Uncommon student gets a chance, gives back more

By J. Adrian Aumen, College of Arts & Sciences

Orlan-SvingenPULLMAN, Wash. – When history professor Orlan Svingen encouraged nontraditional student Janet Creighton to complete her doctorate at Washington State University in the 1990s, he had no idea that she and her husband are philanthropists and longtime generous supporters of WSU.

This year, they became the greatest benefactors of Svingen’s work, pledging a $230,000 grant to establish the John and Janet Creighton Public History (JJCPH) Project. The four-year outreach will connect the WSU public history program with ongoing historical and cultural interpretive work by government and Native American groups in southwest Montana and east-central Idaho.

The Creightons in 2013 with a Pendleton blanket specially dedicated to them as an appreciation from the Agai Dika mixed band of Shoshone, Bannock and Sheepeater tribes at the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural and Educational Center in Salmon, Idaho. (Photos by Mary Ghirardo)

“As an older, married student, not all universities welcomed me with open arms,” Janet Creighton recalled of her Ph.D. studies. But Svingen “treated me like a recruit. He spent time in his busy day to explain the program, how I would fit in and what classes I should take.”

“Janet entered a rigorous Ph.D. program, lived in McEachern Hall, dined at the Rotunda with a spectrum of undergraduates, joined a lively group of graduate students on a research adventure in Montana and produced a dissertation on an important topic in American history,” Svingen said.

After she completed her doctorate, the two worked together in history research for several years before he learned of her other connections to WSU and the WSU Foundation.

“She was such a quiet, unassuming, studious person,” Svingen said. “When I found out who she really was, I was completely blown away.”

A Shoshone-Bannock family overlooks the newly dedicated Tendoy Park in Virginia City, Mont. WSU public history students will assist in developing interpretive and thematic materials for the park, which honors Chief Tendoy, an important historical Indian leader. Jack and Janet Creighton were among major supporters of the July 2015 dedication.

John (“Jack”) Creighton is a former president and CEO of Weyerhaeuser Co. and interim chairman and CEO of United Airlines Corporation. He and Janet are among the university’s most generous private donors, providing major financial support for scholarships, research and facilities. They each have given generously of their wisdom, time and energy as members of the WSU Foundation Board of Trustees and of several deans’ cabinets and advisory boards.

The JJCPH Project will provide hands-on experiential learning opportunities, a continuation and expansion of the history department’s Public History Field School, which enables WSU students to work collaboratively with Shoshone-Bannock tribal specialists and historical and interpretive specialists from Virginia City, Mont., and Salmon, Idaho.