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WKU College Heights Foundation celebrates milestone

WKU College Heights Foundation
WKU College Heights Foundation(WKU)
Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 9:31 AM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - Born from a $100 gift from a faculty member, the idea for the College Heights Foundation (CHF) started with the goal to help Western Kentucky University students in need.

This summer, CHF celebrates its 98th anniversary with achieving the milestone of surpassing $100 million in its endowment.

Officially incorporated on July 17, 1923, CHF was established to accept donations and bequests to make loans to students, endow scholarships and invest in campus buildings and other improvements.

With an initial goal of $300,000 (about $4.7 million today), appeals to support the Foundation were sent out and events were held around the state.

“Serving as a ‘Guardian of Trusts,’ CHF was established as a way to connect WKU students who need assistance and encouragement and those who wish to help others in need,” said Dr. Donald Smith, President of CHF. “From that very first appeal for support, former students and faculty members sent donations, beginning a tradition of ‘paying it forward’ to current and future students that still holds true today.”

After the initial ask for support, one donor wrote, “Out of a full heart do I make this offering and thank you moreover for this opportunity.

Doubtless among the thousands of young people who have passed under your eye, you have lost all memory of the timid country lad who in 1892 stood by your desk one morning. . . From this meeting came an impetus that carried me through school, equipped me for earning a livelihood. . . I make my contribution to the College Heights Foundation. . . I wish it were $100,000.”

The endowment as we know it today was established in 1969 as the Memorial Fund by Dr. Kelly Thompson, third President of CHF.

Dr. Dero Downing, fourth President of CHF, continued to garner support for the endowment and prioritize creating new scholarship funds that each told a unique story to honor and memorialize individuals, organizations and groups.

This marked a shift from providing student loans to awarding scholarships and launched a period of intense growth in CHF’s endowment and number of funds.

“Receiving a scholarship is often a student’s first impression of philanthropy,” said Dr. Smith. “This one act of benefiting from someone else’s generosity can open that student up to the idea that they too could also help another WKU student one day.

“When we ask donors why they support scholarships, they regularly tell us they want to help others because a scholarship from CHF allowed them to come to WKU, and their time here changed the trajectory of their life,” added Dr. Smith. “It’s a story we never tire of hearing and sharing.”

Focused financial support for students received additional attention when WKU’s 10th President, Dr. Timothy C. Caboni, announced the WKU Opportunity Fund during his Investiture Address in April 2018.

The Opportunity Fund is a student-centered campaign to raise $50 million to remove barriers to education through needs-based financial assistance to support recruitment, retention and applied research opportunities.

“The Opportunity Fund continues and enhances the important work the College Heights Foundation has been doing for almost 100 years,” said President Caboni. “Recruiting and retaining students is critical, and so are the hands-on educational experiences beyond the classroom that may remain out of reach for students who are struggling to make ends meet. The Opportunity Fund is a crucial piece of our efforts to ensure that financial need is not an obstacle to earning a degree at WKU or participating in the complete WKU Experience.”

By the end of 2020, more than $47 million had been raised in gifts and pledges toward the Opportunity Fund goal. This number includes 135 new endowed scholarship funds.

Beginning its 98th year, CHF has a total of 1,336 funds—1,180 endowed funds and 156 non-endowed funds.

“We quietly hoped we would reach the $100 million mark by our 100th anniversary in 2023, and we are so pleased to be able to share that we have surpassed this threshold early,” said Dr. Smith. “We owe a lot of that success to the steady and strong leadership of our Board of Directors.”

Those who serve on the CHF Board of Directors tend to do so for extended lengths of time, a testament to their commitment to supporting WKU students.

Mike Simpson, Owner and President of Chandler Property Management and Horton Hill, LLC, currently serves as the Chair of the CHF Board of Directors.

Simpson, who is a longtime donor of scholarship support, says that he gives because his father instilled in him the idea that “an education is truly the one thing that can never be taken away from you.”

“The work the CHF Board executes is vital to provide students hope and opportunity for a higher education,” added Simpson. “It thrills me to see folks from all walks of life have an opportunity to improve their lot in life.”

Dr. Melissa Dennison, a Pediatrician with Glasgow Pediatric Associates, is the newest member of the CHF Board and shares Simpson’s sentiments.

“I’m honored to have served on the WKU Alumni Association National Board of Directors, the Board of Regents and now the CHF Board of Directors,” said Dr. Dennison. “I’ve learned so much on these boards, and I’ve found that WKU and the people serving on these boards are all about the students. That’s why I serve, and I will continue to serve as long as I’m needed.”

Dr. Dennison said that she believes “investing in someone’s education is the absolute best way to invest in a communities’ future.

“As a physician, I’m asked to contribute to many organizations,” Dr. Dennison added. “All are important, but I’ve decided to give to WKU because the education I received there changed my life, and the career I’ve had in Glasgow has hopefully made children there healthier and happier. If someone will continue their education because of a scholarship they received and then use that education to contribute to their community, it’s a win for everyone.”

While this milestone and anniversary are worth celebrating, it doesn’t mean CHF is slowing down.

“We are proud of the number of students we have been able to help during the past 98 years, and we will continue to find ways to support more students for our next century and beyond,” said Dr. Smith.

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