Meet Joe Marshall, Board President of the Lillian Vallely School in Blackfoot, Idaho

This is the first in a series of articles introducing you to
the leaders of this special Episcopal elementary day school.

Retired? This seventy-eight year old is not even close. Like many other successful men and women, Joseph W. Marshall has transitioned from a successful corporate career with Idaho Power—he retired as CEO and Chairman in 1999—into volunteer management positions across the Treasure Valley of Idaho and beyond. He serves organizations in need of leadership, vision, and financial resources, and one of them is the Lillian Vallely School.

Joe W. Marshall

Soon after “retiring,” Joe became reacquainted with a dear friend, LVS co-founder, John Thornton. By then, Thornton had retired as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho, and he invited Marshall to serve on the LVS Board.

Marshall was not a complete stranger to the Native American culture in Idaho, as his business dealings included the negotiation of transmission lines across the Fort Hall Reservation in eastern Idaho, where LVS students and their families live. He had also worked with the Nez Perce tribe on endangered salmon issues and served on the Idaho Governor’s Bicentennial Commemoration Committee of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Marshall has long been an admirer of the Native American culture and, in particular, the tribes residing in Idaho.

“They, along with their rich cultures, were swallowed up and deposited on reservations, and, in most incidents, far from their native lands,” Joe states. “You’ve got to have empathy for that.” He’s right. And he adds, “Corralling Native Americans onto reservations and expecting them to adapt to such change in a few years was very unrealistic.”

Why does Marshall believe so passionately about the Lillian Vallely School?

“We have a moral obligation to give these children on the Fort Hall Reservation opportunities,” he says with both pride and a tinge of white guilt. ”Native Americans have made a major contribution to this country, and we want our young students to understand, embrace and take loving pride in their Native culture.”

To that end, the school staff has always included a Native American (Shoshone) culture teacher in addition to its classroom teachers. Marshall explains why. “We think it is very important that our children be well prepared after graduating from LVS to grow into young adults being proud of themselves and proud of their rich culture. No matter where they choose to go afterwards, be it on or off the reservation, they can accomplish much.”

Lillian Vallely died weeks before her eponymous school opened in 1998. She had a wish—which she communicated to the school founders—that the school children receive a quality education, experience their culture, and learn that there is a God and that God loves them as individuals. For this reason, LVS operates today as an Episcopal school. Or some might say as an Episcopal mission, a nonprofit entity receiving modest financial support from a number of private as well as public institutions in the form of grants and gifts—many from Episcopal churches.

The school currently has no endowment, and the $300,000 or so that it takes to operate the school ever year comes from, more or less, the same pool of grants and individual donations. With the Thorntons at the helm, that model has continued to work year after year. But they are now both in their eighties and Marshall has also exceeded the U.S. male life expectancy.

Marshall, the board president for the past six years, is committed in every way to the school and its future. “We have a chance to affect the lives of children—part of a culture living right in our midst—whose love of the land, the environment, animal life, and vegetation permeates their culture. If we can help prepare them to live good lives in both cultures, it will enrich all of all lives.”

Marshall is right. And we all share something in common: God’s love.

His wish, the ‘Marshall plan,’ is to create a Lillian Vallely Foundation to provide financially for the school in perpetuity. He thinks at least half of the annual operating income for the school should come from investment income controlled by the foundation. That’s a tall order, some $2.5 million in legacy and other gifts raised over say five years, but proven achievers like Marshall are the ones to get it going.

How will he confront all the challenges? Research Joe Marshall and one will discover a theme that guided him through his career at Idaho Power. It’s an engineer’s faith that logical minds at work together can surmount any problem.


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