Encompassing the world through volunteerism
The Gresham Arts Plaza was once a bit of a mess.
It was the former home of a service station, and the land was contaminated. The city of Gresham had received a grant to clean up pollutants and was kicking around ideas for what the downtown parcel, located at 401 N.E. Second St., could become. Despite some early discussions around a mixed-use building, the eventual vision was for a cultural space. Because of financial constraints — a common handcuff in Gresham — then-Mayor Charles Becker wanted it funded by the community.
So a team of volunteers got together to run a capital fundraising campaign. They knocked on doors, met with organizations, and traveled to Salem to secure funds with support from then-Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson. The result was the creation of the Center for the Arts Foundation, a nonprofit organization to manage the money.
“Make it happen — that is what I do,” said Sue O’Halloran with a smile.
All nonprofits need a person who can take an analytical approach and develop ideas centered around sound business practices. They also need a numbers person who can craft plans, secure grants, work with entrepreneurs and elected officials, and cut through all the red tape that slows the best-intentioned plans.
In Gresham, that person is O’Halloran, a dedicated supporter who has brought healthcare, education, arts and culture, music, nature, and so much more to East Multnomah County.
“You don’t always have to be the person out front, getting the acclaim,” she said. “You just have to have that commitment to making a difference. Finding talented people in the community and bringing them together.”
As both a founding member and current president of the still-thriving Arts Foundation, O’Halloran was integral to efforts to bring the Gresham Arts Plaza to life. Now the plaza hosts the free summer Music Mondays concert series, Gresham Farmers Market, Gresham Arts Festival, and more.
But O’Halloran didn’t stop there.
She has continued her dedication, throwing herself headfirst into new projects and initiatives to keep “making things happen.” It is why so many nominated and celebrated her as one of Pamplin Media’s 2023 Amazing Neighbors.
“I really appreciate people noticing,” O’Halloran said. “Thank you.”
O’Halloran was born in Klamath Falls and grew up in Portland. She attended Grant High School, then one of the largest high schools in the state. Upon marrying her first husband, the newlyweds found themselves at a crossroads when it came to purchasing a home. For O’Halloran, her heart was pulling her east.
“Growing up, we always used to go to the (Multnomah County Fair),” she said. “So I had this love for the little town of Gresham.”
Before the eponymous park was developed, they bought a house in the Bella Vista Neighborhood but later moved to Boise for half a decade for her husband’s job.
“When that was up, we immediately came back to Gresham,” O’Halloran said. “It has always been the place I wanted to live.”
Though the city had substantially grown and expanded, it still had that small-town vibe she loved. Growing up in the comparatively vast Portland, she enjoyed being surrounded by nature, where she could bump into folks she knew on walks and have friendly conversations.
“It is that sense of community,” she said. “People really do support one another here.”
That supportive atmosphere has been largely fostered by O’Halloran, who has volunteered or lent a hand to nearly every type of nonprofit organization. The number is dizzying — even she has trouble remembering them all.
Like many parents, it began in the school districts. Her children attended the Barlow system and were high school band members. She created the “Barlow Band Aids” to raise money for the organization, pushing it beyond the traditional donation jar at the bake sale.
O’Halloran established the homeowners association at Kingswood Heights, sat on the board for the Mt. Hood Hospice, the board for Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center, helped form the Gresham-Barlow Education Foundation, was the former chair of the Leach Botanical Gardens, and was a board member of the Mt. Hood Community College Foundation.
“I find people can travel this narrow path, and they miss so much of this wonderful world around them,” O’Halloran said. “I think having a little degree of curiosity and a little degree of risk opens all kinds of opportunities.”
“It’s pretty exciting,” she added with a smile.
She is a mainstay at the Gresham Chamber, which she described as a force for good within the community. O’Halloran, still a member, served as president of the business organization during a leadership shakeup, guiding the group through some difficult months.
For the Soroptimists International of Gresham, of which O’Halloran has been a member for more than 30 years, she created a new way to fundraise for essential scholarships and programs for local women.
“It used to be fashion shows and wine tasting — which were great but getting a little familiar,” she said. “So I knew we had this wonderful Teddy Bear Parade that everyone loved, so we came up with putting in different sections that were sponsored.”
“It became the base for all those funds,” she added.
That has been the trend for O’Halloran. Despite raising a family and her day job as a realtor (she is president of KMO Real Estate, a commercial/residential/management firm established in 1992), she has always found new, innovative ways to thrust nonprofit organizations forward.
“I’ve always been pretty good at setting my priorities,” she said. “If it takes working late or on a weekend, you do what you have to do.”
For her, it’s about that love of community.
“If you live in a place that you love, there is a degree of responsibility for what you have to contribute,” she said.