WMU News

Gwen Frostic leaves more than $13 million to WMU

Jan. 9, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Celebrated Michigan artist Gwen Frostic ended a lifelong love affair with her alma mater, Western Michigan University, by bequeathing a gift estimated at more than $13 million, the largest gift in the school's history, to WMU.

Frostic, one of the University's most accomplished and celebrated alumni, died April 25, 2001, one day shy of her 95th birthday. She died at her longtime home in Benzonia, Mich., where for 40 years she had operated Presscraft Papers, Gwen Frostic Prints of Benzonia, a Michigan landmark.

According to WMU President Elson S. Floyd, the University recently received an $8 million distribution from Frostic's estate. Another distribution in excess of $5 million is expected when the estate is closed. The gift was made by Frostic for the unrestricted use of the University, leaving allocation of the funds to the discretion of the University president.

"By any standard," said Floyd in announcing the gift, "Gwen Frostic was an extraordinary person, and our University was blessed to count her as one of our own. Her generosity was born out of a relationship with and a love for this University that began in the 1920s and lasted more than 70 years. Gwen Frostic honored this University through her final gift and it is incumbent on us to see that she is honored and remembered by the ways in which this gift is used."

Although the gift carried no restrictions, Floyd said the University will honor Frostic's life of service and accomplishment by using the majority of the funds for a series of projects and endowments that reflect Frostic's achievements; her love of art, nature and writing; and her dedication to education.

$5 million will be used for a planned new art facility, which will house studios, laboratories and public gallery space for the teaching and learning of art and design.

$1 million will be used to create an endowment that will support WMU's Creative Writing Program.

$1.5 million will be used to create the first faculty endowed chair in WMU's College of Education.

A total of $600,000 will be used to establish three $200,000 endowments to fund three Gwen Frostic Presidential Medallion Scholarships, which will become part of WMU's highly competitive Medallion Scholarship Program for attracting top high school seniors.

Another $100,000 will be used to establish an endowed scholarship fund for Benzie County students who plan to attend WMU.

$250,000 will be used to create an endowed professorship in environmental studies.

$250,000 of the gift will go into a doctoral fellowship endowment fund that will be used to keep the University competitive in its ability to provide financial assistance to top graduate students.

All remaining funds will go into the President's Unrestricted Endowment.

Frostic informed WMU in 1983 that she had included the University in her estate plan. She left her business to her closest friends, Kirk and Pam Lorenz of Beulah, Mich. They are continuing to operate the business, while Frostic's nephew, William Frostic, is continuing in his longtime role as shop manager.

Frostic was a member of the WMU Class of 1929. A distinguished artist, poet and naturalist, she maintained a close relationship with her alma mater for all of her life. She was the recipient of a 1965 WMU Distinguished Alumni Award and an honorary doctor of humanities degree from the University in 1971. She was a director emerita of the WMU Foundation, serving on the foundation's board from 1980 to 1983. Frostic's art is part of the University's Permanent Collection and a reading lounge in Waldo Library was named in her honor in 1993.

Born in 1906 in Sandusky, Mich., Frostic was left with slight paralysis and slurred speech by a childhood illness. She never let it limit her. Founder of Presscraft Papers in the 1950s, she was an extraordinarily successful entrepreneur at a time when very few women worked outside the home, much less owned and operated businesses.

Five Michigan universities awarded her honorary degrees. Former Michigan Gov. William Milliken declared May 23, 1978, as "Gwen Frostic Day," and she was inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 1986.

A memorial service for Frostic was held in June on the campus of the Interlochen Center for the Arts, with former WMU President Diether H. Haenicke presiding. Haenicke had a close relationship with Frostic from the beginning of his presidency, in 1985. Also speaking at the service was Helen Flaspohler, a retired WMU development officer and a director emerita of the WMU Foundation. Flaspohler met Frostic in 1974 and maintained a relationship with her until her death.

Says Flaspohler, "A highly intelligent woman with a marvelous sense of humor, Gwen traveled for many years at her own expense, speaking to gatherings of all ages. She often told her audiences that she had gone to another university to receive a degree but came to Western Michigan University to receive an education.

"Gwen had a lifelong love and understanding of nature and wildlife," Flaspohler says, "and she used her creative talents not only as a successful businesswoman but also to influence and teach others about living within our environment."

Media contact: Matt Kurz, 269 387-8400, matt.kurz@wmich.edu

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