The memorial parade for the late Fire Chief Jerry Smith in downtown McMinnville.

Northern Willamette Valley

Funds Boost Emergency Responder Workforce

In July 2022, a line of shiny red firetrucks and community members paraded through downtown McMinnville to honor the late Fire Chief Jerry Smith, who served in that role on the McMinnville Fire Department from 1965 to 1989. That day also marked the debut of a new scholarship program in his name, which will help train Yamhill County’s next generation of firefighters, EMTs and nurses.

Chief Smith modernized the department and developed a team of well-trained firefighters. To honor that legacy, a longtime friend created the Jerry Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund. “I liked Jerry so well, I wanted to do something for him,” says the anonymous donor. The scholarship’s endowment will grow over time with contributions from fundraising activities and individual gifts.

With the aim to train emergency responders who intend to stay and work in the area, the scholarship is grounded in partnerships with Chemeketa Community College, fire departments and employers to provide a mix of schooling and hands-on experience.

Chemeketa Community College student Naomi Sweet, a firefighter since age 16, is studying to become a paramedic.

“I come from the small town of Dayton, and I’m not able to get any financial help from my parents, so I’ve always worked full time to try to afford my schooling. The Jerry Smith Scholarship made a huge impact because it came so efficiently and effectively toward my education.”

Naomi Sweet

“A lot of the training is based on operating out of an ambulance or working out of an engine, so they have an opportunity to put their skills to work even before they are out of school,” says fund advisor Lucas Slavens, who serves as battalion chief at the McMinnville Fire Department.

Recognizing that some students need funding outside of the scholarship cycle, and that some trainings — such as certified nursing assistant programs — are unaccredited and thus ineligible for conventional scholarships, the donor also opened an advised fund to award grants to institutions to cover tuition.

The two funds work in tandem, and community members — either working in or retired from fields the fund supports — serve as fund advisors and select scholarship recipients. It’s a tailored solution born from collaboration among the donor, advisors and OCF staff that will bolster the local workforce for generations to come.