WMU News

WMU Foundation receives $5 million in gift commitments

September 18, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- A variety of additional educational opportunities await many Western Michigan University students thanks to four recent donations and pledges of $1 million or more to the WMU Foundation that total $5 million, the University's board of trustees learned at its Sept. 18 meeting.

Two of those commitments, $1.5 million from an anonymous donor and a $1 million pledge from Bronson Healthcare Group in Kalamazoo, have been designated for the School of Nursing. Another $1.5 million, a combined gift from the late Dorotha Carter Kercher of Kalamazoo, will enhance the Department of Sociology and University Libraries. The final commitment, a $1 million planned estate gift from Dr. Ruth Hillis Seay of Bloomington, Ind., will support the Department of Educational Leadership.

"Five million dollars from just four donors is a testament to the quality and significance of our teaching, research and service efforts," said Keith A. Pretty, president of the WMU Foundation and vice president for external affairs. "It's rewarding to know that many of our alumni and friends recognize the contributions we make in these areas and want to help us continue making a difference in people's lives."

Pretty added that such support, whether on a large or small scale, is critical to the University.

"The resources we receive work together to give us an extra measure of excellence -- in our programs, facilities and services. As a result we're better able to meet today's changing educational needs as well as to better equip our students and citizens for the challenges of the 21st century."

The recent support of the School of Nursing is a case in point, Pretty notes, because it will promote development of an academic area that is filling an important gap in health care education. The school provides the only bachelor of science degree in nursing at a public college or university in Southwest Michigan and already is gaining wide recognition for its innovative, community-based programming.

The $1.5 million anonymous gift will allow a fund to be set up to support a permanent endowed chair in the school, which is part of the College of Health and Human Services. The WMU Board of Trustees approved a plan to establish the chair during its Sept. 18 meeting.

The previously announced $1 million pledge from Bronson Healthcare Group brings Bronson's total contribution to the University's nursing program to $2.25 million in direct and indirect support.

Kalamazoo's Bronson Methodist Hospital School of Nursing closed this past spring after 94 years of operation. It offered an accredited three-year diploma-based program, the last diploma-based program in Michigan. Bronson Healthcare Group has named WMU the legal successor to the school.

The recent pledge is targeted to help the transition between the two programs as well as to help Kalamazoo maintain its reputation for providing superior nursing education.

The second $1.5 million commitment reported by the WMU Foundation has been received and is in the process of dramatically enhancing two other areas of the University, Pretty said.

Kercher's gift, a charitable bequest from her estate, will create two endowment funds. The Leonard C. and Dorotha Kercher Sociology Endowment Fund will be established with $1 million of the donation. It will provide financial support for undergraduate and graduate sociology students at WMU and also benefit the Department of Sociology by funding faculty development opportunities, visiting scholars and lecturers, and special projects.

The remainder of Kercher's estate gift will create the Dorotha Kercher Endowment Fund for University Libraries. This fund will be used to acquire library materials for international and area studies, with an emphasis on developing countries.

Kercher, assistant professor emerita of University Libraries, died Jan. 7. During her lifetime, she made several significant gifts to WMU, most honoring her late husband, Leonard, who founded the University's Department of Sociology and served as its first chairperson.

"Dorotha was indeed a very special person," said Dr. Lewis Walker, chairperson of the Department of Sociology. "She was the First Lady of Sociology, and it was a role that she embraced with extraordinary charm and grace."

Walker said Kercher maintained a close association with WMU and he noted that Dorotha's and Leonard's contributions over the years were enormous. "Her interest in the welfare of our students and faculty here in sociology never wavered," he said.

Kercher joined the faculty in 1966, serving in Waldo Library's bibliographic and acquisition services. An African literature specialist, she retired in 1976. She received three degrees from WMU, a teaching certificate in 1933, a bachelor of arts in 1936 and a master of arts in 1962.

Leonard, who died in 1984, was associated with WMU for more than five decades. He received a teaching certificate from the University in 1924 and returned four years later to join the faculty. In addition to building the sociology curriculum, he directed seminars and tours abroad and founded the Department of Sociology in 1945, serving as its first chairperson until his retirement in 1972.

In recognition of his many contributions to WMU, the Leonard C. Kercher Center for Social Research and a departmental fellowship and symposia series were named in his honor. Dorotha and other University donors have continued his legacy by supporting WMU's sociology programs.

Kercher's previous major gifts include $100,000 in 1990 that created the Leonard C. Kercher Graduate Fellowship. With additional donations from sociology faculty and staff, together with investment of the endowment fund, it has grown in value to $276,000. The fellowship provides up to five years of financial support for outstanding U.S. and international students pursuing a doctorate in sociology at WMU.

She also made other significant lifetime contributions to the Kercher Sociology Undergraduate Student Enrichment Fund and the Ann Kercher Memorial Book Fund, established in honor of the Kerchers' late daughter, Ann. Today, these endowments are valued at more than $80,000.

Both Dorotha and Leonard were in the forefront of the University's efforts to internationalize during the 1950s and 1960s. Their activities and contacts helped lay the groundwork for new educational linkages and influenced many international students to enroll at WMU.

"Dorotha was a delightful person, always interested and interesting," Bettina S. Meyer, assistant dean of libraries, said. "She will be greatly missed by all those who knew her and cared for her."

Her library expertise and knowledge of Africa also will be missed, noted Dr. Lance Query, dean of libraries.

"She was an exceptional person," Query said. "Her interests as well as her concern and love of Africa and its peoples are reflected in the excellence of the nationally known African collection she developed during her tenure at University Libraries."

The Department of Sociology and University Libraries will co-sponsor an on-campus memorial event in Kercher's honor at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 29. Persons wishing to attend should call the department at (616) 387-5270.

The final exceptional commitment reported will support future educators. Provided by Seay, it is part of an estate gift plan valued at more than $1 million. In the future, the plan will create a permanent

endowed graduate fellowship in honor of her husband, Dr. Maurice Seay, who died in 1988.

Seay combined two popular deferred giving options in making the gift plan, said Kenneth J. DeVries, director of planned giving in WMU's Development Office.

About three-quarters of her gift will come from a charitable remainder uni-trust agreement, which allows the donor to receive lifetime income and WMU to receive the balance of the principle upon the donor's death. The remainder of the gift will come through a bequest from her will.

"We're extremely grateful for Dr. Seay's generosity, foresight and commitment," DeVries said. "Ruth's deferred gift plan both gives her the satisfaction of knowing she'll be helping numerous WMU students for generations to come and meets many of her personal tax and income needs. It's a classic example of how both donors and the University can benefit from creatively designed giving plans."

The Maurice F. Seay Graduate Fellowship will support outstanding students who have been admitted to WMU's doctoral program in educational leadership. Students must apply for the fellowship, which will be awarded to a student for a maximum of three years in an amount determined by a departmental selection committee.

Maurice, professor emeritus of educational leadership, received an honorary doctor of laws degree from WMU in 1966 and joined the University a year later. While at WMU, he helped develop the Department of Educational Leadership and served as acting dean of the College of Education. He retired in 1972 as associate dean of the college.

Previously, Maurice headed the educational division of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., and was an administrator and a teacher at Michigan State University. He was involved in many Battle Creek area activities, including the successful efforts to found and develop Kellogg Community College.

Ruth, a free-lance writer and editor since 1950, most recently has been a partner in an Indiana construction company. She taught at the high school and college level, then in 1945, joined the University of Kentucky as a research associate. From 1948 to 1950, she was an assistant professor of social science and education at Berea College in Kentucky.

A charter member of the WMU Foundation Board of Directors, Ruth served as a director from 1976 to 1982 and was given director emerita status in 1982. She is a member of WMU's McKee Society and a former member of the Greater Battle Creek Foundation.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 616 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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