Junior Achievement, as an organization focused on enhancing young people's understanding of business and finances, has had a natural appeal to business executives and their companies. But Gil Folleher, who died over the weekend at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs at the age of 75, brought business-leader support for JA in the Seattle area to a near-evangelical level over his years guiding JA locally.
Most importantly, perhaps, in the words of PEMCO CEO Stan McNaughton, he "left a legacy of footprints that will be followed for a long time. He was a king-maker-and the kids were the kings (and queens)."
The JA footprints in Washington state have left larger marks than the organization's impact in other states and that has been due to Folleher guiding involvement by executives at the highest levels of their companies.
In fact, he set a model for other non-profits to aspire to with a pattern from the late '80s through his retirement in 1998 of presidents or CEOs chairing, and being actively involved on, JA's board.
There are many important non-profit causes in this region, ranging from the needs of children or the sick or elderly to arts groups and causes to advance the community. And the most successful ones are blessed to have business executives supporting with time and dollars to help point them in successful directions.
And this is a time of the year when business people and others of means should pause to remember the cause or causes that are fortunate enough to have their attention and even affection.
But few organizations have been more successful over the years than JA in keeping focused on its cause: helping guide the understanding of the free enterprise system among young people and, recently even more vital in the view of many JA supporters, teach the importance of financial literacy.
Folleher, who moved from his Seattle leadership position to a role with the national JA organization in 1998 before retiring to Palm Springs, is being remembered by both active and retired business leaders who were closely involved with JA and who thus knew him best for the value he brought to the economic education of young people.
Folleher's strategy of creating close relationships among his board members included the Puget Sound JA chapter sending the largest delegation each year to the National Business Hall of Fame, an experience that he understood would contribute to the bonding strategy. Thus he made the trips an important part of each year's JA activities.
During his second tenure with JA in Seattle the number of students impacted by JA programs quadrupled to more than 60,000, deficits became surpluses and the annual budget grew to more than $2.4 million.
And in the manner of the best of non-profit executives, he groomed his successor well and thus David Moore, JA President for what has grown to be JA oversight for all of Washington state, says of Folleher, "he was my mentor, friend and inspiration."
Under Moore, who spent a decade as Folleher's marketing director before succeeding him in 1998, JA programs have grown and come to reach a dramatically expanding number of students around the state each year.
It was through involvement with JA as publisher of Puget Sound Business Journal to create a local Business Hall of Fame in a partnership between the newspaper and his organization that I came to be close friends with Folleher and eventually served as chair of the JA board.
Ken Kirkpatrick, retired president of U.S. Bank of Washington, knew Folleher the longest because it was Kirkpatrick, along with his future wife SaSa, who met Folleher at the airport when he arrived in Seattle in 1972 for for his first stint guiding JA's Seattle operations.
Kirkpatrick recalls that he was only 17 at the time, but was serving as JA's temporary executive director, "along with my janitor job there. He treated me like a king and he gave me my first ever Christmas gift from an employer-a very fancy shoeshine kit that I used just last week."
Woody Howse, then guiding Cable & Howse Ventures and now described as "the grandfather of Seattle's venture-capital community" was incoming board chair when Folleher arrived in 1987, returning to Seattle after serving as JA's Senior Vice President in charge of programs and marketing nationally.
"Folleher's network through all of JA was unparalleled and as a result we got the benefit in Seattle of a world-class sponger of Best Practices," Howse said.
Lasting friendships was true for me, and this column is an unabashed good-memories reflection on a man who not only became a good friend, but who was responsible for many of my closest friendships formed over the mutual connection to JA and the work we all did together to build and promote the organization and its cause.
Scott Harrison, retired president of Barclay-Dean Interiors, who also served a term as JA board chair, praised Folleher for guiding board members to "embrace the vision that Gil and his team had for JA."
And John Fluke, of Fluke Venture Partners (another top executive who took his turn as JA board chair) and the son of the man described as "The Father of JA" in this region, said "I know Gil would want all of us to do our part to advance JA's mission to bring economic and personal financial literacy to all K-12 students."
Rather than merely recall Folleher after his death, friends from around the country were able to be on hand in Palm Springs last January for his 75th birthday celebration where, as Moore recalls with a smile, "we partied for three days."
Now those who were close to Folleher will gather again, despite his insisting there be no service or memorial, for a toast and sharing of memories January 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Waterfront Marriott.
In what amounted to an appropriate summing up, Moore noted: "I have always said we are warming by a fire we did not build since what JA is today is a legacy for Folleher's passion and leadership."'