By Bill Studenc
The nearly 400 current members of Western Carolina University’s two most influential giving societies received recognition and words of appreciation from WCU officials and – more importantly – from the students who benefit from their generosity during an annual celebration of philanthropy Friday, June 9.
Christened “Planting Day” and hosted by the Division of Advancement and WCU Foundation, the event, now in its third year, is designed to thank those donors who comprise the Madison Legacy Society and the Cullowhee Society and honor their record of major financial contributions to the university.
Established in 2020, the Madison Legacy Society recognizes donors who have made planned gifts to the university or the WCU Foundation, while the Cullowhee Society acknowledges cumulative giving of gifts totaling $100,000 or more.
The Madison Legacy Society currently has 153 members while the Cullowhee Society consists of 243 members. Most of the members present at the event acknowledged that they were the first in their families to graduate from college.
Both groups recognize lifetime giving to WCU and the critical impact of private philanthropy in helping many students achieve their goals of earning a university degree and going on “…to flourish, to bear fruit as productive and successful members of society, and to become firmly rooted professionals and leaders,” said Jamie T. Raynor, vice chancellor for advancement.
Bob Roberts, chair of the WCU Board of Trustees, provided an update on the impact of contributions from members of the Madison Legacy Society and Cullowhee Society during his remarks at the event held at Brown Hall.
“These 396 donors have given gifts totaling…drum roll, please…$158,134,675.94. That is one hundred fifty-eight million, one hundred thirty four thousand, six hundred seventy dollars and ninety-four cents,” Roberts said. “Last year, more than 1,900 students received scholarships supported by donors like you.” In addition to funding for scholarships, members of these societies support infrastructure priorities in athletics, academics and student engagement programs all across campus.
Among the students receiving donor-supported scholarships is C.J. Mitchell, a management major with minors in leadership and hospitality and tourism management. A resident of Charlotte, Mitchell serves as president of the Student Government Association.
“I do a reflection after every semester. I look at the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, and think about what I can do better the next semester. One of the things I think back to are any of my accomplishments and this includes scholarships I’ve received,” he said. “It’s an honor, honestly. I remember after my freshman year I received my first scholarship and, without even knowing the amount, I just had the biggest smile because it meant that my work inside and outside the classroom wasn’t going unnoticed.”
Mitchell also received the Douglas C. Hummel Scholarship during his sophomore year, learning of the award when he attended an annual scholarship and awards ceremony held by the College of Business.
“It really is such a blessing. As I look out here to all of the donors, I thank you for everything you do for WCU,” he said. “Sometimes, I feel people get caught up in the amounts of the scholarships rather than what the true meaning of the scholarship is. What makes this so special to me is we’re selected from a pool of individuals. My scholarships could have gone to anyone else, but I was selected, and it is something that I will never take for granted.”
Jeanne McGuire, a member of the WCU Foundation Board of Directors and the Cullowhee Society, shared remarks from a donor’s perspective. McGuire and her husband recently made gifts and pledges to WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences, Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts and the College of Education and Allied Professions.
“As many of you know, I am not an alumna of Western Carolina University. My husband, Patrick, did attend WCU from 1972 to 1973 before transferring to Pfeiffer University, which is where we met. I moved with Patrick back to his hometown of Sylva in 1980 as he began his dental practice on Main Street. It didn’t take long to know and love the university just a few miles down Highway 107.”
The couple decided to direct much of their philanthropy to what McGuire called her “adopted university” out of appreciation for the cultural, athletic and educational opportunities WCU provided to the entire family, she said.
“Both Patrick and I were able to finish our education without any debt because of the support our parents were able to provide for us. We were given much, and it is our honor to be able to give back to others,” she said.
Chancellor Kelli R. Brown welcomed the newest additions to the Madison Legacy Society and Cullowhee Society, calling out their names one by one, and thanked all members of both groups for helping make a difference in the lives of WCU students.
“Western Carolina University is grateful to each and every one of you here today, and I hope that you are moved that your contributions are helping the many students like C.J. who call this place home,” Brown said.
Brown also urged the giving society members to be active participants in the university’s comprehensive fundraising campaign, which is currently in a leadership phase.
“This campaign is about the promises that propel our progress. We are invested in the student experience, and we respect and honor those who came before us,” she said. “The sky is the limit for our potential, and we will especially need our giving society members to be active and vocal ambassadors and advocates for Western Carolina University, telling the stories of impact that your gifts accomplish.”
In recognition of the gifts from members of Madison Legacy Society and Cullowhee Society, a variety of native flora will be planted across campus, an act symbolic of WCU’s deep roots in Western North Carolina, Raynor said.
“On behalf of the Division of Advancement and everyone at Western Carolina University, you have our sincere gratitude for helping our garden grow,” she said.