Simon Benson gala raises record $1.2 million for Portland State University
Author: Tanya Gross, University Advancement
Posted: October 23, 2013

Portland State University raised more than $1.2 million—a new record—at its 14th annual Simon Benson Awards Dinner on Tuesday at the Oregon Convention Center. More than 1,800 people—another record—attended the event honoring philanthropy and alumni achievement.

Anderson Cooper, award-winning journalist and CNN news anchor, captivated the audience with his stories of covering news around the globe and engaged in a lively question and answer session with Peter Bhatia, editor of The Oregonian.
(Pictured from left: Wim Wiewel, Erika Miller, Rick Miller and Bill Stoller)

“This was one of our most successful events to date,” said Vice President for University Advancement Françoise Aylmer. “Not only did we raise funds, but we also raised the profile of philanthropy at Portland State University. It was a great opportunity to catch up with PSU friends and make new ones.”

President Wim Wiewel used the occasion to announce that Rick Miller MBA ’91 and his wife, Erika Miller, are lead donors with gifts totaling $8 million to the School of Business Administration building campaign. PSU will triple the size of its business school, adding classrooms, project rooms, an auditorium and other improvements. The project will be funded with $40 million in state bonds approved by the legislature this year and $20 million in private gifts. PSU has already raised $14 million in private gifts and expects to begin construction in January 2015. 

The Millers received this year’s Simon Benson Award for Philanthropy. In addition to PSU, they have given to Portland area public schools, the Ronald McDonald House, Self Enhancement Inc., Make-a-Wish Foundation, University of Oregon, and Portland Community Church. Rick Miller is co-founder of Rogue Venture Partners, helping Oregon-based entrepreneurs and early stage businesses with funding and mentorship, and is founder of the Avamere Group, one of the largest senior health care and housing providers in the Northwest. Erika Miller graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a degree in international business and foreign language. She led a successful career in banking in Seattle and Portland and now spends her time volunteering in local public schools and raising their family.

Bill Stoller MBA ’79 received this year’s Simon Benson Award for Alumni Achievement. He co-founded Express Employment Professionals, an international staffing company with more than 600 franchises, and owns Xenium, a human resource management company. Stoller transformed his family’s Dundee Hills turkey farm into the award-winning Stoller Family Estate, a solar-generating, gravity-flow winery and the first in the United States to attain gold-level LEED certification. Stoller is also co-owner of Chehalem, a Newberg winery. 

Event proceeds support scholarships to ensure access to all—thanks to a matching grant from the Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund—as well as innovative programs and exceptional faculty. PSU created the Simon Benson Award for Philanthropy in 1999 and named it after one of Oregon’s first philanthropists to honor the region’s contemporary philanthropists. PSU launched the Simon Benson Award for Alumni Achievement in 2012 to honor outstanding alumni.

Bank of America was the presenting sponsor and Avamere was the VIP reception sponsor. Principal sponsors were Fairbridge Foundation, Fred Meyer, Jack and Lynn Loacker, Pete and Chris Nickerson, Rogue Venture Partners, Ralph & Bunny Schlesinger Foundation, Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation, Peter W. Stott Foundation, and Howard S. Wright.