A lover of sports since he was a kid, Jim Bartko placed special meaning in the baseball expression, “I bat last.” He aimed to be the difference, to reverse the course of events and change the outcome.
For Bartko, a longtime University of Oregon administrator who helped drive the success of athletics, that meant breaking the silence about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child in the Catholic Church. In sharing his story, he hoped to inspire other survivors to come forward and to hold the church accountable for protecting abusive religious officials.
Bartko went public in 2017, revealing that in the early 1970s while he served as an altar boy in Pinole, California, he was abused by Stephen Kiesle. The Oakland priest was convicted in 1978 of tying up and molesting two boys in a California church rectory but was not defrocked until 1987; he is registered today as a sex offender in California.
In February, Bartko published Boy in the Mirror, recounting the secret he had kept for four decades and the crippling toll it had taken on his life. He died March 16, at age 54, having only recently returned to Eugene from California to work for UO Advancement and the alumni association.
Born in Stockton, California, Bartko played baseball and football as a kid, did yardwork, held a paper route. He majored in sports administration at Washington State University and joined the UO in 1989 to work for the Duck Athletic Fund.
Bartko served as senior associate athletic director for UO Athletics from 2008 to 2014. He brought tireless enthusiasm to fundraising efforts, helping secure support for projects including the expansion of Autzen Stadium and the construction of Matthew Knight Arena and the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex. Among Bartko’s most prominent roles was serving as athletics’ primary liaison with Nike.
“Jim Bartko was an all-star in the University of Oregon athletic department for 25 years,” says Phil Knight, Nike cofounder and former chairman. “In the process, he became a great friend. His passing leaves me in shock and deep sorrow.”
Bartko returned to California in 2014 to become athletic director at Fresno State University. He revealed his ordeal in a newspaper interview in January 2017, receiving praise from many for his courage. But within a year he lost his job and was served with divorce papers.
At a press conference four days before his death, Bartko characterized himself as emerging from years of stress, anxiety, and depression. He announced his filing of a lawsuit against the Diocese of Oakland for its protection of Kiesle and other clerics decades ago. Although his face strained with emotion and he paused repeatedly to dab an eye and collect himself, he made his way through remarks in which he expressed gratitude for support from family and friends and a resolve to help those who have had a similarly traumatic past.
“I’m one person—only one person, that can’t make a difference for everybody,” Bartko said. “But I think if we can make one difference in one person each day, we can change.”
Proceeds from sales of Boy in the Mirror support the UO Jimmy Bartko Scholarship Fund and 90by30, an initiative within the College of Education to reduce child abuse in Lane County 90 percent by 2030. boyinthemirror.com
Matt Cooper is managing editor for Oregon Quarterly.