When former Highlands resident Curtis Meltzer died Dec. 17, 2017, he left a multimillion dollar estate gift to Western Carolina University to support students in the College of Arts and Sciences, increasing his and wife Enid’s overall scholarship endowment to $3.3 million. Enid Meltzer died just four months before her husband on Aug. 29, 2017. This year would have been the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.
The scholarship endowment will leave a lasting legacy at WCU, benefitting hundreds of students across an array of academic areas. “I think what it will do is allow us to provide significant scholarship support for our best and brightest in significant numbers,” said Richard Starnes, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s going to be tremendous in terms of what it does for student retention, minimizing student debt and providing opportunities for students who might not otherwise have those opportunities.”
Curtis, a retired radiologist, and Enid moved to Highlands from Florida, following his retirement. Curtis soon began taking classes at WCU for fun, and he quickly formed a bond with the university. The Meltzers began supporting various program and scholarship funds within the College of Arts and Sciences with their first gift in 1989.
“Curtis fell in love with the place, fell in love with the students and made a lot of good connections with the faculty,” Starnes said. “One faculty member in particular was a longstanding beloved history professor here whose name is Max Williams. They became good friends.”
So much so, that in 2005, a classroom in WCU’s historic McKee Building was transformed into a modern seminar room and named the Curtis and Enid Meltzer Seminar Room, after significant contributions to the history department from the Meltzers.
“He was a great fellow,” said Williams, 85, who taught history at WCU for 34 years before retiring in 1996. “He had a wide-ranging interest in historical subjects.”
Williams and his wife, Sarah, befriended the Meltzers after Curtis Meltzer helped establish the Highlands Lecture Series, which featured WCU faculty members presenting free lectures at the Highlands Civic Center throughout the summer months, beginning in 1993. “We gave these programs that went over very well, yet they were not for credit,” Williams said. “It was easy for us to get in the car and go up there and present a program. I was head of the History Department, and Curtis was particularly interested in history, so he and I just sort of hit it off.”
The Meltzers eventually moved from Highlands to Amelia Island, Florida, where they lived at the time of their deaths, but left behind in Western North Carolina a lasting legacy in honor of their appreciation for WCU. In 2013, the Meltzers established the Curtis and Enid Meltzer Endowed Scholarship Fund with an initial gift of $200,000. “That was the kind of thing he was likely to do because he really did appreciate education,” Williams said. “He appreciated the fact that a number of students didn’t have much in the way of resources, and so if there were needs somewhere he tended to try to meet those needs. And I think it was wonderful for him to do that. There would be students he got to know because he went to the classes they were in.”
Starnes said the Meltzers’ generosity was simply a reflection of who they were. “Curtis was something of a Renaissance man,” Starnes said. “He read widely. He was intellectually curious. He was interested in a lot of different kinds of things and wanted to live a full life. He thought the life of the mind was a key component of living a good life.”
But mostly, Starnes said, Curtis Meltzer was impressed with his fellow students in his classes and with the university’s mission to help students better their lives and to see the world in a different way. “That resonated with both Curtis and Enid,” Starnes said. “She was also very interesting. She was very intellectually curious, a very vibrant person, and it was almost as if – with their interests and their way of viewing the world, their active lives of the mind – they found a home here, an intellectual home, a place where they thought their generosity could make a difference.”
The Curtis and Enid Meltzer Endowed Scholarship Fund is part of Western Carolina University’s “Lead the Way: A Campaign Inspired by The Belcher Years.” The historic philanthropic campaign will conclude spring 2019.