Ken Jundt, banker, family man and volunteer, honored as Salem First Citizen

Ken Jundt stands in his office in front of photos of his grandchildren. (Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)

Ken Jundt’s second-floor office at Columbia Bank is littered with plaques recognizing the many community groups he’s volunteered with during his 30 years in Salem.

But those awards, squirreled away on bookshelves and window sills, aren’t the focal point of Jundt’s office. A visitor is far more likely to notice the dozens of photos of Jundt’s three adult children and seven grandchildren hanging on the walls.

“I call this my seasonal wall,” he explained with a broad smile, gesturing to the area behind his chair. There, he hangs a single recent photo of each grandchild.

On Friday, the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce will honor Jundt as First Citizen, an annual honor bestowed on someone who exemplifies being a leader through business, philanthropy and volunteering.

Now a senior vice president and regional manager at Columbia, Jundt was born in Portland and moved to Salem in 1989 with his wife and young children. He started his career as a bank teller and worked his way up, holding positions at several other banks before coming to Columbia in 1997.

Jundt has been an advocate for children and a force behind some of Salem’s most iconic events, including the Crystal Apple Awards, which honor local educators at a formal gala, and Hoopla, the 3-on-3 basketball tournament that will celebrate its 21st year in August.

Jundt maintains he played “a very small part” in getting Hoopla off the ground. He secured Columbia Bank as a founding sponsor and has competed, volunteered and judged various parts of the event in the years since.

The event’s co-founder, Jason Unruh, was more generous in the statement he submitted for Jundt’s nomination.

“We are not sure that the tournament would have even gotten off the ground without his initial buy-in and support. He is without a doubt one of the kindest people we have ever been associated with and we don’t know where Hoopla would be without him,” Unruh wrote.

The tournament is now billed as the second largest of its kind in the world and attracts roughly 4,000 competitors a year.

“It’s amazing how much it’s grown from year to year. It’s a tremendous asset to this community,” Jundt said, praising the work of Unruh and other organizers.

Columbia Bank continues to serve as a major sponsor.

“My premise has always been, ‘Is it good for the community, is it good for the bank and do we have employees that want to get behind it?’” Jundt said. If those three pieces are there, “writing the checks is the easy part.”

Jundt serves on the boards of SEDCOR, United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley, Boys and Girls Club of Salem and Horses for Hope, an equine therapy organization. He spent years on the Chamber board, where he revitalized and grew Showbiz, Salem’s annual trade show.

Under his leadership, a marketing push and greater recruitment efforts transformed Showbiz from a dreary showcase of about six businesses at the state fairgrounds to a dynamic show on the Willamette University campus, which quickly outgrew a single gym.

“The businesses found a lot of value in that because they started to get new customers,” Jundt said.

Ken Jundt at his desk at Columbia Bank. (Caleb Wolf/Special to Salem Reporter)

His peers say he’s quick to dedicate his time toward helping others, whether it’s providing his opinion as a banker on a project a nonprofit is pursuing or going out of his way to drop a friend off in downtown Portland during rush hour.

“He is a tremendous giver of his time, his expertise to the Salem community,” said George Jennings, a Salem attorney who’s served with Jundt on the Chamber board and nominated him for First Citizen.

Jennings said Jundt has a gift for leading discussions among people with differing opinions to find consensus and a common solution.

In the late 1990s, when the Salem-Keizer School District was considering running a bond measure for school construction, Jundt sat down with business and district leaders to reach an agreement about how much schools should ask voters for and helped get business support for the measure, Jennings said.

“Ken was very involved in helping get to a number, explain why the number was a good number and then going out and getting that approved,” Jennings said.

Jundt has long been a supporter of the Boys and Girls Club, and said he’s amazed to see the impact the club has when he visits and talks to children.

“Some of them feel hopeless and they’re looking for something safe,” he said.

He joined the board about a year ago, but went out of his way to learn about the club’s work before signing on, chief executive officer Sue Bloom said.

When Jundt was president of the United Way board, he made it a personal mission to visit every program United Way was funding, including the club’s dental clinic.

“He came over here and spent a good hour with our health and dental service staff and myself to learn about the needs of the kids,” Bloom said. “He just really is willing to take a deep dive and understand people’s situations.”

Jundt now serves as past president on the United Way board and remains a sounding board for projects executive director Ron Hays is considering. Lately, he’s been helping advise Hays about plans to build affordable housing from a banking perspective, sharing what potential financiers would look for in a project.

The two talk nearly weekly over breakfast, Hays said.

“He’s there at seven in the morning ready to engage and ready to work on whatever he needs to work on,” Hays said.

Jundt said children have always been a focus for him and his wife, Mary. Both grew up in large families, and Jundt would help out with kids his mother babysat, as well as his younger siblings.

In his spare time, he woodworks, a hobby he says grew out of seeing his father work with his hands-on mechanical projects.

He’s quick to downplay his talent – “I make a lot of sawdust” – but said he’s crafted two rocking chairs for his twin grandchildren and a bed.

His entire family, down to the grandchildren, surprised him at work when Chamber leaders told him he received the First Citizen nomination several weeks ago.

“I’m still kind of pinching myself,” he said.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Follow Salem Reporter on FACEBOOK and on TWITTER.

SUBSCRIBE TO SALEM REPORTER — For $10 a month, you hire our entire news team to work for you all month digging out the news of Salem and state government. You get breaking news alerts, emailed newsletters and around-the-clock access to our stories. We depend on subscribers to pay for in-depth, accurate news. Help us grow and get better with your subscription. Sign up HERE.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.