Western Carolina University Chancellor David O. Belcher and wife Susan Brummell Belcher have pledged $1.23 million in gifts for the university’s ongoing efforts to provide increasing scholarship support to help deserving students in their pursuit of higher education.
The honor of announcing the pledge, which takes the form of a blend of cash donations and an estate gift, fell to Claire Lemke, a senior from Gastonia majoring in music who is among the recipients of WCU scholarships established by the Belchers. The announcement comes as the university is on the verge of rolling out the public phase of its Lead the Way comprehensive fundraising campaign, which will focus on scholarships.
“While I was one of the first recipients of a scholarship supported by the Belchers, I will be only one of hundreds to come,” said Lemke, speaking Thursday, Oct. 12, at an annual luncheon to recognize donors to WCU scholarship funds.
“Today, Chancellor David O. Belcher and his wife, Susan Brummell Belcher, are announcing a $1.23 million commitment in cash and estate gifts to WCU’s Lead the Way campaign. Yes, you heard that right – our chancellor and Mrs. Belcher are committing $1.23 million to Western Carolina University. This is the kind of transformational gift that will have lasting impact for generations to come,” said Lemke, the inaugural recipient of the Susan Brummell Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts Endowed Scholarship.
Chancellor Belcher said that he and his wife decided to direct their philanthropic gifts toward scholarships because students represent their shared passion. “Susan and I are here because of students. Students were why Susan and I took the leap to join Western Carolina University six-and-a-half years ago to change lives. They are our reason for being. They are our joy,” he said.
“This is worthy work, and our students deserve no less,” he told the nearly 200 donors and scholarship recipients gathered for the event in the Grandroom of A.K. Hinds University Center. “Western Carolina University is in the business of changing lives. And with your dedication, and your passion, and your commitment to our university, and your financial support for our students, there is no telling what we will do.”
Susan Belcher echoed the chancellor’s comments, noting that she and her husband frequently discuss the need to support the university’s students.
“These are not just David’s sentiments he articulates in speeches. These are our core values. We talk about the fact that higher education is the stuff of the American Dream. We talk about the fact that cost is a barrier for too many qualified students,” she said. “This is simply unacceptable, and we must address it. It is imperative for the success of our students and our communities.”
During his installation address in March 2012, Belcher announced that increasing the number of endowed scholarships would be the No. 1 philanthropic priority of his administration. More than 200 new endowed scholarships have been established since then, he said, calling the response “gratifying and inspiring,” but characterizing it as “only a good start, a good beginning.”
The Belchers said that is why they decided to share with the crowd their personal financial commitment to the Lead the Way campaign.
“We share this with you, not to put ourselves in the spotlight, but to lead by example. And, we are looking for partners to join us – partners who are willing to make gifts that will make a real difference to our students, partners who will dare to make gifts that will inspire others to give, partners who will join us and Lead the Way in helping our students to achieve the American Dream, partners like you,” she said.
Lemke thanked the donors in attendance for making it a priority to support student scholarships at WCU. “I am sure that the many students in the room will agree that being a recipient of your generosity is both inspiring and humbling. It gives us a sense of pride in what we’ve accomplished and confirms for us that we are on the right path,” she said. “At the same time, students, if you are like me, you feel an incredible sense of responsibility and renewed motivation to do your absolute best.”
Also during the event, Haywood County native Kenny Messer, a 1986 graduate of WCU and member of the university’s Board of Trustees, shared his story of the transformative power of higher education and how a young boy who grew up plowing tobacco fields with a mule became the president of a leading global chemical product supplier, thanks in part to scholarship assistance he received.
“This institution isn’t just in the business of educating young men and women, but Western Carolina University is in the business of changing lives. Western was committed to my success – a first-generation college student who had to depend on the generosity of people just like you in the room today for scholarships,” Messer said. “I not only owe this university, but I have an obligation to ensure future generations have the same opportunity.”
In addition to the scholarship for students in the College of Fine and Performing Arts, the Belchers have established a scholarship for Honors College students. Jordan Parker, recipient of the David O. and Susan B. Belcher Scholarship, also attended her benefactors’ gift announcement.
WCU is in the preliminary “leadership” stage of its Lead the Way fundraising campaign. Organizers of the campaign from the university’s Division of Advancement will reveal more details about the public phase of the effort in early 2018. For information, visit the website give.wcu.edu.