Loren Parks, the Aloha medical devices tycoon, died Oct. 13 at age 97. The longtime GOP mega-donor had largely vanished from the Oregon political scene his money once shaped.
But Parks’ legacy is an active matter in Washington County, where his three adult children are engaged in a legal battle over his substantial estate.
Parks’ children are facing off with three of his longtime allies in court in Washington County (Parks lived much of his life and died there) over the terms of a trust that held and managed his assets.
In simple terms, the fight pits Parks’ children—Gary Parks, Raymond Parks and Nancy Sopp—against three of the four trustees for the trust. (A fourth trustee, Parks’ son-in-law, Karl Sopp, is aligned with Parks’ children.)
Parks’ children, who friends say were much closer to their mother than their father after their parents divorced, argue they should have authority over the trust.
Three of the trustees, led by Parks’ longtime friend and political adviser Gregg Clapper, argue that Parks intended to leave his children a limited amount—a couple of million each in cash, real estate and other assets—while giving most of his estate to various charities. That estate is estimated in court documents to be worth “tens of millions of dollars.”
It’s a battle that shows that even someone of Parks’ reputedly prodigious intellect needs a good lawyer. Parks first established the trust that is the basis of the dispute in 1989 and tweaked it numerous times—in later years, Clapper says, without proper legal advice.
That created ambiguities that are now the source of contention. Clapper says Parks, his close pal for more than 30 years, should have made his wishes crystal clear.
“Had Loren not confused the issue by dicking around without lawyer approval, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” Clapper says. “If he were here now, I’d lay into the bastard. It was arrogance on his part. But that’s the way he was.”
Loren Parks came to Oregon more than 60 years ago to work at the state’s pioneering computer hardware firm, Tektronix. But he founded his medical devices company, Parks Medical Electronics Inc., in Aloha in 1961.
His company still manufactures in Aloha today, turning out “Doppler devices,” used to create images that measure blood flow through the body.
In the 1990s and into the first decade of this century, Park funneled some of the profits from his company into politics. One of his earliest efforts left an indelible mark on Oregon: He put up much of the funding for Measure 11, the 1994 ballot initiative that created mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes.
Critics say that measure took discretion away from judges, filled Oregon’s prisons, and perpetuated racial and class inequalities. Supporters say it contributed to a decadeslong drop in crime.
Measure 11 proved to be Park’s biggest win, but he consistently wrote big checks to fund conservative objectives. (Libertarian in his thinking, he also supported Oregon’s pioneering Death with Dignity Act and Planned Parenthood.)
Parks gave more than $10 million to GOP candidates and causes over the years, often backing ballot measures spearheaded by Bill Sizemore and Kevin Mannix. He wrote big checks so often that he helped galvanize Oregon’s public employee unions, which increased their giving and sharpened their tactics in response.
Tim Nesbitt, who led both Service Employees International Union, the state’s largest public employee union, and later the Oregon AFL-CIO, says Parks’ largesse forced the unions to up their game.
“By the end of the 1990s, Oregon public employee union members were raising more per capita than any state in the country,” Nesbitt says. “He was the very best of enemies.”
Parks gave his last political contribution in Oregon in 2015 and, as he reached his mid-90s, his mental acuity slipped. In July 2020, his doctor determined he was no longer competent to make financial decisions.
That determination, it appears from court filings, triggered disputes that have raged ever since.
Clapper, a former radio personality and station owner known for writing and narrating sarcastic political ads, filed a lawsuit in 2021, asking the court to appoint an independent representative to oversee Parks’ trust.
In that lawsuit, Clapper accused his fellow trustee, Karl Sopp, the husband of Parks’ only daughter, Nancy, of attempting to divert funds from the trust for the benefit of Parks’ children. (The Sopps’ attorneys did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did attorneys for Parks’ sons.)
In November 2022, Nancy Sopp countersued, seeking to have Clapper removed as a trustee, as she argued Parks’ trust allowed.
Clapper said that was just a money grab. “The aim of this scheme is to remove all co-trustees other than co-trustee Sopp unless the co-trustees acquiesce to distributing tens of millions of dollars of trust assets Mr. Parks intended for charity to themselves—or at least agree to advocate for such distribution,” Clapper responded in a court filing.
The two other non-family trustees, Jerry Dove, a former Tillamook County commissioner and founder of the conservation group Tillamook Anglers, and Nicole McCombie, a longtime Parks Medical Electronics sales executive, sided with Clapper.
Since the initial filings, the parties have wrangled over the same essential point. Who should have the authority to make decisions about the assets in Parks’ trust: his children or the trustees? That question has been the subject of numerous filings over the past two years and remains unresolved.
The court did appoint a representative to look out strictly for Parks’ interests. That representative, Tim McNeil, a Portland lawyer, may be the closest thing there is in the case to a disinterested party.
In June, McNeil filed a motion with the court laying out his reading of the trust: Parks’ children, he wrote, had no authority to dismiss trustees, nor did the trust give them any say in where Parks’ money should go.
The stakes are high. An appraisal by Cogence Group, a financial forensics firm, pegged Parks Medical’s value at $25.5 million. The trust also has other unspecified assets, including cash, real estate and another company, Parks Metal Products Inc.
Parks’ friends say he gave far more to charities than to political causes and that he always intended the bulk of his estate (after specified payments to his children) to go to charity.
“Loren Parks had a long history of making large charitable gifts annually,” McCombie tells WW. “Loren was always very clear with friends, associates and his attorneys that he wanted his entire estate to go to charity. As trustees, three of us (Nicole, Jerry and Gregg) believe and know it is our duty to make sure Loren’s intentions are carried out.”
Dove, the Tillamook Anglers director, says Parks supported dozens of projects that preserved or improved salmon habitat along the Oregon Coast. He bought habitat along the Nehalem, Trask and Miami rivers, seeking to improve conditions for salmon.
Dove says he spent countless days in small boats with Parks. They often discussed what would happen when Parks died.
“Clapper and I knew him better than anybody else,” Dove says. “I sat with him eight hours a day in fishing boats for 40 years. He told me 1,000 times, ‘the children get nothing more than it says in the trust.’”
Dove says Parks would be dismayed at the court battle. “If he were here,” Dove says, “he’d blow his stack.”
The parties will next appear in court Nov. 17.