By Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89 and Dudley Brown
Wofford just completed a $300 million comprehensive campaign, exceeding the original goal by more than $170 million. So, what does $470 million in new gifts over the past six years mean for our college?
A new minimum wage
Chris Carson, a member of the college’s housekeeping staff, started at Wofford College 24 years ago, and he didn’t think he’d make it beyond the first summer. “Wofford became like a second family, though, and I stayed.”
His cousin, Virginia Brewton, also on the housekeeping team, joined the college not long after Carson — although she’s quick to say she put in her application at Wofford before Carson and is the one who told him about the job opening. Brewton also has stayed at Wofford because of the people and the relationships she’s developed with staff, faculty and students while working in the Olin Building. “Wofford has truly been good to me,” says Brewton, who was a single mom of two when she started and needed occasional flexibility and help with childcare.
Tim Hosch has worked as a groundskeeper for the past eight years. He loves being outside and wearing his Wofford apparel even when he’s not working. Now he and about 70 others working across campus also enjoy larger paychecks. “God is good! That was my first thought when I heard about the new minimum wage on campus. Mr. Richardson’s gift was an answer to prayer,” he says.
During the campaign, Jerry Richardson ’59 made a $150 million gift to the endowment with four designations: $110 million for need-based scholarships, $10 million for needbased experiential learning opportunities, $20 million to support the renovation and repair of Richardsonnamed buildings and $10 million to boost the minimum compensation on campus to $15 per hour.
“When President Samhat met with us to talk about Mr. Richardson’s gift, I thought, I wish I had the opportunity to thank him personally,” says Brewton. “Then I did. The day he visited campus in May, he reached out to me after the program, and I said, ‘Mr. Richardson, God bless you for the gift. You didn’t have to, but you did. It might not be a lot for some people, but it’s a whole lot for others.’ We both got emotional. You never know another person’s story. Raising the minimum wage on campus made it easier on some people.”
The higher minimum compensation pool has allowed the college to retain staff who have enjoyed working at Wofford but who were tempted by higher-paying jobs in manufacturing. “Now outside people are even looking at the college and are putting in applications because we offer more competitive salaries,” says Jeff Burney, director of housekeeping and event services. Burney started at the college as a housekeeper in the Richardson Physical Activities Building 23 years ago making federal minimum wage. He spoke at the special campus celebration for the $150 million endowment gift.
“This is more than a job for most of us,” said Burney to a crowd of students, staff and faculty, all wearing #51 T-shirts. “We love Wofford College, and we appreciate you [Mr. Richardson] noticing our efforts and remembering us in this way.” Through the college’s tuition exchange program, Burney supported his sons through college. Now he’s nearing the completion of his associate degree in management from Spartanburg Community College. “Wofford College redirected my life and my family's life forever. This is a special place.”
The ForWofford campaign yielded funding to support experiential learning, which will make student experiences, including study away — whether at a college or university abroad or through off-campus research or internships — more accessible for more students.
One alumnus, wishing to remain anonymous, gave $5 million in support of the vision laid out by the college’s trustees and administration and to express his appreciation for “all the good Mr. Richardson has done.”
The anonymous donor simply asked the college to use the gift so that it could further Wofford’s reputation as a national liberal arts college and provide a complete experience for students.
Two million dollars of that gift is being used to match donations being made to support student experiences. Trustee Howard Coker ’85 also made a gift to support gift matching opportunities.
“I was given an opportunity at Wofford that I’ve been able to leverage, and we have an obligation to make Wofford better,” says Coker, CEO of Sonoco. “While we have a responsibility to provide a higher-value experience for today’s students, there’s an understanding that they will, too.”
Each of the gifts supporting student experiences involved donors closely examining student needs to enhance their Wofford experience.
Susu and George Dean Johnson Jr., entrepreneur, business leader and founder of The Johnson Group, recently established the Corry W. Oakes III Endowed Interim Support Fund in honor of Corry Oakes ’89, Johnson’s business partner and immediate past chairman of the Wofford board of trustees. The award supports opportunities for international travel, internships and other experiences during the Interim for students with financial need.
“My wife and I wanted to do something to honor Corry and the person he is, including his tremendous leadership on the college’s board of trustees,” says Johnson. “We also wanted to support students who are following in his footsteps.”
The Maria and Steven Mungo World Experience Fund supports international travel opportunities for Wofford students who have significant financial need. The college’s tuition and financial aid often can be used toward study abroad experiences, but students can incur additional costs when traveling and visiting sites outside of their programs.
The Mungo World Experience Fund supports students studying abroad by giving them the opportunity to apply for “roaming funds” to experience other parts of a region or continent where they are studying.
“We never want the cost of airfare [or a train ticket] to be an obstacle,” says Steven Mungo ’81, a member of Wofford’s board of trustees.
Craig Melvin ’01, also a member of the college's board of trustees, has a lone regret from his time at Wofford; he didn’t study abroad. In part, he didn’t want to miss out on campus happenings, but cost was a factor as well. Now as co-host for NBC’s “Today” show and a news anchor for NBC News and MSNBC, he’s heard many stories of college students fighting to earn internships before turning opportunities down because they can’t afford to relocate for a summer.
He and his wife, Lindsay Czarniak, a national sports anchor and reporter, established the Lindsay and Craig Melvin Fund to support experiential learning. They saw their gift as more than a donation to the institution.
“Lindsay and I didn’t look at it as a gift to the college,” Melvin says. “I viewed it as a gift for a kid who looks like me and has a similar background. That changes the aperture of how we view giving. We wanted to create opportunities for students.”
One of the huge successes of the ForWofford comprehensive campaign was the addition of 189 new endowed scholarships, many of those made more doable and more attractive for donors because of the Trustee Matching Fund, initiated by Marsha and Jimmy Gibbs. The fund encouraged the establishment of endowed scholarships by providing a pool of dollars designated to match scholarships gifts.
Normally, the college requires a minimum of $50,000 for the establishment of a permanently endowed scholarship. The one-to-one match (up to $100,000) from the Trustee Matching Fund, however, dropped the individual minimum commitment to $25,000.
Erin Mitchell Watson ’91, now a Wofford trustee, and her husband, Tom, established the Edward J. Mitchell Jr. Endowed Scholarship Fund using the Trustee Matching Fund to recognize her father’s legacy in higher education. Preference for the scholarship goes to a woman interested in going into a business field who demonstrates campus and community involvement. Amy and Clint North ’79 used the match to establish the North Family Endowed Fund to support the scholarship needs of students with learning differences while providing programmatic support for the college’s Wellness Center.
“This is one of the most selfless gifts ever made to Wofford because it allows others to enjoy the feeling of giving,” says Calhoun Kennedy ’89, associate vice president and executive director for advancement. “Scholarships will always be our top priority because students are our top priority. Many outstanding students who want to attend Wofford have difficulty doing so because of financial constraints. Students who look at Wofford have options, and these scholarships can make the difference between a student coming to Wofford or choosing another institution.”
The ForWofford campaign yielded five new buildings and the renovation and improvement of several other facilities on campus. One of the most recent additions — the Chandler Center for Environmental Studies — was dedicated in May.
“This has been a remarkable year at Wofford College. During a pandemic, we managed to complete a $300 million comprehensive campaign, including the construction of the Chandler Center for Environmental Studies,” says President Nayef Samhat. “Delores and Harold Chandler ’71, who made the lead gift for the new Chandler Center for Environmental Studies, are the ideal examples of the type of generous servant leaders who have made the campaign’s success possible.”
The Chandlers have high hopes for students studying in the space.
“Students who will study here will lead companies or cities and states or other entities into a more environmentally sensitive era, or may become innovators or inventors, or who knows, even win a Nobel Prize for their stewardship and commitment,” Chandler said during the dedication. “We expect to witness meaningful contributions from those who study, teach and are otherwise influenced by this award-winning facility and faculty.”
Environmental studies is one of the newest majors on Wofford’s campus, and the Chandler Center for Environmental Studies was designed to meet the department’s distinctive needs.
“Twelve years ago, environmental studies at Wofford College was established, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than by moving into a new building,” said Dr. Kaye Savage, professor and director of the Goodall Environmental Studies Center. “Every nook and cranny in the Chandler Center for Environmental Studies offers opportunities to teach and learn lessons in sustainability, green building, food systems, energy efficiency and more.”
Other buildings constructed as part of the campaign were the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts, the Stewart H. Johnson Greek Village, the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium and the Jerome Johnson Richardson Hall. The Sandor Teszler Library, the Burwell Building, the Mungo Student Center and several residence halls also were renovated, or are in the process of major rennovation, and the college has begun construction on a new softball complex.
“It’s important to pause, celebrate and express our enormous appreciation for the gifts we received, but it’s also vital that we honor all of the donors and gifts of this campaign by striving for an even more powerful student experience and an even better Wofford College,” says Samhat.
Exceeding the campaign goal was a significant accomplishment, but Chris Carpenter ’90, campaign co-chair and the chairman of the college’s board of trustees, says this is just the beginning.
“Together we accomplished an ambitious goal,” says Carpenter, referencing the more than 14,000 forward-thinking alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff and friends of the college who made contributions during the ForWofford campaign. “The impact of their generosity is evident on our historic campus and in the areas of academic excellence and student opportunity and experience. Wofford College is fortunate to have such loyal supporters now and as we take the next steps.”
Next steps include continuing to grow the college’s endowment, which now is just over $400 million. That places us midpack among benchmark national liberal arts colleges with similar academic profiles.
“There is absolutely no downside to increasing the college’s endowment,” says Dr. David Wood, senior vice president for advancement. “Students can always use scholarship funding, and the college can always use additional funding for professorships and innovative programs.”
According to Wood, donors now have the opportunity to get creative in terms of taking their interests and aligning them with Wofford’s needs. Some of the college’s most recent gifts do exactly this by funding efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion work or opportunities for student entrepreneurs.
“We had gifts of all sizes, and every one of them has made Wofford a better college,” says Dr. Danny Morrison ’75, campaign co-chair. “Terriers give to support other Terriers. That’s just what we do. I can’t imagine a better use of funds than supporting the next generation of leaders.”