By Tony Biasotti
Early on Nov. 8, the morning after the shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill, Cal Lutheran’s senior director of annual giving had an email waiting for her from a longtime donor living in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The donor, Jim Bower ’76, had decided that morning on his next gift to the university: a scholarship in honor of Ron Helus, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department sergeant who was one of 12 people killed hours earlier at Borderline. Helus’ son, Jordan Helus, is a 2016 Cal Lutheran graduate.
“Like everybody else, I went online that morning and saw the shooting was in Thousand Oaks,” Bower said. “I saw a sergeant got killed. I was a sergeant; I was a police officer for a long time. I can imagine how his wife felt when she got the call. He was out there trying to do his job, and he didn’t deserve that.”
Bower has endowed the Helus scholarship with a $50,000 gift. It will go toward Cal Lutheran students majoring in criminology and criminal justice and planning careers in law enforcement, and will probably become available in the 2019-2020 school year.
Bower had planned to donate the money before the shooting. His older sister, Anne, died last year, without a will, and Bower was her closest relative. He liquidated her estate and considered causes and programs he thought she would have supported, until the shooting gave him a new focus for the gift.
Bower spent 28 years with the Los Angeles Police Department before he retired in 2008. It was around the time he joined, four years out of Cal Lutheran, that he began donating to his alma mater. There was no trust fund or family foundation to draw from — just the salary of a U.S. Marine Corps veteran rookie cop in his late 20s.
“It wasn’t a lot, but every year Cal Lutheran would call me, and I started giving,” he said. “It all came out of Jim Bower’s checkbook.”
Though he wasn’t exactly wealthy, he said yes to those calls because of his positive experience in college. As a Los Angeles native, his favorite thing about Cal Lutheran was that it was “like
a small town.”
“You knew everybody, and you could be anybody you wanted to be,” he said. “If you wanted to be a jock or a party guy or an intellectual or somebody in student government, you were always welcome into the group.”
Over the years, his donations have endowed scholarships for military veterans and for science and math students at Cal Lutheran, and helped to fund the new Swenson Science Center, where Bower will have his name on a classroom.
“He’s been very generous,” said CLU’s Michelle Spurgeon, the recipient of the Nov. 8 email. “I really consider him a friend. We talk at least once a week. He’s very funny; he’s got a very dry sense of humor. If I wasn’t working at Cal Lutheran and he wasn’t a donor, I’d still be friends with him.”