15 Fascinating Oregonians
If there’s a theme for this year’s 15 Fascinating Oregonians, it would have to be energy.
Pure human energy. The 15 individuals in the pages ahead exude energy. Their efforts
and accomplishments light up the world around them. And lucky for us, they all live in
Oregon, in towns big and small around the state. We hope that reading their stories will
compel you — to think bolder, to work harder, to act fearlessly, to help generously, to try
mightily, to write honestly, to aim higher, to believe in the impossible, to achieve your
dreams — because these 15 fascinating people really are just average Oregonians. If
they can do it; you can do it. That’s what every one of them would tell you.
Below is a small sampling of the 2008 15 Fascinating Oregonians …
By Alaina Buller
Bryan Sims was faced with the reality of money at an early age. At 14, he watched his
parents struggle to pay exorbitant medical bills and lawyer fees as a result of a car
accident. After Sept. 11, his dad lost his job and had difficulties finding a new one.
Sims knew what he had to do. He might not be able to remedy the immediate situation,
but he promised himself he would become successful in life. He knew he had to make
enough money to support the people he loved.
So he dove in head first. Sims started reading everything he could on business, finance,
investing, marketing. At the time he worked as a janitor at a local athletic club for $8 an
hour. Using his newfound knowledge, Sims invested his meager paycheck in the stock
And when his high school business class required him to write a business plan, he started
a teen investment club. Almost 45 students invested nearly $25,000 from allowances and
part-time jobs in the stock market.
“We had people who were football captains, people who were Chess Champions, people
who normally had nothing in common, but the one thing they all had in common was
money,” Sims says. “Everybody has to pay bills. And when the person sitting next to you
can help you make money, everybody came together.”
They grew to be the largest investing club in the nation. Time magazine once called the
club asking them to predict the economic impact of Sept. 11.
As his parents’ financial situation worsened, Sims knew it was time to live up to his
promise. He wanted to take the same concept of his club — making investing interesting
to young people — and broaden it to a national level. Sims created a business plan for a lifestyle money magazine for young adults by young adults. He left college to focus
entirely on the endeavor.
Today brass magazine, based in Corvallis, is in its fifth year, has 500,000 readers
nationwide, employs 37 people, and works with 190 credit unions across 39 states. And
Sims, at age 24, runs the entire operation.
Though the business grew quickly, the path to success was not necessarily a smooth one.
Sims was recently the keynote speaker for a crowd of 1,500 credit union board members
at a National Center for Credit Unions conference. He shared his experience of
attempting to secure original investors — a goal he tackled with his dad, currently the
chief operations officer of brass.
“Keep in mind, this is the middle of 2003. People are not investing in blue chip stocks, let
alone a lifestyle money magazine based out of Corvallis, Oregon, started by a 19-year-old
dropout and his 53-year-old unemployed dad, who, by the way, have no experience doing
this,” he told the audience. “Would anybody in here like to invest?”
With a little persistence, they were able to secure eight investors from the 200 people
they spoke with. The investors included two stockbrokers, a former doctor, a former
teacher, a real estate developer, a bus driver who won a lawsuit, and two Japanese onion
farmers from eastern Oregon — quite the crew. But they all believed in the project, and
Sims and his dad began publishing in February 2004.
Since the first magazine rolled off the press, Sims has expanded the business to reach out
to readers in a variety of ways, which include a blog and podcast on their website. But he
is probably most proud of the brass Student Program.
Currently brass is distributing a student edition of the magazine to every public high
school in New York and Wisconsin. They also provide teachers with lesson plans and a
social networking website. In August, brass will be launching their student program in
Oregon public high schools.
Sims cited a survey by Visa in 2005 as one of his main inspirations for this project. The
survey found 74 percent of parents of high school students were more concerned about
their kids’ financial habits and ability to handle money than they were about drug and
“We’re really hoping to tackle this problem of educating young people about money,”
Sims says, “which particularly now, more than ever before, is on people’s minds.”
By Lisa Baker
Members of mainstream news outlets don’t want you to see the hand-wringing.
But it’s there under the surface as newspapers and local broadcasters battle with a
ridiculous amount of competition.
The fact is, in economic terms, the supply of news outlets via Internet, satellite dish and
cable is so plentiful that even steep demand for news can’t keep circulation or ratings
where they need to be to make a decent buck.
The advertising dollar no longer goes in a single chunk to the local newspaper and the
local broadcast outlet. It’s migrated to cable outlets, niche and specialty publications, a
plethora of Internet news sites, and search engines.
Where is the advertiser? Same place the audience is: everywhere.
Worse, news is no longer something that’s produced on a schedule. News-on-demand is
the current mantra.
It’s why broadcast and print outlets have hatched online versions of themselves that can
be accessed on laptops at the local hot-brown-liquid outlet or on cell phones while in a
But it’s not good enough to be everywhere all the time. You’ve got to look good doing it
to capture the eye of a mobile audience that’s already steeped in graphics and clicking
with every breath. And, you need to be interactive — engage the viewer in polls, blogs,
forums. What about non-news news? Gardening tips, recipes, home improvement ideas
— what about those?
The mission, in short, is for the local TV station to be all things to all people at all times.
Ridiculous. Can’t be done. Like snowboarding in an avalanche.
The whole idea would make anyone panic.
But then you listen to DJ Wilson, KGW’s newly minted president and general manager,
and you believe that all things are possible.
Wilson’s cheerful certainty makes it appear that she’s done all this leading edge stuff
before. Dozens of times.
Her certainty comes in part from three decades in the business, an attraction to risk-taking
(she still Rollerblades), and the kind of excess energy — enthusiastic, but intense — that
has a way of moving the immovable.
Wilson’s intensity finds a perfect foil at Belo Corp’s KGW where there is a strange
penchant for planning — planning being something foreign to the news world, which is
typically a seat-of-the-pants operation.
In her hands, KGW will be the first Portland station to make a serious run at becoming a
big city media venture. Changing its name recently from KGW-TV to KGW Media
Group, the station has already telegraphed its intention to grow beyond the local state of
Its website, rather than a more immediate version of newscasts or a tease to a newscast,
has developed its own identity and presence, fully formed and complete.
And weeks ago, the station launched the first local high-definition broadcast with a
strategic and well-planned promotional roll-out. The move to HD was no trivial matter: It
was the kind of project — 10 miles of cable and 500 new pieces of equipment — that
would overwhelm any staff. Wilson likened the conversion to overhauling a car while it’s
traveling at 90 miles per hour.
Her kind of project.
Wilson says the change is not just cosmetic. “It allows us to have a new level of detail in
weather graphics and story coverage that brings visual impact to what we’re saying. It
tells the story better.” And it engages viewers in the story: “We are, first and foremost, a
journalism company,” she says. “We are all about content.”
Content aside, the biggest gamble is yet to come: launching a studio window on Pioneer
Courthouse Square in time to coincide with the opening ceremony for the Beijing
Olympics this summer. Modeled on a similar setup at NBC’s “Today Show,” observers
will watch — and be watched — live from windows on the square.
There could, of course, be complications. Technical difficulties. Ill-mannered passers-by.
But like everything else, Wilson and her crew have planned for that, for the image and
sound delays that will prevent a broadcast faux pas, for a backdrop, should it be needed.
Even if they hadn’t, chances are you wouldn’t find Wilson in a panic.
Instead, she says, “It’s all so exhilarating … so much fun.”
By Lisa Baker
What went wrong with Randal O’Toole?
It’s what urban planners everywhere are wondering.
After all, he was brought up right (or, technically, left). He grew up in Portland, the son
of two dedicated liberal Democrats in the very lap of Oregon’s urban planning revolution,
where the work of the state’s commitment to land-use control could be seen on the
ground. He attended an accredited urban planning program at the University of Oregon,
of all places.
He was a self-described environmentalist working for the Oregon State Public Interest
Research Group, a nonprofit group that champions government regulation and control.
Even his favored mode of transport — two-wheeled — was correct.
Surely O’Toole was destined for great things.
But then, inexplicably, he joined the other side. The allegedly lawless, heedless hurly-
burly side that champions individual freedom over collectivism. The side that sees
Portland not as a success story in livability but as constricted and repressed.
Worse, rather than keep his revelations to himself, O’Toole is shouting it from the
rooftops, on the speaking circuit and in his books, excoriating the very fundamentals of
urban planning that have won Oregon so much praise.
A senior fellow with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, Bandon resident O’Toole
travels the country espousing the dangers of Oregon’s planning system. His publications
favor free-market solutions, rather than government intervention, for everything from
transportation to resource conservation.
He specifically blames urban planning, with its emphasis on herding the population into
high-density zones while keeping rural lands as unpopulated as possible, as the primary
cause of gridlock and air pollution.
In his first book, “The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths,” O’Toole
pronounced sprawl “one of those invented problems. Low-density suburbanization —
which is what people usually mean when they say ‘sprawl’ — not only is not responsible
for most of the problems that its critics charge, it is the solution to many of the problems
that sprawl opponents claim they want to solve … The war on sprawl is really a war on
He says the state’s limitations on buildable areas have made housing so expensive that
average-wage Oregonians — especially in Portland — cannot afford it. He contrasts
Portland with Houston, where looser development regulations make it possible to obtain
a spacious house with a generous yard for half of what Portlanders pay for a pencil thin
walk-up with a loin-cloth yard.
Portland unfair and unlivable? Unthinkable.
The suggestion seems to bring out the worst in his opponents. His commentaries have
earned him the passionate enmity of many an urban planning fan and even prompted an
angry Oregonian news profile in which the reporter herself joined O’Toole’s critics in
bashing him for bashing Portland.
It would have been more pleasant for him had he stuck to the straight and narrow.
What prompted his walk on the wild side?
O’Toole says it was an innocent thing: He enrolled in an economics class. It was then that
something in O’Toole changed, or, as some planners like to think, snapped.
“I realized that everything we learned in economics was based on data,” he says. “In
economics, it’s modeling and testing models and refining models. I just realized it was
the opposite of what we learned in urban planning, which were untested hypotheses and
Later, Metro announced plans to convert O’Toole’s former Portland neighborhood to a
smart-growth model, increasing density and making it more “walkable.” Suddenly, it was
no longer theory, but personal. With his help, the neighborhood turned back Metro’s
Since then, O’Toole has found his work cut out for him as other cities and other states
embrace urban planning.
It is a daunting prospect for a civic critic, but O’Toole doesn’t mind.
“I always like to take the side of the underdog.”
BrainstormNW - April 2008