Officially launched on March 1 of this year with announcement of the largest donation designated specifically for scholarship support in Western Carolina University history, WCU’s “Lead the Way” comprehensive fundraising campaign has netted more than $51 million toward its goal of reaching $60 million by early 2019.

In addition to a $5 million commitment from Mickey Charles Hughes in honor of his mother, numerous friends and alumni of WCU have opened their hearts – and their pocketbooks – in response to the campaign, which is inspired by the leadership of David O. Belcher. The late chancellor and wife Susan Brummell Belcher shared news last October of their personal pledge of $1.23 million to the campaign, spawning additional six-figure gifts even before the public phase of “Lead the Way.”

For example, Jack and Judy Brinson, longtime supporters of WCU who split time between Highlands and the South Carolina Lowcountry, increased their giving to the $1 million level for scholarships for students in the Honors College, announcing their pledge in the hopes of inspiring others to make similar transformational gifts.

Pres Creery ’68 MAEd ’72 and Kitty Creery ’70 MAEd ’71 of Durham pledged $1.035 million to help students seeking degrees in the emergency medical care field at WCU, doing so in memory of their daughter, a graduate student at the University of Tennessee who had a passion for helping others through emergency medical care.

In recognition that more than 20 percent of Entegra Bank’s workforce in Western North Carolina graduated from WCU, the bank’s board of directors approved a $250,000 contribution to provide scholarships to students from the region who want to study in the university’s College of Business. “Western Carolina University has such an impact on Western North Carolina, and Western Carolina University has had a major influence on Entegra Bank,” said president and CEO Roger Plemens ’77. “We think it is very important for businesses to provide scholarship support for students, and we hope other businesses will make that financial commitment.”

Not all gifts made through the campaign are at six figures or larger, and any contribution – no matter the size – makes a difference, said Lori Lewis, vice chancellor for advancement. “Giving is for everyone, at whatever level with which they are comfortable,” Lewis said.

Katherine Brown Wells ’41, who grew up a neighbor to Robert Lee Madison, the school’s first president, and professors Cordelia Camp and Edgar Stillwell and who said her experiences at what was then Western Carolina Teachers College are the foundation for her “whole existence,” responded to the campaign with a gift of $25,000 so that she “could die happy.”

The Sylva-Webster High School class of 1964 has raised $28,500, surpassing its goal of $27,000, to support WCU students from Jackson County. Classmates decided to establish a scholarship fund after 15 years of providing aid on a more informal basis. At the group’s annual Thanksgiving get-together, Bruce Clayton ’71 made an announcement: “Guys, we’re not getting any younger. We’re losing quite a few classmates. I’m 71 years old, and if we want something to go on in perpetuity, we need to endow our scholarship.”

And, unbeknownst to each other, three women from the same graduating class at WCU – Hazel Hawkins ’65, Joan Davis Humphries ’65 and Sandi McCracken ’65 – have endowed scholarships through major or planned gifts during the campaign with contributions ranging from $25,000 to an estate gift of $127,000.

Faculty and staff also are getting into the act, including a gift from Acting Provost Carol Burton ’87 MAEd ’89 to support students from Jamaica and other nations. During the second annual “I Love WCU” initiative, a record number of faculty, staff, students, friends and alumni showed their affection by giving or pledging more than $600,000 between Feb. 1-28. The turnout – 1,153 donors, nearly double from last year – helped secure a $50,000 challenge gift offered by Roland Johnson ’76 and Kevin Vasquez ’79, who pledged $25,000 each if the initiative surpassed its goal of 750 donors. Last year in February, 593 donors participated.

The inaugural Faculty Staff Giving Champions initiative, designed to encourage WCU employees to give back to the university, ran concurrently with “I Love WCU” month and garnered 42.5 percent participation, an increase from 23 percent in 2017. By the end of the fiscal year, 533 of WCU’s 1,149 permanent faculty and staff – or 46.4 percent – had given to the campaign. 

Fundraising among employees continues to boost the Staff Senate Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships of $1,100 each to three children of WCU staff members, with a goal of the fund becoming self-sustaining to provide four student scholarships annually, said Mandy Dockendorf, Staff Senate chair. “Through numerous fundraising efforts and regular contributions from payroll deduction, the Staff Senate Scholarship Endowment reached $90,000 at the end of the previous fiscal year, with a goal of reaching $100,000 by 2019,” Dockendorf said.  

NOW IS THE TIME. LEAD THE WAY.

This fall, Western Carolina University will welcome another record-breaking freshman class, topping 2,000 freshmen for the first time in the university’s history. As WCU grows, we open more doors for deserving students to earn an education that will change their lives. This is our mission, and our calling. But as our numbers climb, so does our student need. The number of students dependent on scholarships and financial aid continues to rise annually. In response to this need, we announced in March our decision to increase the goal of our “Lead the Way” Campaign to $60 million and to shorten the campaign timeline. With your support, we will reach that goal by spring of 2019, fulfilling Chancellor David O. Belcher’s final ambition for Western Carolina University and for our students. In his words: “This is urgent business.” Every gift, regardless of the amount, will make a difference in the life of a student. Make yours today.