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Jim and Wanda Cowles to be awarded George F. Whitworth Medal

April 12, 2017
Whitworth University’s highest award, the George F. Whitworth Medal, will be bestowed upon James P. Cowles, and, posthumously, Wanda Toliver Cowles, during a private ceremony during the board of trustees meeting on campus next week. This award is only given periodically to candidates who have exhibited extraordinary service to society and to the university over an extended period.

“In its long and storied history, there’s no family more synonymous with Whitworth’s success in Spokane than the Cowles family," said President of Whitworth University Beck A. Taylor. "Jim and Wanda represent a legacy that reaches all the way back to Whitworth’s fledgling days in north Spokane, and they embody the faithfulness and generosity of a family that has been central to Whitworth’s success for more than 100 years. I’m so grateful for Jim and Wanda’s friendship, their encouragement, and their vision for excellence. Wanda, in particular, inspired us through her service on Whitworth’s board and her many encouraging conversations with faculty and students. And Jim’s love and devotion to this place is unquestioned. I never tire of hearing Jim tell stories of his family's ties to Whitworth, and I’m grateful for the humble ways Jim continues that legacy, even after Wanda’s death.”

The Cowles have been major financial supporters of Whitworth; in 2011 the couple donated $3 million to fund an endowed chair in gifted education at Whitworth, honoring long-serving Associate Professor of Education Margo Long. Jim led the development of the campus music building in the 1970s, and, most recently, the Cowleses contributed $500,000 for the building remodel and addition. Among the other personal gifts to Whitworth, the Cowleses directed contributions to the Whitworth Annual Fund, Cowles Auditorium, the baseball program, general scholarships, the Centennial Campaign, general endowments and professional development for cabinet members.

Over the years, they also personally supported projects within the Spokane area, making donations made to St. George’s School, Holy Names Music Center, Northwest Museum of Art & Culture, the Eastern Washington Historical Society, the Spokane Symphony, United Way and the Spokane Parks Foundation, to name just a few.

Jim Cowles has been an influential leader in Spokane, working alongside notable regional leaders such as Tom Foley, Neil Fosseen and King Cole. He is the chairman of the board of Inland Empire Paper Company (IEP), a subsidiary of Cowles Company, which also owns The Spokesman-Review. Jim attended Yale in 1955 and earned a master’s degree from the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1961. His talents in negotiation were instrumental in persuading the railroads to give land to the city for the World’s Fair, Expo ’74.

Jim first served as president of IEP in 1962, providing oversight of the company’s land and timber interests. He is also a former trustee of two family-funded foundations, the Harriet Cheney Cowles Foundation and the William H. Cowles Foundation. The two foundations contribute to civic, arts and educational endeavors in the Spokane geographic area. The Harriet Cheney Cowles Foundation has contributed nearly $20 million in support of projects since its inception in 1944. Jim also previously served as vice president, chair and president of Cowles Publishing, and on the board of the Tribune Company.

Wanda Cowles was a Spokane philanthropist, educator and advocate for gifted learning programs. She died on Jan. 23, 2016, and her memorial service was held on the Whitworth campus. Wanda’s passion for education, and particularly for gifted education, helped shape many of Whitworth’s teacher preparation and certification programs.

She attended the University of California at Los Angeles and Stanford University, earning a bachelor’s degree and an M.Ed. in 1953 and 1961, respectively. She was employed as an elementary school teacher in California and Germany and served as a leader in Washington state education. For decades, she volunteered with educational interests, serving as a member of the Washington State Advisory Committee for Gifted Education until 2009 alongside Whitworth Associate Professor Emeritus Margo Long. Wanda served as a Whitworth trustee from 1988 to 1995, chairing the Academic Affairs and Honorary Degrees committees; in 1985, she received the Whitworth Distinguished Community Service Award for her years of work with gifted students in the Inland Empire.  She was also active with the Spokane School District Gifted Advisory Committee, the Northwest Gifted Child Association’s Spokane Chapter and the Spokane Parent Advisory Committee for Gifted Education.

Wanda served 12 years on the board of Saint George’s School and was a founding member and president of Spokane Business Assisting Scholastic Excellence, a nonprofit that supports professional development for teachers.  She was also involved in the effort to build a science center in Spokane and served 12 years on the board of the Pacific Science Center in Seattle.  She was a board member of Mobius Center of Spokane and was active in the YWCA, Hutton Settlement Children’s Home, Musicfest Northwest, Spokane School Volunteer Program Advisory Council and Eastern Washington State Historical Society.  

Whitworth’s relationship with the Cowles family dates back 100 years, when in 1914 William Hutchinson Cowles provided financial support for Whitworth’s move from Tacoma to Spokane. William Cowles’ vision to bring education, culture and the arts to the Inland Northwest has served as the basis for a lasting legacy of generous support from the Cowles family to the university. Over the years, the family has provided significant support for Whitworth’s original music building, the Harriet Cheney Cowles Memorial Library, the Cowles Auditorium, and the Margo Long Chair in Gifted Education.

The first George F. Whitworth Medal was awarded in 1974, posthumously, to Frank Warren. This award is Whitworth’s highest honor and is given to those directly connected with Whitworth who have given most significantly of themselves and of their time and resources to further the interests of the university. The fact that it is given rarely rather than bestowed annually further signifies the honor it conveys.

These are the 22 recipients who have been honored with the George F. Whitworth Medal: President Frank Warren (1974), Trustee Albert Arend (1974), Trustee Ina Johnston, who funded the Eric Johnston Science Center (1976), Trustee Herbert Hamblen (1976), Trustee Dorothy Dixon, ’23 (1977), Trustee Werner Rosenquist (1980), Professor of English and Acting President Clarence Simpson (1980), Elizabeth Coleman (1981), Lifetime Trustee Emeritus William Fix (1983), Trustee Martin Polhemus (1983), Trustee William Harvey Frazier (1985), Trustee Ingwer Thomsen and his wife, Ruth Thomsen (1988), Professor of History Homer Cunningham (1989), Trustee Franklin Ott and his wife, piano teacher Margie May Ott (1992), Trustee Hayden Morgan (1995), Trustee Jim Little (1998), President Bill Robinson (2010), Lifetime Trustee Emeritus Art Symons, ’51 (2013), and Lifetime Trustee Charles “Chuck” Boppell, ‘65 (2015).

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian church. The university, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.