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Pence Driving Foundation Awarding LGBT Scholarships

Howard W. Hewitt, San Francisco, Calif. – John Pence ’58 might be the godfather of a renewal in American realism painting.

After an 8-year stint in the Navy, which included serving Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson in the White House, and seven years working in the airline industry he opened an art gallery in San Francisco.

Pence, 70, decided to concentrate on American Realism because people can easily recognize talent in realist paintings. He also put his focus on young people and helping establish young artists. He brought young artists into the field when most major museums and galleries were displaying only American Realism paintings by deceased artists.

Today galleries like The John Pence Gallery have sprung up in San Francisco and across the country. There is one such museum in Evansville, he added. Pence even good-naturedly complains New York galleries often steal his up-and-coming artists.

His fashionable 8,000-square foot gallery near Union Square in San Francisco has housed more than just art over the past 32 year too. Pence has used his gallery for many charitable fundraisers, political fundraisers, and other gatherings.

“I think I’ve hosted a fundraiser for every woman who ever ran for anything in this city,” he said with a laugh. Pence loves talking about his work with young artists, but never strays too far from his Wabash political science major. He becomes energized and animated when discussing politics and its players.

He has devoted much of his life to those charitable organizations.  He is national chairman of The Point Foundation. The Point Foundation funds college scholarships for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender students. The one common thread among recipients is they have had some estrangement if not outright rejection from their families.

He is a behind-the-scenes organizer and “big idea man” for what is now one of the five largest LGBT charities in the nation. When the idea of forming a scholarship foundation for such young people was discussed, several of the organizers were thinking about making it big enough for the state of California. John urged them to think big and build it as a national organization.

It now consumes him every bit as much as his gallery. His charitable work has benefited from his years of work in Washington D.C. and the White House. He’s rubbed elbows with the very powerful and very wealthy.

He’s using his “negotiating skills,” he calls it, to bring people together to send disenfranchised young people to college. He said the Point Foundation work is part of the legacy he hopes to leave behind. But he doesn’t intend for that to be any time soon.

When he turned 65, he made a commitment to run the gallery until he was 75. So today John Pence is halfway there, but he’s a man who clearly has never done anything with only 50 percent effort.

A full story on John Pence will be published later this year in Wabash Magazine and the Wabash College website.

Notes:

- Ok, I rode a cable car, walked Fisherman's Wharf and visited Chinatown. I thought that was enough "San Francisco experience." But this morning I was awakened from a light sleep by what seemed like a jiggle in the bed - sort of like a water bed. I didn't think much about it and went back to  sleep. Imagine the mild surprise then when I was watching morning news to hear a 4.3 earthquake struck about 45 miles away. Indeed, that jiggle was a quake. I didn't need that S.F. experience!

- I've received e-mail from several Wabash alums in the Central California area, and elsewhere, saying stop by if you're in the neighborhood.
And there certainly are several men in the Bay area that could have been on our visit list. Jonathan Walsh '98 contacted me by e-mail suggesting together just to talk about Wabash and such and we pulled that off this evening. He works downtown for Washington Mutual in its credit card division. The Gary, Ind., native has been living and working in the city for four years after starting his career in Chicago post-Wabash. We talked about Wabash, wine, and the city. It was a nice visit.

- Today is the last day I’ll spend in San Francisco. I’ve now seen 8 of 9 alums planned for this visit. I wrap up the working portion of the trip Friday with a visit to Stephen Pavy ’85. Pavy was on campus for Big Bash and hosted a popular colloquium on wine and food pairings. So it’s back to Sonoma for the wrap-up!

- Since it is my last day in this magnificent city, one I had never visited previously, I took some early morning time to do more exploring. I took my only walk down through Chinatown.

In photos: Top right: Pence talks about the detail in one of the paintings on display. Center: Pence near the entrance of is gallery. Lower right: One of the most popular and practical attractions in Chinatown is the daily fresh vegetable and fruit market.