Former area resident Gerald Findley donated $1 million to Treasure Valley Community College recently. (The Enterprise/FILE).
ONTARIO – Moments can define a life.
A missed step here, a fateful decision there and the trajectory of a life spirals like a bullet ricocheting off a target.
For Gerald Findley, two distinct events stand as guideposts to what could have been and what was.
One episode was tragic, the other a restoration and a chance for a future.
Last week, Treasure Valley Community College revealed Findley donated $1 million to the school. In recognition of the donation, the college’s new CTE center will be named in honor of Findley’s grandmother, Florence Findley, who was a teacher at the Lincoln Heights Elementary School in Malheur County.
Findley said his $1 million donation will be split, with half of the money slated for the college’s scholarship program and half to projects and programs in the CTE building.
The new building houses career training programs that have become an important part of TVCC.
To understand the donation and Findley’s desire to help the local community college, you have to go back to 1956 to a dusty cornfield outside of Ontario.
Back then, Findley had only one goal.
“I was going to be a farmer, eventually take over my grandparent’s homestead,” said Findley.
Findley was a junior in high school when a simple movement to unplug a corn chopper changed everything.
“The machine jammed up and I lifted up the cover to try to get the stalk straightened out. The stock came up and hooked my sleeve and immediately yanked it into the machine. Chopped my left hand up into half-inch pieces,” said Findley.
Findley spent 10 days in the hospital.
“It was a little traumatic,” he said.
When he returned home, his grandfather delivered advice.
“He said, ‘I don’t think you should be thinking about becoming a farmer,’” said Findley.
Findley’s life was suddenly on a different path. He faced new challenges. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do.
“Maybe drive a truck,” he said.
The second decisive moment for Findley arrived when he was a senior in high school.
One day in January, Findley was summoned to the high school principal’s office. When Findley walked in he saw the principal – Robert McConnahe – and another man.
“He introduced me to this gentlemen from the Oregon crippled children’s group. The group was put together for polio kids,” said Findley.
The man was straightforward. If Findley could pass a test administered by the group, he would get into an Oregon university.
“I was class valedictorian so passing was no problem,” said Findley.
That moment in McConnahe’s office changed Findley’s life.
“No question it was pivotal. I give credit to the principal. He is the one who set it up,” he said.
Findley attended Oregon State University, starting out in the engineering program.
At the time, the nation was reeling from the October 1957 launch of the Russian Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite. Suddenly the U.S. was in a space race, which meant a high demand for engineers.
Findley said when he stepped on the OSU campus the fall of 1958 to study engineering he was part of the “largest enrollment of engineers the country had ever seen.”
He didn’t stay with the engineering program but instead made another crucial decision at exactly the right time.
“Halfway through my sophomore year I decided I don’t really care for this (engineering). I want to work on computers,” he said.
Findley transferred to the university’s math program.
“I took all of the computer classes and majored in mathematics but today you’d call it a computer science degree,” he said.
After he graduated from OSU in 1962 he was hired by International Business Machines Corp, or IBM, a multinational technology corporation.
“I made a significant career for myself. Became one of the senior technical staff members,” he said.
Findley eventually took over as a designer of IBM’s high-speed laser printer.
“I have several patents,” he said.
For 30 years, Findley became a fixer, someone the company brought in to salvage struggling product projects and deliver them to the market.
He retired from IBM in 1992 and then went to work for Storage Technology Corporation, a data storage technology company. He retired a second time in 2000.
Findley admits he did well working in the technology industry but he said he isn’t a millionaire.
“All these stories of people making mega millions, I don’t have that story,” he said.
Findley, 81, and his wife Sharon – who is also a Malheur County native and graduated from Vale High School – live in Goodyear, Ariz., now. They raised four children, two girls and two boys.
Findley’s motivation for the donation is not complicated.
“Basically, I wanted to pay it forward. Oregon helped me get through college and launched me to a successful career and I wanted to pay back Oregon,” he said.
Findley said the CTE building will be a good investment for the community by “kick starting some economic value into Malheur County.”
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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