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Simon Benson dinner raises more than $1 million for scholarships, academics

For the third year in a row, the Portland State University Foundation raised more than $1 million at its annual Simon Benson Awards Dinner. Over 1,400 people attended the gala honoring philanthropists and alumni.

The event Thursday at the Oregon Convention Center again exceeded its $150,000 Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund scholarship challenge grant and raised gifts for the Fund for PSU supporting students, faculty and programs. 

“We have made big strides in our efforts to boost privately funded scholarships at PSU,” Portland State President Wim Wiewel said in his remarks to the crowd. “In four years, overall philanthropic support to the university has more than tripled, allowing us to give more scholarships, as well as support standout academic programs.”

Wim highlighted the work of two students, Tavi Gupta, a high school dropout who found her academic footing at PSU, and Melecio Estrella, a highly recruited environmental sciences major who chose PSU over a host of other universities.

“Philanthropy transforms lives, especially at Portland State University,” says PSU Foundation President/CEO Françoise Aylmer. “Scholarships, endowed professorships, faculty research and academic programs are supported with private gifts. Lincoln Hall has been renovated and we will expand the School of Business, thanks to donors. Portland State has strong connections in this community and we are grateful.”

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta was the evening’s keynote speaker. Panetta shared stories from his new memoir, Worthy Fights, and reflected on 30 years of public service. 

The dinner included presentation of Simon Benson Awards for philanthropy and alumni achievement. The awards are named for one of Oregon’s early philanthropists.

Native Portland businessman and philanthropist Earle M. Chiles received the Simon Benson Award for Philanthropy for his many generous contributions in Portland and across the United States. At Portland State University, he has funded endowed scholarships and endowed professorships. As president of the Chiles Foundation, he has also made significant gifts to the University of Portland, Providence Portland Medical Center and has assisted thousands of Oregonians through grants to non-profit organizations. Chiles is the chief executive officer of Chiles and Affiliated Companies, and served on the board of directors of the company his grandfather founded, Fred Meyer, Inc.

Christine and David Vernier also received the Simon Benson Award for Philanthropy. Their company, Vernier Software & Technology, produces software and hardware for science classrooms across the country and around the world and is regarded as one of the best companies to work for in Oregon. Business success has made it possible for the Verniers to give generously to numerous organizations in Oregon, including OMSI, the Oregon chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Loaves & Fishes, and the Oregon Food Bank. At Portland State University, they are advancing science education by supporting endowed scholarships, the Center for Science Education, the Science Research and Teaching Center, and the University Venture Development Fund.

Ramon S. Torrecilha, Ph.D. (PSU: ’84, M.S. ’86) received the Simon Benson Award for Alumni Achievement. Born in Brazil, Torrecilha created a new life for himself in the United States as a respected and influential university professor and administrator. Currently a full professor of sociology at California State University-Dominguez Hills, Torrecilha has served in a variety of faculty and administrative posts—including provost and executive vice president at Berkeley College in New York and executive vice president and acting president at Mills College in California. He brings a commitment to multiculturalism to the institutions he serves, and his inspiring story demonstrates how Portland State University’s mission of access transforms lives.

Bank of America was this year’s presenting sponsor. Principal sponsors were: Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation; Fred Meyer, Inc.; Jack and Lynn Loacker; Schlesinger Family Foundation; Vernier Software & Technology; and Howard S. Wright, a Balfour Beatty company. 

President Wiewel's open office hours for faculty and staff Thursday, Nov. 13 - 9:30am , in the Simon Benson House.