 to give back to timber communities in southwest Oregon and Northern California. In addition to its grant and scholarship programs, the foundation has its Institute for Community Building that helps rural citizens create vital communities through training, small grants and resources.

“Anne Kubisch is the perfect choice to take the foundation to the next level of excellence in its mission and commitment to the legacy of Kenneth and Hallie Ford,” Smith said. “My hope for Anne, her family and her wonderful colleagues of the Ford Family Foundation is that they all enjoy this special work of philanthropy, assisting others in a beautiful region.”

According to forms filed with the IRS, the foundation provided $11 million in scholarships in 2011 and nearly $14 million in grants. The beneficiaries included education and health programs, event centers, aquatic centers and parks.

“My big goal is to figure out how a highly respected philanthropy can use all of its resources at its disposal to make rural Oregon more vibrant,” Kubisch said. “Given the economy, we have to (consider) how do we invest in rural Oregon in a way to position rural Oregon to thrive in the 21st Century.”

As a daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service officer, Kubisch grew up bouncing from country to country. Her overseas experiences included views of some of the world’s poorest places.

“I grew up in poor places — Mexico, Brazil,” Kubisch said. “As an American, it makes you realize that most fundamental inequality is based on the accident of where you are born.

“I was so aware of it at such an early age. I grew up surrounded by it,” she continued. “It became part of who I was.”

That perspective led Kubisch to a career of studying how to create strong and healthy communities.

“This is my chance to take those lessons and try to operationalize them, to apply (them) on the ground,” she said. “Turning knowledge into practice is hard; this is my chance to do so.”

Chambers said it’s one thing to spend money, but it’s another to “move the needle toward positive change.”

“Anne has spent her life doing just that,” Chambers said. “The Ford family has made investments for years and years to create this endowment, and it’s our job to be good stewards of that money. We felt Anne was truly the best person that we could find to come in and help invest those dollars in efforts of positive change.”

Kubisch is married to Mark Montgomery, a professor at Stony Brook University in New York. Montgomery is staying in New York while the couple’s son, Nicholas, finishes high school. They also have a daughter, Marina, who attends college in Minnesota.

• You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at cgeorge@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Sep 21, 2013 11:41PM Published Sep 23, 2013 01:53PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.