Baker bullish on endowment

Donations to university climb $3.88 million in rebounding year

? The great faithfulness of Baker University friends and alumni is helping the university’s endowment rebound from multimillion-dollar losses.

Gifts to the university during the past fiscal year — including royalties generated from the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness” — and a recovering economy helped the endowment reach $30 million, up from a low of $23 million two years ago.

“It’s wonderful news,” said Jerry Weakley, vice president for endowment and planned giving. “It’s a bellwether year for us. Our challenge, of course, is to keep that momentum going.”

Though the endowment is recovering, it is still far from the $37 million it reached before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the recession that followed. The fund is used, along with the university’s annual giving fund, for such items as scholarships, endowed faculty chairs and other faculty support and campus landscaping and maintenance.

“With the economy, everyone got hammered,” Weakley said.

Capital and endowment gifts hit $3.88 million last year, about $1.5 million more than an average year.

The university, which has an enrollment of about 3,100 students, recorded 33 gifts of more than $5,000 last year. Typically, the university will receive 14 to 24 such “major gifts” in a year.

Weakley attributed the success to Baker’s creating a full-time position for endowed and planned giving.

“We’re not like (Kansas University) where we have million-dollar gifts falling from the sky and peppering us about the head and shoulders,” he said.

The gifts include:

Trilla Lyerla, associate professor of music at Baker University, practices on a donated grand piano. The university in Baldwin received .88 million in capital and endowed gifts during the past year. The piano, which Lyerla played on Wednesday, was one of the items given to Baker.

  • $1.1 million bequest from Chet and Ina Adams, Baker graduates from Troy.
  • $680,000 bequest from Irene Murphy, a former Baker faculty member.
  • $600,000 bequest from Mary Schnebly Chubb, a 1925 Baker graduate. The gift includes a grand piano being used by the university’s music department.

One of the more unusual gifts created the Rev. William M. Runyan Endowed Memorial Scholarship. Runyan, who had some relatives who attended Baker, wrote “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and his survivors recently decided royalties from use of the song should go to the scholarship fund.

“Great is Thy Faithfulness,” written in 1923, now is a standard Protestant hymn.

John Buehler, chairman of the music department, said Runyan wrote the song while in Baldwin and that he was buried there.

“It’s a wonderful story,” Buehler said, “but it’s also great that it will benefit students.”

Baker’s endowment probably will continue to receive a boost in the next few years as the university launches a capital campaign to commemorate its 150th anniversary, which is in 2008.

Projects associated with the “silent” portion of the athletic campaign already have started, with new baseball and softball fields and football practice field set for completion in August. Improvements scheduled for next summer include installation of an artificial surface on the football field and new track.

The athletic campaign will be publicly announced this fall.

Meanwhile, the university is quietly planning a new science building and soon will begin soliciting lead donations.

Building the endowment and increasing annual giving also are portions of the campaign.

“Things are certainly improving, but it’s going to take a long time to recover what we lost over the last three years,” said Bill McCollum, vice president of university relations. “It makes no difference whether you’re the size of KU or the size of Baker. The problems are essentially the same.”