Jim Bartko: 1965-2020
Editor’s note: This is the Jim Bartko obituary that appeared in The Register-Guard March 19, 2020.
Jim Bartko, a former University of Oregon associate athletic director who was instrumental in the school’s rise to prominence as a collegiate sports power and brand, died Monday. He was 54.
Bartko collapsed after working out on Sunday at the Oakway Fitness Center. Paramedics transported him to PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend in Springfield, where he died during surgery at 1:45 p.m. Monday, March 16, 2020.
His death came only four days after he’d announced his having filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Oakland in connection with his being sexually abused by a Catholic priest, Stephen Kiesle, over nearly a three-year period in the 1970s beginning when he was eight years old. At the same press conference in Oakland, Bartko’s new book, “Boy in Mirror,” was formally released. It was written with former Register-Guard columnist Bob Welch.
Bartko is survived by his parents, James and Mary Jane Bartko, of Lake Oswego; a son, A.J., 23, of Los Angeles, a daughter Danielle, 17, of Fresno, Calif.; his sister, Kim Abel, and her husband, Keith Abel, of Lake Oswego; nieces Melissa, Los Angeles, and Michaela, Seattle; nephew, Drew, of Portland; and his Uncle Dan Johnson and Aunt Ruby, of Ione, Calif. And, of course, his much-beloved English Golden Retriever, Stella.
Jim Barkto was born May 13, 1965, in Stockton, Calif., and spent his childhood in Pinole and Modesto, Calif. He loved sports and spent much of his youth playing a baseball game he invented wherein he pretended to be the entire Los Angeles Dodgers team. One of his proudest moments, however, was a real-life game in which, as the second baseman for Lloyds Bank, he threw out a runner at first base to secure the team’s first win over the rival Sportsman’s team in five years. “I’m so proud of you!” his father, Jim, the head coach, told him afterward.
After graduating from Modesto’s Central Catholic High School in 1983, he attended Washington State University, where he was head manager for the Cougars’ football team. He told friends he was “living the dream.”
Bartko started work for the University of Oregon in 1988 as head of Duck Athletic Fund fundraising for the Southern Oregon/Northern California region and, in 1991, moved to Portland to do a similar job.
He married the former Eileen Sorensen, whom he met when she was working for the Oregon Sports Network, in 1994, the same year he became an associate athletic director for UO in Eugene.
As one of the youngest associate athletic directors in the nation, Bartko emerged as a key player in Oregon’s rise to an upper-echelon athletic program. In particular, he became the university’s liaison with Nike co-founder Phil Knight, whose financial contributions helped fuel Oregon’s rise to an elite level.
Bartko counted his relationship with Phil and Penny Knight as among his richest and, in his book, decried that too many people saw them only for their money, and not for their hearts to help others.
At last week’s press conference, he said he had “the best parents you could have”; called his relationship with Kim as “more than a sister—a friend”; and talked of his special bond with “Robbie,” a childhood friend who was also abused by Kiesle. (From 2004-2010, Kiesle, who is believed to have abused more than 100 children, served a six-year term in connection with a child molestation conviction not related to Bartko.)
Jimmy loved his children, A.J. and Danielle, deeply and bragged on them often to friends. He loved sharing Duck sports events with the two, and would get misty-eyed telling how, in 2013, when Duck basketball player Carlos Emory had no family in town to walk him to center court on Senior Day, Danielle did so—as a fifth grader.
Bartko loved family, friends, sports, cooking, TV cooking shows, playing golf, Black Butte Ranch, the University of Oregon and everything Nike. He did not like ricotta cheese, unkind people and adidas.
Professionally, Bartko loved being part of teams that “made things happen.” He oversaw the Duck Athletic Fund and the regional Oregon Clubs for nearly two decades. In 2000, when Knight and the UO had a falling out, it was Bartko who helped the university maintain a tenuous relationship with Phil, in part by finding a way to broadcast UO football games just to the Knights’ home in Portland.
“He had crazy ideas, along with everybody else. He was like, ‘We can do this, let’s do this,’” Santa Clara Athletic Director Renee Baumgartner, who worked with Bartko for nearly 20 years at Oregon, told The Register-Guard. “He was one of the most selfless, giving individuals I’ve ever met in my entire life. He just cared about people. He touched so many people’s lives. He had a way of uniting people.”
Bartko supervised the $227 million Matthew Knight Arena project. And he is credited with raising more than $375 million for capital improvements and facilities, including the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex and the John E. Jaqua Academic Center.
“His work—in tandem with great coaches and a bit of help from Nike—drove UO’s sports programs to ever-higher levels of excellence and success,” said Nike designer Tinker Hatfield, who illustrated the cover of Bartko’s new book.
“He was probably as responsible as anyone in the athletic department’s transition from having nothing to having everything you could ever need,” former Oregon football Coach Rich Brooks told The Register-Guard.
In 2007, after a brief stint as an associate athletic director at the University of California-Berkeley, Bartko returned to Oregon. After watching the Ducks compete in two national football championship games in a four-year span—something that would have been unheard of even a decade before—Bartko accepted the position of athletic director at Fresno State University, starting in January 2015.
It was a rocky ride. He ultimately hired ex-Oregon assistant Jeff Tedford, who would go on to rescue a faltering football program; restored wrestling and women’s water polo; and unveiled plans for a remodeling of the football stadium.
But after he broke down and told a therapist in an Arizona treatment center about the abuse, and later went public with it in January 2017, his darkest year followed. In July his wife filed for divorce and in November Fresno State forced him to resign.
He returned to Oregon, appreciative that the school hired him as its associate director of development, offered him support and invited him to partner with UO’s Center for the Prevention of Abuse and Neglect, which includes the Jimmy Bartko Scholarship Fund. Later, UO promoted him to senior ambassador for advancement and alumni relations
“I’m at peace with my life,” Bartko told The Oregonian after the move home
A Catholic for most of his life, Bartko attended other churches in the last few years, including The Well Community Church in Fresno, and Ekklesia Eugene and Grace Community Fellowship in Eugene.
In 2018, he settled a wrongful termination suit with Fresno State, which ended with a mutual settlement with the university in June 2018.
Earlier this year his and his wife’s divorce was finalized.
Last week, Bartko filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of California after a new law, the California Child Victims Act, went into effect Jan. 1, lengthening the statute of limitations for filing such suits.
Bartko was proud of his new book, “Boy in the Mirror,” which was released in conjunction with the lawsuit announcement. He had hatched the idea with former Register-Guard sports editor Ron Bellamy, then approached Welch about the former R-G columnist helping him write it.
“I told him a first-person point of view would be more personal but wouldn’t lend itself to bragging,” said Welch, “whereas if it was written in third-person—‘Bartko did this, Bartko did that’—he could sound a bit more heroic. He chose first-person.”
Proceeds from the book, which took 18 months to complete, will go to the Jimmy Bartko Scholarship Fund.
At the press conference, Bartko said his motive for writing the book was to help those who’d experienced sexual abuse and to educate the general public in the process. To end his talk, he read from the book in relation to such victims:
“For those who remain, the irony is that what ultimately frees us is our willingness to stand up and bear witness to what happened to us—perhaps to family and trusted friends, to the police, to a therapist, and maybe—as I’m doing here—to the public at large. We finally share what our betrayers hoped we would take to our graves, because our silence allows them to continue to prey on those afraid to speak up. One by one, as if bombing victims in a war not of our making, we wander out of the smoke and rubble, daring to tell our stories. This is mine.”
A memorial service honoring Bartko will be held after the Coronavirus threat has passed.
Donations can be made to the Jimmy Bartko Scholarship Fund or the Prevention of Abuse & Neglect Center Fund, both of which are part of the University of Oregon Fund: https://bit.ly/2x20DDq
For more information on Bartko’s lawsuit: https://bit.ly/2Urnuk3.
For video of Jim’s press conference announcing the lawsuit: https://bit.ly/2WwAJTd