The band plays during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at McKay High School on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Lester Green spent years involved at the high school that bears his father-in-law’s name.

The Salem philanthropist moved to the area in 1950, shortly after marrying college sweetheart Marylou McKay, who was the daughter of then-Governor Douglas McKay.

Since McKay High School was built in 1979, Green and his descendants in Salem have stayed involved, contributing to a fund for a new turf field and helping with the school’s Community 101 program, where high school students research and grant money to local nonprofits.

“Dad wanted to do something bigger,” said Leslie Dinsdale, his daughter.

Following Green’s death in July at age 95, the northeast Salem high school is receiving a $360,000 bequest from Green’s trust to be used at McKay, with virtually no restrictions on how it can be spent.

A 1953 newspaper clipping shows Lester Green shaking hands with his father-in-law, Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay (Courtesy/Jim Green)

Green’s children said before the Covid pandemic began, their father spoke with former principal Rob Schoepper about establishing a fund where teachers and student groups could seek money for activities they might otherwise not be able to do.

About 80% of students attending McKay qualify for free school meals, a rough indicator of the poverty rate among McKay families. Dinsdale said it’s harder for students to travel or go on field trips without outside support.

Dinsdale mentioned the school’s InvenTeam, an engineering team which has won multiple national awards and grants and had to raise $30,000 from the community to travel to a national symposium at MIT to present their work in 2019. The family got involved supporting the team a few years ago, she said.

“That's when it really became clear to all of us that … McKay just doesn’t have those resources. They can’t just fundraise in their neighborhoods like Sprague and West Salem can,” Dinsdale said.

Ranae Quiring, who became McKay’s principal in July, said she was aware of conversations with Green’s family about a donation, but only recently learned the money was forthcoming.

News of the donation became public when it was listed on the Salem-Keizer School Board agenda for a Nov. 9 meeting. The board voted to accept the money, thanking the family for their generosity.

“It was a fun surprise,” Quiring said. “It’s a big deal for our community.”

It’s her fifth year at McKay and the first as the school’s principal. Quiring said she wasn’t aware of another donation of this magnitude in the school’s history.

“Certainly not with the degree of freedom that the family has represented,” she said.

Ranae Quiring, principal of McKay High School on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Quiring said she’s working to set up a student and staff group at McKay who will decide the best process for allocating the money. She expects money will begin being disbursed later this school year, and said it could support programs like band, drama, student clubs and other activities that normally require outside fundraising.

Quiring said she wants to make sure the process is equitable and funds don’t just go to “the people who speak the loudest or ask the most, but that we have some really good procedures and processes in place.” Part of that is being transparent with the community about how money is spent, she said.

Dinsdale said her parents supported many Salem institutions, but did their best to stay out of the spotlight.

Green, who was born in Pendleton, went to work at Douglas McKay Chevrolet out of college and helped grow the company into what would eventually become Capitol Auto Group. The business is now in its fourth generation of family ownership.

Green also served as board Chair for Salem Hospital in 1969 when Salem General and Salem Memorial merged into a single hospital. He was named Salem First Citizen in 1977.

“Mom and Dad flew under the radar – they were not people out there making a big deal out of donations,” Dinsdale said.

Green’s children said they’re eager to see the money put to work at the school.

“We’ve always been rooting for McKay,” said Jim Green, Green’s son. “We're just tickled pink that it's finally happening.”

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

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