Jean Vollum, a devout Catholic and well known benefactor of several causes in the Northwest, died at home on June 5 from congestive heart failure. She was 80.

The widow of Tektronix co-founder Howard Vollum, Mrs. Vollum was one of Oregon’s most generous philanthropists whose range of giving was among the broadest in state history.

Funded by Tektronix stock, she and her husband gave money, often in the millions, to support a variety of projects, organizations and significant local buildings including the Native American Center at Portland State University; the campus of the Oregon College of Art and Craft; the non-profit conservation group Ecotrust, whose headquarters resides in the Pearl District; and the Mount Angel Abbey Library, designed by Finnish architect Alvar Alto.

In the 1980s, the Vollums donated $20 million to Oregon Health and Science University to create a biomedical research center, the Vollum Institute. In 1983, they made a significant contribution for the building and design of the Holy Spirit Chapel at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center; five years later, Mrs. Vollum established annual financial grants, the Vollum Awards, at the hospital to support physicians, nurses and allied professionals, Pastoral Care and employees in pursuit of research or process betterment programs. Mrs. Vollum was also a major contributor to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

“She was a philanthropist in the truest sense of that word,” said Spencer Beebe, Ecotrust director, who knew Mrs. Vollum for 35 years and worked with her closely to create the non-profit. “She was someone who loved humanity, and that sense of equality and social justice was deep in her thoughts. Education was important (to her), and taking care of the environment was very I think in a lot of ways she was just a classic, great Oregonian.”

Carolyn Winter, chief development officer for the regional Providence Foundations within Oregon, said, “The Vollums were instrumental in so many ways, though they were quiet contributors. In terms of the annual awards, it was Jean’s way of recognizing and honoring the creativity of physicians and staff to improve patient care through research — she was wonderful that way.”

A native of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Mrs. Vollum was born Jean Kettenbach. She attended the University of Idaho and eventually moved to Portland, where she taught at Beech Elementary School. She met her would-be husband, Howard Vollum, while ice skating; they married in 1950 and raised five sons — Charles, Steven, Lawrence, Daniel and Donald.

In 1981, the Vollums’ extraordinary philanthropic collaborations were acknowledged in a Governor’s Arts Award. Mr. Vollum died five years later.

To donate money to worthy causes was, according to her son, Charles, “...the right thing to do, something she’d been doing, something that she and my father had been doing very quietly for many, many years. I don’t know (if) you’d go so far as to say it was a habit of hers. But it was something she thought about and did and enjoyed.”

After the death of her husband, Mrs. Vollum continued to champion their favorite causes. She also pursued new and different interests and hobbies, such as photography, something she took up in her 60s. Before long, she was taking accomplished photographs — one series stemming from a trek to Antarctica, in which she captured a melting polar ice cap, was showcased at several local galleries.

Calligraphy was another artistic talent of hers. “Something that people may not know about Jean is that she was superb at calligraphy — just amazing,” said Jim Parker, a former priest who first met Mrs. Vollum and her husband in the late 1960s and early 1970s when they visited the then-House of Studies at Portland State University to have dinner with seminarians. Several years later, Parker joined forces with Father Bert Griffin and Christiane Brussellmans, an international catechist, and together they worked with Mrs. Vollum to put on an international conference in Bruges, Belgium in 1985, focused on the future of the Catholic Church and the development of lay people into church leaders.

“We couldn’t have done it without Jean’s support,” said Parker. “At that time, we recognized that much of the church’s growth was coming from Latin America and Africa. With Jean’s assistance we were able to bring several leaders of small Catholic Christian communities in Latin America and Africa to the meeting, which was very successful,” he said.

Added Thomas Lauderdale, founder of the band Pink Martini and a close friend of Mrs. Vollum, “There are people who give and let you know they give. Jean was the antithesis of that. She quietly championed all of the things she believed in, whether it was the arts, the environment or music.”

Lark Palma, an administrator at Catlin Gabel School, to which Mrs. Vollum also donated, summed it up by saying, “New donors today are much more about ‘What’s the return on my investment?’ Jean wasn’t like that. She opened the world to people who didn’t have as big a world as she had. And she always knew how lucky she was and what a great life she had.”

In addition to her sons, Mrs. Vollum is survived by sister Ann Savage and 10 grandchildren. A concelebrated Mass of Christian burial in her honor took place last week at St. Pius X Church in Cedar Mill.

— Compiled from news sources, with contributions from Kate Chester