Celebrating Pendleton’s Heritage & Future

In Art, Business, Civic by Jessica Curtis

If this experiment we call America is going to survive, it is going to survive because of its young people.

For Eastern Oregonians, three things in life are certain: death, taxes and the Pendleton Round-Up. Every September — excluding an understandable two-year hiatus during WWII — locals and travelers dust off their Western and Native American attire and head to the rodeo.

On the surface, the Pendleton Round-Up is a lively, four-day festival celebrating the Northwest’s vibrant heritage: Americana at its finest. At a deeper level, however, it is much more than that: a model of community to inspire future generations.

Nearly 40 years ago, President of Harsch Investment Properties and Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation, Jordan Schnitzer attended his first Round-Up…and was hooked.

“Even right after 9/11, when the planes were still grounded, I got in the car with some colleagues and drove from California to Pendleton to make it to the Round-Up. Our hearts grieving, trying to grasp those horrors, we couldn’t have been in a healthier place than looking out over those fields of grain,” Jordan reflected.

In 1997, having made the drive east to Pendleton year after year, he wanted to give back to the town on behalf of all Portlanders, who have benefited from the communities’ hospitality.

“What about launching a scholarship fund to emphasize the importance of education and cover some of the cost of the Round-Up?” he thought.

So, that is exactly what Jordan Schnitzer and His Family Foundation (JSFF) did. Deserving young women selected from the local communities to be annual Round-Up Court members and Happy Canyon Princesses began receiving educational scholarships.

“There are so many remarkable young people out there, and the Round-Up Court and Happy Canyon Princesses are some of the best examples,” Jordan said. “Every year, I am so impressed and inspired. They are wonderful representatives of their communities.”

Twenty years and over 150 scholarships later, many of these recipients have returned home to become leaders and change makers in their communities — as teachers, lawyers, counselors and more.

Not only do these scholarships help young women pay for their higher education, it acknowledges the validity of their goals.

Pendleton artist Alysha de Martinez and Jordan D. Schnitzer.

“At that time in my life, there was no greater gift than a scholarship to help fund my education,” explained Jennifer Currin, 2005 Round-Up Queen. “The scholarship recognized that I, and all of our court members, had educational and career goals for the future.”

The Round-Up is no stranger to female empowerment: when women’s suffrage was still just a dream, cowgirls competed in the rodeo alongside the boys. This inclusive – and once daring – spirit still remains today.

Pendleton prides itself on bringing communities together, which includes ranchers, members from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Portlanders, the African-American Urban League of Portland, international visitors and more – young and old, Democrat and Republican, urban and rural.

“Today, we’re all blessed with mobility. The bad news is there’s a lost sense of connection. Pendleton is a role model of community. Hundreds of people volunteer to help the Round-Up,” Jordan explained. “Young people are working with community leaders, parents and other adults. Everyone is aligned, working toward a common, community good.”

Running throughout JSFF’s efforts, as well as those of The Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation (CARE), is a desire to transform communities from the inside out by turning their members into catalysts for change — captains of their respective ships.

CommuniCare, an operating program of CARE, challenges teens to identify and solve issues in their own communities. The year-long program empowers students across Oregon, including Pendleton, Hermiston and the Confederated Tribes the Umatilla Indian Reservation, to act as “mini-foundations.” They begin the year by developing a mission statement that reflects their vision for their communities. Participants fundraise during fall and winter months, with each dollar matched 10:1 by CARE, up to $15,000. Students then complete the grantmaking process, making all final funding decisions.

CommuniCare students from the Hermiston HS College Savings Class

Both CommuniCare grants and Round-Up scholarships inspire citizens to actively engage with their surroundings — generating lasting, sustainable change.

“If this experiment we call America is going to survive, it is going to survive because of its young people. As we get older, we must count on the youth to be our problem solvers in the future, just as we are in our time,” Jordan added.

It is impossible to discuss the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation without mentioning its raison d’être: lending art to museums in diverse communities at no cost, because, as Jordan says, “too many eyeballs, won’t wear out the art.”

“It’s all about the public. As much as I love collecting the art, I love sharing it even more,” he said.

Two years age, when Harsch Investment Properties purchased a commercial building in downtown Pendleton, Jordan quickly set out to transform the space into a popup exhibit just in time for the Round-Up, appropriately featuring Native American art from Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts. In the past, JSFF has loaned exhibits to the Pendleton Center for the Arts, reflecting a strong core belief that art is meant to be experienced equally, from the blue collared to the blue blooded.

Opening reception of the 2018 exhibition Louise Bourgeois: From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation

“Art is the last arena, where no one can tell you that what you think or feel is wrong,” Jordan noted.

Earlier this year, Jordan added some special pieces to his world-renowned collection: two abstract paintings from a self-taught Pendleton high school student.

In many ways, the Pendleton Round-Up and the arts both serve dual purposes: preserving history and inspiring future generations.

Although the Pendleton Round-Up has packed up for the year, its impact lingers.

Some came for the rodeo, the banquet and the shows, others for the pageant, the parade and the games. But everyone who attended went away with a sense of community and, for the few who left with scholarships, the invaluable reminder that their dreams are attainable.

– by Natalia Hurt, Oregon Business Magazine