Jim Wright was born in Ashland, ran LTM (now Knife River), served on several local non-profit boards and is retiring off The People’s Bank Board after 19 years.
When the zoom interview with Jim Wright started he asked me the first question, which is unusual since I’m the one interviewing him.
“I have a question for you. What do you see?”
That question took me aback a little. I wasn’t prepared for it. I stared at my screen and thought about what I was seeing.
“I see a bedroom, a bed and a closet. I see a dog on the bed and a shirt hanging in the closet. I also see you. You’re looking good. Your hair is combed. You’re wearing a clean blueish aquamarine polo shirt.”
That’s all I said out loud to him, but I made a mental note that I also saw his eyes. They were looking back at me through the camera as he smiled. His hair is thinning and mostly white to match his eyebrows. His voice is gravely and strong. I smiled at his cheerful face and took in this moment.
I met Jim decades ago.
Whenever I attended a community event, he was there. It didn’t matter if it were a Chamber of Commerce event, or a Friends of the Fair event with his good friend Lee Johnson, or a fundraising event for one of several non-profit boards he has served on. He was there.
And when I joined the People’s Bank Board in 2016, he was there as well.
He had already been serving on the bank board for 13 years at that point.
Month after month, I would see him sitting in board meetings and asking great questions, sometimes pushing back if something seemed off to him but most of the time, he was praising staff with kudos when things went right.
Jim is a perfect board member for the bank.
The man brought decades of experience on running large businesses to the board and he knew everyone in Southern Oregon.
As we ended the last board meeting upon his retirement from the board after 19 years of service, I looked around the room as everyone applauded Jim and I reflected on the last 100 or so meetings I attended with him in the bank’s meeting rooms and how much he helped shape the bank and how much he cared about the community and how much I admired and respected him.
He also scanned the room. His eyes fell on each of us as we thanked him for his service.
It was a very special moment.
Jim Wright was born in Ashland, Oregon in 1940 and attended all the Ashland schools and even went to college at Southern Oregon State College as Southern Oregon University was known back then. He graduated SOSC and met his future wife, Judy, in1963.
The Vietnam war was going on and after he graduated he was ready and wanted to be drafted to serve.
One problem though. Jim has a rare, inherited degenerative eye disease called Retinitis pigmentosa. It causes severe vision impairment over time and he was not drafted.
He was diagnosed with it when he was 12.
He could still drive (he drove himself until 1987) and see pretty well at the time, so undeterred he left Southern Oregon and headed to the San Francisco Bay Area to get a job.
He interviewed with three companies and got a job with Bank of America in their management training program.
He was in his first training session and his boss pulled him out and told him that he couldn’t work for them anymore because he didn’t pass his physical because of his eye disease. Jim remembers the moment fondly. “He took me to lunch and was very nice about it.”
Feeling the wind knocked out of sails he headed back to Ashland and got a job as the night manager at the bowling alley.
His cousin reached out to him and asked if he wanted to work in the family business.
Jim’s grandfather on his mother’s side was M.C. Lininger and he was an entrepreneur.
M.C. came to Ashland in 1904 as a telegrapher for the railroad. He got involved in the Ashland cannery with his eldest son Bruce in 1919 and then he started a hardware business. He noticed that no one was providing plasterers with materials, so he found a location out by Jackson Hot Springs to begin making plaster sand and by the late 1930s they were in the sand and gravel business. When Camp White was being built, they opened M.C. Lininger and Sons in Central Point.
Jim worked there in the summers from the time he was 12 until he graduated from Ashland high school, so when his cousin Gregg Lininger asked Jim if he wanted to work for the company he jumped at the chance.
That was 1964 and he also married Judy that same year.
Jim spent the rest of his working career working along side his brother and 4 cousins. In 1982 Jim was made president of the company and they merged with True Mix in 1988 which they branded LTM (Lininger True Mix) and then turned around and sold the combined company to Knife River in 1990. Knife River is one of the largest construction materials and contracting companies in the United States and LTM was one it’s 80 acquisitions. LTM was a $30 Million company with 240 employees when they sold to Knife River. Jim stayed on as President until he retired in 2000, taking it to $90 Million and 400 employees during its peak.
His sight worsened to the point of not being able to read indoors (bright sunlight was required to see) by then and even through the company supplied a driver, he was getting to the point of not being able to see at the job sites, so he knew it was time to retire.
By 2008 Jim became proficient at using a screen reader software and hardware setup and his sight was mostly lost by 2013.
Jim was asked to join the board of the newly formed People’s Bank when it was founded in 1997 but couldn’t due to his workload at the time. Then in 2003, the freshly retired business leader decided to join the board when a seat became available.
In the 19 years of Jim’s board service the bank has grown from $53 Million in total assets to $910 Million today. He brought with him to every board meeting his experience in running a large scale construction supply company and a passion for serving the community.
It was always amazing to me how prepared he was in board meetings. I had all the board documents in front of me on my iPad so I could review them on the fly and remind myself what my questions were, but Jim just had his memory. Board meetings can be several hours long and 3 or 4 hours in, he would bring up important questions to a spreadsheet we were all working through together based strictly on his memory of the document he received only the day or two before. It was always impressive.
Jim has also served Southern Oregon as a volunteer board member on several local non-profits.
He served on the Asante board and was Chairman of the Board for several years.
I reached out to Roy Vinyard, Past CEO of Asante Health System and current Board Chair of People’s Bank and asked him what he thought about Jim retiring from the board.
“No one is a bigger advocate and cheerleader for their community than Jim Wright.
Jim is all about working together to make southern Oregon better in every aspect. His involvement has impacted so many organizations: Asante, CASA, Rotary, Hearts and Vines, and People’s Bank, to name just a few. His leadership at LTM (now Knife River) during his career left a lasting legacy.
Jim has been a great friend, colleague and mentor to me since I arrived in Medford in 1999. He freely shared his wisdom and energy with me and does so with every person and organization that is fortunate enough to know him. He connected me to so many community groups in the Valley and encouraged me to get involved.
As a long-time member of the People’s Bank board of Directors, Jim has helped guide PBOC during both good and difficult economic periods.
He has definitely contributed much to the growth and success of the bank. He has left an indelible mark on PBOC and will be greatly missed as he terms off the board this year.
Thank you, Jim, for all you have done for our bank and our community, and for all you will continue to do in the future.”
Over the years Jim Wright has served on many boards in the community besides the boards of People’s Bank and Asante.
- Oregon Colombia Chapter Associated General Contractors-President 1982
- Medford Rogue Rotary President 1990-91
- Friends of the Fair Foundation
- SOU Foundation President
- City of Ashland Planning Commission 1976-79
- Raider Athletic Association
- OSF 1996-98
- Rogue Valley Manor Board
- Asante Foundation
And let’s not forget that he also served on the following committees:
Trustee-AGC/Local 701 Operating Engineers Pension, Health & Welfare Trusts for Oregon and SW Washington, Oregon Economic Development Dept., State of Oregon Finance Committee, National Associated Contractors of America(AGC) Board of Directors(Life Member), National AGC Committee Chair for Airports Development Committee, and, National AGC Construction by Contract Committee Chair., Oregon Concrete and Aggregate Producers Association President 1980.
I asked Jim about what it was like growing up in Southern Oregon through all of its changes.
“When I was growing up, Ashland was a timber town. There were 10 saw mills in the city limits.”
“Ashland morphed into a college town.”
Angus Bowmer was a professor at the college and he created the Shakespeare Festival in 1935 by presenting two plays on the 4th of July after the parade.
“When the mills closed, Ashland started changing into a tourism driven economy.”
People came to watch the plays as the theatre company grew into a 9 month operation and fell in love with the community and started to move here.
“You have to have four cornerstones for a community to be successful: Industry, Culture, Education and Healthcare. Ashland and the rest of Southern Oregon are just remarkable how it transformed to provide all four cornerstones.”
“Southern Oregon’s a better place than it was when I was a kid. I miss what it was, but it’s a better place now.”
I agree with Jim. I have lived here for only 30 years and it’s a better place today then when I got here.
In large part to amazing community leaders like Jim Wright. They were born here and ran companies here.
Jim’s a natural leader both in the board room and in the community. He served all of us with his heart, his passion and his knowledge.
He has served on many, many boards in the community.
It’s what you do in Southern Oregon. Raise a Family, Grow a Business and Give Back where you can.
I have studied under Jim for the last 6 years on The People’s Bank Board. I have watched him and learned from him every chance I could. I have nothing but deep respect for his leadership, humor, passion and skills. He served on the bank board for 19 years and now he is officially retired.
I’ll miss working with him, but I know he will be “watching” from the sidelines, smiling and cheering us on as we continue the work to make Southern Oregon a better place for the next generations.
By Jim Teece