Rural Heppner sits at the base of Oregon’s Blue Mountains and has a population of fewer than 1,300 people, many of whom are blue collar, salt-of-the-earth farmers. It’s a community where, when somebody falls ill, neighbors hold fundraisers and bring food to help. It’s the kind of town where giving comes easily, a lesson one of its most celebrated sons has taken to heart and perfected over the course of his life.
Pat Kilkenny followed older brother Russell from Heppner to Eugene and enrolled at the University of Oregon, where he studied journalism. A member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, Kilkenny regularly attended football and basketball games while in college, and after a career in private industry famously returned to the UO in 2007 to serve a two-year stint as athletic director.
Now happily settled in San Diego with his wife, Stephanie, Kilkenny still lives by the values instilled in him as a boy growing up in Heppner, and through his charity, the Lucky Duck Foundation, makes it a point to help others as often as possible. Stephanie, the foundation’s CEO, shares Pat’s philanthropic nature, and while Pat describes himself as “an acquired taste” that took Stephanie “a while to acquire,” a mutual love of helping others was one of the first things to bring them together.
“She wanted from day one to give back, not just in terms of money but also in organizational leadership, the part I was least familiar with,” Kilkenny said. “I learned a lot from my wife. That was one of the things early on that we had in common—we both wanted to do whatever we could that would make a difference.”
A trip to Portland as a boy exposed Kilkenny to the plight of the homeless for the first time, and spurred him to support St. Vincent de Paul, a charity that not only provides shelters for the homeless, but also helps them find jobs so that they can get back on their feet again.
After founding the Lucky Duck Foundation, a San Diego-based nonprofit, Kilkenny was able to expand his philanthropic activity, starting with a cause that hit close to home—Fanconi anemia.
“A few friends we know have lost children to the disease,” said Kilkenny. “We wanted to make a difference; we wanted to do something that might change lives at the end of the day.”
Pat Kilkenny ’74 (yellow shirt) and
PGA golfer Peter Jacobsen ’77 (green shirt)
with fellow Ducks at the Swing & Soiree.
The Lucky Duck Foundation currently supports four charities—the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund, Father Joe’s Villages, the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and the Helen Woodward Animal Center—and thanks to matching donations from Pat and Stephanie, has given more than $3.7 million.
Two of the charities the Lucky Duck Foundation helps were selected by the foundation’s committee, 14 men and women who share the Kilkenny’s philanthropic nature and devote countless hours each year to help plan Lucky Duck’s fundraisers.
The largest annual fundraiser is the Swing & Soiree, a golf outing, dinner, and auction that this year raised almost $700,000 for the foundation’s chosen charities. The auctioneer is one of St. Vincent de Paul’s many success stories, as he was once homeless but now, with the charity’s help, has spent more than five years running auctions.
To Kilkenny, who says he feels like he and Stephanie have “won the lottery in life,” the decision to help those less fortunate is an easy one, and something he encourages others to do whenever possible.
“There’s no better feeling than doing something for somebody who has no chance to do something for you,” Kilkenny said. “As you move through life you have experiences where people do nice things for you without expecting anything in return. Once you’ve done it once, it becomes addictive; it feels really good to help.
“You have to find something that matters to you: maybe you’ve lost a parent to cancer, or a friend lost a limb in the military. The list is unfortunately really, really long of people who need help, and what better way is there to spend your free time?”
Learn more about the Lucky Duck Foundation.