Embodying Willamette’s motto — 50 years out

As new students make their presence felt on campus each fall season, so do alumni — in some surprising ways.

The 50th-year class is always center-stage at September’s Alumni Weekend, and while their reunion is typically marked by festivity, reminiscing and catching up, it is also made visible by a class giving program that has become a robust Willamette University tradition.

This year, the class of 1961 formally unveiled a student scholarship program by delivering a check to Willamette University President Steve Thorsett for nearly $1 million; the resulting endowed fund will be used to help deserving students who need additional financial support. Since their 45th reunion, the class has donated close to $2 million.

Most impressive, though, is that they have actually been awarding scholarships for four years now.

“When they began their project in 2006, the class decided that they didn’t want to wait,” says Matt Senecal, assistant vice president for major gifts. Senecal works with each 50th-reunion class in the years leading up to their reunion main event, and he’s seen a lot of ideas come up.

“The class of 1961 did something novel by raising enough money on the front end to award partial scholarships over the years leading up to their reunion,” he says. Now that Alumni Weekend has passed, the scholarship program will turn into a full-tuition award. “This is an extremely timely gesture given the economy. The class really stepped up.”

Not just the 50th class

The 10th and 25th reunion classes have upped their games as well, each celebrating their reunion in part by raising additional funds for the College of Liberal Arts.  

The class of 2001 reunion giving committee set an ambitious goal of raising $10,000 in unrestricted gifts for the College of Liberal Arts before Dec. 31, 2011; the class has raised $8,595 to directly support students and faculty. They continue to reach out to their classmates to encourage fulfillment of the goal.

Bryn Berglund ’01 has helped the effort take shape as project chair. “Even those of us who graduated recently can forget how much alumni donations empowered us when we were students,” she says. “Our reunion giving committee decided to do something about it, and it has been a great affirmation of WU spirit and support.”

Truman Collins ‘86 and Jim Green ‘86, have challenged their 25th-reunion class to raise $25,000 in additional resources for the College of Liberal Arts before year’s end. To entice other classmates, they have agreed to match every gift dollar-for-dollar until the group meets the $25,000 goal. This means that an additional $50,000 for WU students and faculty is potentially waiting in the near future. The Bearcat 25th Reunion Challenge currently stands at $10,736 toward the fundraising goal.  

To learn more about reunions or giving, visit the alumni relations and support websites.