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D&E College embarks on Secure the Future campaign

By Heather Goodwin Henline – Publisher

The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS, W.Va. — A $25 million history-making funding challenge for Davis & Elkins College is the cornerstone of the school’s 10-year, $100 million Secure the Future campaign, President G.T. “Buck” Smith announced Thursday.

Davis & Elkins College President G.T. ‘Buck’ Smith announces a $25 million challenge to the college during a dinner reception Thursday night. (The Inter-Mountain photo by Heather Goodwin Henline)
Davis & Elkins College President G.T. ‘Buck’ Smith announces a $25 million challenge to the college during a dinner reception Thursday night. (The Inter-Mountain photo by Heather Goodwin Henline)

James S. McDonnell III and the McDonnell family foundations are making the challenge funds possible. Earlier in the day, the D&E College Board of Trustees formally accepted the challenge as part of its fall meeting. McDonnell is a 23-plus-year member of the board.

“I have watched Davis & Elkins College closely for some time and decided it is a place worthy of further serious investment,” McDonnell said in presenting his offer.

This is the single-largest donation the private, liberal arts college has received in its 111-year history, Smith said. D&E has until June 30, 2018, to raise the matching portion of the $25 million.

Smith said $10 million will be available for use outright, with the remaining $15 million match portion to be raised in increments by the 2018 deadline for the $100 million campaign.

“The $100 million is the total of gifts to be received during this 10-year period from 2008 to 2018,” Smith explained, noting McDonnell’s gift is going entirely to the college’s permanent endowment fund.

“It won’t be easy, and there are no guarantees,” Smith explained of raising the total funds. “But by mobilizing the entire college family – trustees, students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, parents, community – and all of us working together, we can indeed meet this challenge and Secure the Future! That ultimately is what Jim McDonnell is making possible.”

Traditionally, colleges and universities will utilize the earnings on endowment funds to support operating and capital needs. D&E’s endowment fund, prior to Thursday’s announcement, stood at $36 million.

A press release from the college indicates, “all gifts, pledges and irrevocable estate provisions will qualify in matching the challenge. They can be for any purpose, including ongoing operations, capital projects of the college’s permanent endowment.”

“In an age when the Sweet Briars represent the threat that small, private colleges are under in higher education, this is essentially the affirmation of the value of colleges like D&E and D&E in particular in terms of what we do,” Smith said.

Sweet Briar, a women’s college in Sweet Briar, Virginia, made national headlines when former leadership announced in March the 114-year-old liberal arts college would close in August.

The Associated Press reported Sweet Briar College was “buried by financial challenges deemed insurmountable,” and the pending closure “was seen by many as another blow for private liberal arts colleges, especially women’s institutions.”

A rally resulted in more than $21 million in pledges being raised as of early summer and lawsuits were filed to keep the college operational. It remains open to date, but its future is questionable despite this emergency infusion of funds.

Instead of being reactionary like Sweet Briar, D&E is taking a proactive approach to solidify its future. Current enrollment is approximately 800 students, and Smith said D&E must live on to fulfill the college’s mission: To prepare and inspire students for success and for thoughtful engagement in the world.

“You want to make that real for each generation of students,” he said.

Smith returned from retirement this summer to again lead D&E as its president after a nearly two-year hiatus. He said he’s appreciative D&E has McDonnell’s support to solidify the college’s future.

“Given its progress in recent years, my family and I want to do our part – and encourage others – to help assure the long-term future of the college,” McDonnell said.

Board Chairwoman June B. Myles publicly announced the challenge and McDonnell’s gift later Thursday as part of a dinner on campus that was attended by the trustees, special guests and representatives from the faculty, student body and community.

She thanked McDonnell for his vision for the college’s future, and his confidence in its current leadership with Smith at the helm.

“We are profoundly grateful to Jim and his family for this magnificent and generous provision. In a single act, they have set an example for us all. Now it’s up to us to do our part,” Myles said.

This is the second time McDonnell has made record-breaking donations at D&E. Both times Smith has been in the role in president, with his first term of service from 2008-2013.

McDonnell’s first historic donation was in September 2010. Described by Myles at that time as a “miracle of the first order,” the college received $10 million from McDonnell family foundations.

The gift, which Smith said in 2010 would help move the college forward more confidently, was distributed during a three-year period. It was used to increase the college’s permanent endowment as well as retire the college’s external debt.

This latest round of funding from McDonnell also will work to repay $8.3 million that had been borrowed from the endowment over several decades, Smith said when speaking to a packed crowd Thursday night.

“Myth has it that lightning doesn’t strike twice, but I guess it has and what a bolt it is,” Myles said of McDonnell’s most recent gift and challenge.

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