‘Lead the Way’ campaign launched with $60M goal, $5M gift pledge

Donna Winbon (center), a 1980 graduate of WCU, leads a “Go Cats!” cheer during the March 1 launch of the public phase of the university’s “Lead the Way” fundraising campaign. Winbon is chair of the campaign steering committee.

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Western Carolina University officially launched the public phase of its comprehensive fundraising campaign Thursday, March 1, by announcing a minimum goal of $60 million, setting an ambitious deadline of early 2019, and celebrating a $5 million pledge designed to help students from Western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee become teachers.

“That’s not too bad for a day’s work,” said Donna Winbon, a 1980 graduate of WCU and financial adviser from Raleigh who is serving as chair of the campaign’s steering committee. Titled “Lead the Way,” the campaign is inspired by WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher, who has been on medical leave since Dec. 31, 2017, after battling brain cancer since April 2016.

Belcher declared at his 2012 installation address that increasing the number of endowed scholarships would be the No. 1 philanthropic priority of his administration. He and wife Susan Brummell Belcher announced their personal commitment of $1.23 million last October, spurring dozens of alumni and friends to make gifts of their own to the university totaling more than $4 million before the campaign even reached the public phase.

With the pledge of $5 million by Mickey Charles Hughes unveiled at the “Lead the Way” kickoff event, “the campaign is well on its way to meeting its goal,” said Lori Lewis, WCU vice chancellor for advancement. Hughes, a resident of Falls Church, Virginia, shared the news of his estate gift to the Leone Hyde Ray Endowed Scholarship Fund via a videotaped announcement.

The gift pledge marks the largest donation designated specifically for scholarship support in Western Carolina University history.

Alison Morrison-Shetlar (back, left), WCU’s acting chancellor, meets with friends of the university during the launch of the public phase of the university’s fundraising campaign. Attending the event were (from left) Dr. Patrick McGuire, a member of the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Board; Jeanne McGuire, a member of WCU’s Foundation Board and Friends of the Arts Committee; and Roger Plemens, a member of the Foundation Board.

Hughes originally endowed the fund in 1998 in memory of his mother, Velma “Leone” Hyde Hughes Ray, a 1941 graduate of WCU who earned her degree in education and worked as a teacher in WNC and eastern Tennessee. Born in 1919 on a farm in Graham County as the fourth of eight children growing up during the severe economic conditions of the Great Depression, Ray was determined to realize her dream of attending college, Hughes said.

“She set out for Western Carolina Teachers College in Cullowhee, where she paid her own way through school,” he said. The first female in her family to attend college, she taught elementary school for six years in Robbinsville and for 34 years in Maryville, Tennessee. She was the sister of Arnold Hyde, who served on the WCU Board of Trustees from 1949 until 1953 and from 1957 until 1973.

Before her death in 1996, Ray indicated that she would like her family to establish a scholarship fund to enable other students from the region to attend WCU and major in an undergraduate teacher education field in the university’s School of Teaching and Learning, Hughes said.

Ray’s only child, Hughes attended the University of Tennessee and George Washington University, and he has served with the U.S. Department of Education and the Missile Defense Agency, among other positions in the Washington, D.C., area. The Hyde family also previously established the Marshall A. Hyde Scholarship Fund in memory of Ray’s brother, who was killed in action during World War II in Italy.

Upon the settlement of Hughes’ estate, the university will rename its School of Teaching and Learning as the Hyde Hughes School of Teaching and Learning in honor of his mother’s legacy to the teaching profession and in recognition of his philanthropic support of future educators at WCU.

The “Lead the Way” campaign is only the second comprehensive fundraising effort in WCU’s history, and it comes at a critical time for the university, said Alison Morrison-Shetlar, acting chancellor. “Our university is enjoying unparalleled momentum in enrollment, recognition and reputation. Our academic programming is stronger than ever, and our student success metrics continue to climb,” Morrison-Shetlar said.

“That success is due, at least in part, to alumni and friends who have answered the call of Chancellor Belcher to increase scholarship support for WCU students. The goal of this challenge has been to ensure access to WCU for all deserving students and to remove financial barriers to their lifelong success,” she said.

WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher, the inspiration behind the university’s “Lead the Way” fundraising campaign, celebrates the launch of the campaign’s public phase with students. Belcher has been on medical leave since Dec. 31.

Since Belcher’s installation, more than 200 new endowed scholarships have been created at WCU. He also set in motion the “Lead the Way” campaign, kicking off its leadership – or silent – phase in 2014, with the goal of broadening its reach in 2018. Despite his cancer diagnosis, Belcher has continued meeting with donors and prospective donors over the past 18 months, Morrison-Shetlar said.

In addition to increasing the financial support available to WCU students through endowed scholarships, the fundraising effort also will seek financial support for experiential learning opportunities such as travel grants, paid internships, undergraduate and graduate research activities, and attendance at meetings of professional organizations.

A third prong of the campaign will emphasize programmatic support to bolster the work of WCU’s colleges, schools, departments and programs.

As part of the “Lead the Way” launch, Morrison-Shetlar announced that she would be joining with the members of the campaign steering committee to match gifts made before midnight March 2 up to a total of $33,000.

The campaign kick-off event also celebrated the successful conclusion of the second annual “I Love WCU” fundraising campaign held throughout the month of February.

For this year’s campaign, two WCU alumni sweetened the deal to help increase the number of donors participating in the effort. Roland Johnson, a 1976 graduate who lives in Lexington, and 1979 graduate Kevin Vasquez of Naples, Florida, offered to match the first $50,000 contributed to the “I Love WCU” effort, as long as at least 750 people donate during that timeframe.

Although final giving amounts were still being counted on March 1, staff in the Office of Advancement reported that the tally already has surpassed the $50,000 mark. With more than 1,150 individual donors contributing during the month, that means the matching gift from Johnson and Vasquez will be added to the total.

For more information or to make a gift to WCU, visit the website LeadTheWay.wcu.edu.