Oregon State University logo

Program launch of the new Hallie Ford Center

An auspicious number that signifies change and transformation was chosen for the launch of the new Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families. At 9:09 a.m. on September 9, 2009, the Memorial Union bells chimed to mark the official launch of the new Center that will be built at the corner of Campus Way and 26th Street in the heart of OSU’s Corvallis campus. Just prior to her passing at age 102, Hallie Ford gave an $8 million gift to the college to build the center that will carry on her legacy of love, respect, and support for children and families.

The ceremony included comments by President Ray, College of Health and Human Sciences Dean Tammy Bray, and members of the Ford Family. The ceremony was followed by a symposium highlighting faculty who presented short overviews of their research on healthy children and families.

 Simple life, solid values, lasting legacy

“This is my life,” penned Hallie Ford in disciplined penciled script as she began to chronicle her life in a 3×5 Jumbo Ruled Pad. “I was born in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, on March 17, 1905, to Ethel Viva Brown and James Thomas Brown.” Next to her first entry she wrote, “The motto of Oklahoma is ‘Labor conquers all things.’” Hallie Ford lived by that motto for the next 102 years. She attended a one-room school and learned lessons of work and love and family from her parents. “I recall going with mother to bring in the calves. We discovered a wild strawberry patch and mother sat down and made a basket with sticks and leaves which we filled with berries and carried home.” Her journal entries include fond memories of going to town in a horse-drawn wagon huddled under a blanket and “rowing the boat out to the sand bar for our Saturday night bath in the river.” She wrote about her early teens when “we kids picked 25 acres of cotton. We were taught to work. We had a happy home…there was love and respect. We were taught the golden rule, honesty, and morality.”

Those values defined Hallie as she grew up. When she was 14, she wrote, “Kids made fun of us country kids and the way we dressed. I felt very discriminated against, but it made me determined to beat them in grades, which I did and graduated as valedictorian of my class.” Determined to go to college and become a teacher, Hallie borrowed money from her father, “which I paid back in full.” She received her BS in 1930 from East Central State Teachers College in Oklahoma and went on to teach in classrooms and communities, carrying her message of learning and giving back. “She used to say that a lot of things can be taken away in life, but no one can take your education away,” recalls daughter Carmen Ford Phillips, BS ’59 home economics, MS ’63 foods and nutrition. “She would tell us, ‘Your education sustains you when things get tough.’” Hallie and Kenneth Ford married in 1935 and settled in Roseburg, where they started a lumber company. She writes about struggling through the war years. “One summer three of us canned 8,000 jars of fruit and vegetables and 2,000 quarts of jam for the local cookhouses. We made soap with lye and grease. I remember making 16 pies before 10:00 in the morning to feed all the hungry men working at the mill!” Then one day she painted Roseburg Lumber Company on the side of their truck, marking the official beginning of the company.

“Hallie was down to earth, disciplined, and driven,” says her son, Allyn. “She fed us a big dose of 4-H with our rural upbringing, taught us basic family values, and focused on education. Her parenting was a wonderful gift.” Carmen remembers her mother as the quintessential homemaker of the ’40s and ’50s. “She always wore a crisp housedress, made beautiful meals, and kept a spotless house with flowers on the table,” she says.

When asked about Hallie’s proudest moment, Carmen and Allyn agree that it was in 1995 when, as co-founder of the Ford Family Foundation, she established Opportunity Scholars, a program that enables single parents with dependent children to finish their bachelor’s degrees. Each year, up to 50 students in Oregon receive the award that covers 90 percent of their college costs.

“The annual luncheon for scholars was always a highlight of her year,” recalls Carmen. “Women who had no hope, no education, and were working two jobs told stories of how they regained their lives and their independence with support from the scholarship. Mother, in her inimitable style, would always remind them to give back
to their communities.”

The center’s mission embraces Hallie’s values of integrity, independence, family, and community by promoting healthy children and families through:

  • Supporting high-quality research
  • Translating research into practice
  • Building the capacity of families, service providers, and communities

“Mother was pleased to learn that the concept for this center was based on a solid reputation of successful programs for children and families in the College of Health and Human Sciences,” says Carmen Ford Phillips, BS ’59, MS ’63. “She believed that when we help one person or one family, we are helping generations to come.”

The center will take a holistic approach to the health of children and families, including their physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development. Hallie Ford practiced quiet philanthropy. Although her gifts to her alma mater and other universities and art museums often carried her name, she wanted nothing more than to enrich communities, campuses, and lives with the value of continued education. “She was impressed with the college’s outreach efforts that translate into practical things for children in communities,” says Bart Howard, personal advisor to Hallie, of her gift to OSU. “She believed that if we take care of ourselves, we can be of service to others.” As she signed papers to bestow gifts, she would turn to Bart and say, “Aren’t I lucky to be able to do this?”

Shaping a vision

“This is a really special moment in the history of our college, in demonstrating shared commitments to improving the health and well-being of children and families,” says professor Rick Settersten, co-chair of the steering committee for the new Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families.

A national search is underway for an endowed director. Knowledge that can be put into practice to improve lives is the guiding principle of the Center that, according to Rick, “will be a catalyst for innovative research and for research that will matter in the everyday lives of children and families. We are forward-thinking, anticipating the needs and challenges of our communities and state, and we will be proactive in finding solutions.”

The college’s established IMPACT program for children with disabilities and the Child Development Center that houses a Head Start program will be cornerstones of the Center’s efforts.

The Center will coalesce around four research cores, each of which is led by faculty distinguished in their field.

Members of the Center will include faculty and students who study the psychological, biological, intellectual, and social health of children and families. “Collaboration across the college, the university, and our Extension service is essential to fulfilling our interdisciplinary and land grant missions,” Rick explains. “Faculty members are studying everything from the dynamics of home and school environments to the challenges of sexual health, obesity, and self-image to the special needs of the most vulnerable of children and families. The kinds of connections that are emerging in our conversations are exciting.”