December 10, 2019

The Melody Joy Finnestad ’82 Memorial Scholarship Fund

At this beginning of this school year, we were honored to announce the establishment of the Melody Joy Finnestad ’82 Memorial Scholarship Fund. This new endowment will help sustain and grow Oakwood’s diverse and inclusive community into a vibrant future. We are grateful to the Kondrk/Finnestad family for sharing their story with the Oakwood community and for their tremendous generosity in support of financial assistance.

It was a cold November morning in 1982, and my family was returning to Seattle from a reunion for my mom’s relatives in Nebraska. We woke up early Sunday morning in Oregon and jumped into our VW van to complete the last stretch of our journey home. As we cruised along the Columbia Gorge an invisible patch of black ice on a bridge changed everything. In an instant, our happy family of six was gone and a devastated family of five had taken its place. Melody Joy, our littlest angel of blonde hair and blue eyes, was gone, her life cut short at four, her story seemingly over.

Charity and Melody Finnestad

I’ve always believed there are two ways we humans change and grow. The first is through dramatic cataclysmic events that break us apart and reform us as something new—like the accident. These changes are the ones we give all our attention to, crafting epic tales and fantastic stories about them. Entertainment is built from the ground up on this kind of change, but the second less sexy, less myth-making avenue of change is just as vital. It is the slow incremental adaptions, practiced day after day, that layer upon each other, and, over time, create the same kind of transformation as those epic events. This is the fertile ground of education—the place where character is formed sans lightning bolts, earth shattering revelations, or tragic losses. The story I’m going to share with you has a little bit of both.

I grew up in a family with very little money and a limited education. My mom, a devout Christian, went to Bible College and taught at our tiny religious school, but my father, who battles dyslexia, barely scraped through high school. Shop class saved him. Cabinet making became his life’s profession. I watched my parents struggle to pay the bills and survive in a world that somehow seemed stacked against them. I knew I wanted something different. From our hand-built log home in Sisters, Oregon, I determined the only way out was education. So, at sixteen I traipsed off to college—dreams, determination, and not much else in hand. My parents had scraped to have enough to get me through the first semester, but when the second rolled around they couldn’t help. Terrified I would have to quit before I’d even begun, I took out a student loan and applied for every scholarship under the sun. As luck would have it, I was awarded a full ride academic scholarship for the next three years in honor of a woman named Maxine. That scholarship changed my life! I have always wanted to pay that gift forward.

The Kondrk/Finnestad Family: Theodore, Charity, Talbot '27, and Robert

Combine that with the fact that I decided at nine that I would find a way to keep my sister’s name alive and you have the Melody Joy Finnestad ’82 Memorial Scholarship Fund. Robert and I can pay forward the gift of education that was given to me and change the course of the recipient’s life, in the same way mine was changed, while at the same time keeping the magic of Melody’s name alive. The reason we chose Oakwood, as opposed to a college, is we both believe the younger you start, the more radical the impact. We believe in Oakwood. We believe in their vision. We’ve seen how Oakwood distinguishes itself, by not telling children what to think, but teaching them how to think. We need thinkers with big hearts and even bigger imaginations in this precarious time we live in. We are delighted to partner with Oakwood in creating more thinkers. We encourage any of you who have considered creating a scholarship to take the leap.

—Charity Gaye Finnestad and Robert Kondrk