Spring '24 Issue - Best Of Winners Announced & More  

Wednesday, January 3, 2024



William D. “Bill” Thorndike Jr.

Always Involved

Story by Lee Juillerat


Question: The list of honors you’ve received includes national, state, and regional awards. Are there some that have deeper meaning?

Bill Thorndike: I have been honored to be recognized in connection to two Oregon leaders I admired: The statewide Tom McCall Leadership Award from SOLV/ Bank of America 2006. The award is for helping to preserve the livability of Oregon. McCall said, “Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community and it’s my responsibility to make it better.” These are words I have tried to live by. Memorable, too, was being awarded the 2006 Glenn Jackson Leadership Award given by Willamette University. This award was connected with Gerry Frank, another Oregon leader. Glenn Jackson from Medford showed how a Southern Oregonian could have a major role in the future of Oregon.


Q: Are there words that you have tried to live by?

Bill: As a Southern Oregonian I have been able to live Oregon’s Motto, “She flies with her own wings.” With support of my family and the family business, Medford Fabrication, I have had the support and opportunity to serve on over 55 local, state, regional, and national boards and commissions. While challenging myself to manage all those commitments, I have learned my place and the role I can offer in serving. I have received so much more by participating in the range of organizations I have been involved with in the past and currently. I am proud that when I make a commitment to serve, I do. An up-to-date calendar helps to manage my schedule!


Q: You have been active at many levels, including Medford Fabrications, a multinational steel fabricating company that was founded by your grandfather in the mid-1940s and expanded by your father. Is retirement in your future?

Bill: Being an owner and officer of our family held company, I have no current plans for retirement. Ask me in five years!


Q: What changes have you seen in Medford and Southern Oregon over the decades?

Bill: I have lived the transformation of our economy from wood products and agricultural economy to a diversified economy. Medford had a population of 20,000 and Jackson County a population of 60,000 when I was born in the early 1950s; today Medford has a population of 90,000, and Jackson County 220,000. The assessed value of private property in Jackson County is now over $46 billion. The leading employment is retail, followed by healthcare-related jobs. When I was born there were fewer than 200 hospital beds in the Rogue Valley. That figure is now approaching 700. From our safety-net healthcare delivery system to our state-of-the-art healthcare system, we are blessed with a healthcare system normally found in larger metropolitan locations.


Q: What are factors that have influenced the region’s economy and what are those that remain important?

Bill: Interstate 5 was built during my childhood and quite literally created the economic lifelines to the North and South that supports our economy. Access to air and rail remain critical to our economy.


Q: Why have you have been a long-time strong supporter of education-related programs, including being a past president of the Southern Oregon University Foundation, Oregon Independent College Foundation, member of the State Board of Higher Education, and Senate Commission on Educational Excellence?

Bill: We have strong educational pathways from our K-12 schools, regional community colleges, and universities in Ashland and Klamath Falls. I am looking forward to improved connections for Southern Oregon students in their success and meeting their needs.


Q: Among the many organizations you support, the Crater Lake National Park Trust and all things Crater Lake are prominent. What is your connection to Crater Lake?

Bill: As with most multigeneration Southern Oregon families, we have many photographs dating back to the early 20th century of grandparents, parents, relatives, children, and friends at Crater Lake National Park. Our family roots include the Tengwald family that included grandfather, Carl, with the Oregon National Guard training at Crater Lake, operating an automobile taxi to Crater Lake from Medford with his friend Seely Hall, opening the Crater Lake Lodge in the summer of 1921 with my new grandmother Edna, recently from Chicago, assisting with the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s projects, and having brother Victor write and publish the “Crater Lake Waltz,” which is on display in the Crater Lake Lodge.


The Thorndike family donated funds in 2004 to purchase a painting of Crater Lake painted for the 100th anniversary of the park above the fireplace in the lodge lobby by an artist from Malin, Oregon, in memory of the Tengwald family. The Thondikes have had a cabin at Union Creek since 1935, and there are many stories about my father of fishing in Annie Creek and running into bears at the park’s dump. Having grown up in Medford, I remember many trips to Crater Lake during every season and weather condition. In 2005, I joined the Crater Lake National Park Chapter of the National Park Foundation. In 2006, the Crater Lake National Park Trust, an Oregon not-for-profit corporation, was established to raise funds to support education, research, and other projects at the park. I have chaired the Trust since 2006 and proudly helped develop the updated Oregon Crater Lake license plate.


Q: What do you appreciate about being a Southern Oregonian?

Bill: I appreciate growing up in a loving family. Of being supported and mentored by community members as I grew up. Of having the opportunities to contribute to our community through local boards leading to statewide and national assignments during my career.


Q: What is necessary for your and future generations?

Bill: We must be committed to maintaining and developing our infrastructure into the future. Just as past generations provided for us today, we must be prepared to leave a better place for the future.

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