PSU raises a record $465,000 at Simon Benson Awards honoring the Furman and Mark families
Author: Suzanne Pardington, University Communications
Posted: October 20, 2011

Portland State University (PSU) raised $465,000 for students, faculty and programs at the twelfth annual Simon Benson Awards on Wednesday, a record for the University's biggest fundraising event of the year. 

About 1,600 people came to the dinner at the Oregon Convention Center to honor The Furman Family and The Mark Family, two Portland-area families who have given millions of dollars to the arts, education and nonprofit organizations over several decades. Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state, gave the keynote speech. 

"The generosity and leadership of the Furman and Mark families have made them modern-day pioneers in philanthropy," said PSU President Wim Wiewel. "Their gifts and those of thousands of others create opportunities for students and connect the resources of a great urban university with the needs and challenges of our community."

The money raised at the event will go to the Fund for PSU, which supports students, faculty and programs campus-wide. Named after one of Oregon's first philanthropists, the Simon Benson Award was created in 1999 to honor the state's contemporary pioneers of philanthropy. Recipients are tireless community leaders who give generously of time and resources and whose legacies affect the lives of generations of Oregonians, past, present, and future. Last year, the dinner raised $285,000.

Philanthropic support to PSU rose more than 22 percent to $15.7 million in 2010-11, up from $12.8 million in 2009-10.

William Furman is the co-founder, president and CEO of The Greenbrier Companies in Lake Oswego, a multifaceted rail and marine barge manufacturing company operating in North America and Europe. His late wife, Joyce, was passionate about social work and served PSU on the School of Social Work Advisory Board.  The couple’s major philanthropy at PSU include the newly established Joyce N. Furman Fund in the School of Social Work, which will fund efforts to prevent youth homelessness by improving foster care. In collaboration with Ben & Jerry’s, this project opened a “partnershop” on the PSU campus this summer, offering employment to homeless teens and young adults participating in programs of New Avenues for Youth. The Furmans were also leadership donors to the School of Social Work’s Campbell Endowed Professorship in Children, Youth and Family Mentoring which focuses on developing and sharing best practices in the field with social work practitioners nationally.

Melvin "Pete" Mark is the chairman of the Melvin Mark Companies, a commercial real estate firm founded by his father Mel in 1945. He and his late wife, Mary, have supported a variety of institutions within Portland, particularly the Portland Art Museum. He is a board member of the museum, as was Mary until her passing in 2008. Mark is a former member of PSU's President's Advisory Board and the athletics department's Ultimate Tailgate Auction Committee. Gifts from various members of the Mark family to PSU include support for the College of Urban and Public Affairs, President's Circle, David Weisenburg Memorial Endowed Scholarship for Veterans, and the Center for Real Estate.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice served as national security advisor and secretary of state under President George W. Bush. She is currently a professor of political economy at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and is the Thomas and Barbara Stephensen Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.

The Simon Benson Awards Dinner kicked off PSU Weekend, which takes place on campus October 21-23. PSU Weekend is a unique community-wide event that welcomes alumni and friends to campus for a series of educational and entertainment activities. This PSU Weekend will feature tours and faculty presentations in the newly renovated Science Research and Teaching Center and free seminars on Saturday. For more information about PSU Weekend, see