Balmer receives Morgan Odell Medal
June 12, 2000
A crowd of thousands rose to their feet and applauded as President Michael Mooney bestowed the College’s highest honor, the Morgan Odell Medal, upon Donald G. Balmer, U. G. Dubach Professor Emeritus of Political Science, at the commencement ceremony of the class of 2000.
Morgan Odell became president of Lewis & Clark in 1942 when the College moved from Albany to its present campus. To honor him, the College confers a medal on rare occasions.
Balmer is only the second person to receive the medal, which reads: “For sustained commitment to Lewis & Clark College and exceptional leadership in advancing its aims.” To these words are added the phrase: “Sic itur ad astra,” meaning, “Thus is the way to the stars.”
“Don Balmer is a man cut from the same cloth as Morgan Odell,” Mooney stated. “In Balmer’s 50 years at Lewis & Clark, he has taught thousands of students the principles of government and the importance of civic engagement.”
He initiated the first U.S. study program in Canada; established the College’s programs in Washington, D.C., and Edinburgh, Scotland; created a master’s program in public administration; and forged links between the College and government agencies.
Since 1960, he has organized election postmortems, by inviting pollsters, campaign managers, news analysts, lobbyists and academicians to meet for off-the-record discussions of the campaigns.
“And on every election night for years, he has been before microphones and cameras telling Oregonians what they did at the ballot box,” Mooney noted.
“More important than the things he has done is the person that Balmer is,” Mooney said. “He is a man impelled by ideals, but rooted in practice; a man who tirelessly and fearlessly defends his principles, but without betraying his friends or alienating his foes. He wins through quiet persuasion, not rancor or bombast. And he is loyal—to his ideas and his causes, his College, his church and his country, his students and colleagues, but first and last to his wife and family.
In addition to conferring the Odell Medal, President Mooney announced the endowment of the Donald G. Balmer Scholarship Fund.
Balmer’s longtime friend, Ancil Payne, retired president and chief executive officer of King Broadcasting, offered the College a $100,000 scholarship in Balmer’s name if others would match the amount.
Casey Woodard ’85, a former student of Balmer, matched the challenge through his family’s foundation. Many other alumni, friends and colleagues also contributed to the fund, which totals nearly $230,000. Proceeds will benefit needy students who are majoring in political science.
Although Balmer officially retired at the end of spring semester, he is teaching two classes this fall and will teach another course during spring semester. He and his wife, Betty, continue to attend virtually every College event. And, as he has for the past half century, Balmer provides his astute analysis of the political and electoral process and continues his involvement in the wider community.
“Besides his fine mentorship to many students, I personally value Don’s insights and perspectives working closely with the region’s land management agencies and power authorities. He has proven himself to be a key influence in the Northwest,” wrote former U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield in a letter read at the 1998 U.G. Dubach inaugural lecture.
“In his writing, teaching and political commentary, Don Balmer brings to life the connections between local issues and the wider state, regional and federal contexts that shape them,” noted Jane Atkinson, vice president and provost. “He takes commitment to civic participation seriously and views it as vital to education and as essential to a life well-lived.”
Balmer improved standards for migrant laborers as a founding member of the Valley Migrant League and chair of the Governor’s Committee on Migrant Children’s Education. He attended Democratic National Conventions and helped to draft a plank on natural resource policy. He twice served as president of the Pacific Northwest Political Science Association.
“Mother taught us, if you have some ability, if things go your way, it’s a gift from God,” Balmer said. “And she would remind us, ‘Unto whom much is given, much is expected.’”