Lunch Celebrates Philanthropy

Jim Amidon — For the past several years, Wabash College has hosted an event that it calls the “Celebrating Scholarship Luncheon.” It grew out of the College’s donor relations program spearheaded by Marilyn Smith.

The idea was to invite to campus Wabash’s loyal alumni and friends who have provided generous endowed scholarships and grants that allow so many young men to attend the College and receive an unparalleled liberal arts education.

The event allows the donors to meet and get to know the students who receive their scholarships and their families. See the pictures from the luncheon.

After the first Celebrating Scholarship Luncheon, a bunch of us were debriefing and kept referring to it as a “nice event” with a “good feeling.”

And it has continued to provide warm feelings and terrific opportunities for donors to see the magnitude of their gifts through the experiences of the students who benefit from those gifts.

For some reason, last Saturday’s luncheon has really stuck in my mind. I guess the biggest reason why is that never before has scholarship and financial aid support been as important as it is likely to be for the next several years. Some parents of our prospective students have lost jobs, while others have seen their investments tumble with the stock market.

Wabash’s endowment has taken a big tumble, too. Investment income from the College’s endowment fuels our aggressive scholarship and financial aid program. As I have written here before, Wabash’s greatest tradition is providing a top-notch education to any qualified student, regardless of their financial need.

And the need has never been greater.

Sitting at Saturday’s Celebrating Scholarship Luncheon, I was heartened by the large turnout — over 450 students, parents, donors, faculty, and staff gathered in celebration of the philanthropic tradition.

This year, the keynote speakers provided great examples of how scholarships transformed their lives.

Luke Messer ’91 (above right) talked about coming from a single-parent home in Greensburg, Indiana, and how he could not have dreamed of a Wabash education had it not been for a big scholarship package. “Essentially, I came to Wabash for about $1,000 per year,” he said.

Messer was able to study overseas at Oxford University after receiving a Brian Bosler Overseas Memorial Scholarship. He graduated from Wabash summa cum laude, attended Vanderbilt Law School, and has been a legislator, political leader, and attorney in Indiana ever since.

Messer talked about how Wabash provides “a value-added educational experience” because of the close, personal relationships students have with faculty, and how the faculty pushes students harder than they ever imagined.

“I think something Wabash does better than other schools is to educate thoughtful leaders,” Messer said.

The second speaker was junior Sam Prellwitz, who talked about the risk his family took when he was growing up when they converted their dairy farm into a strawberry farm. He compared his Wabash experience to growing up working in the dirt of his family’s Wisconsin strawberry farm.

“I’ve been here three years and my life has been transformed,” he said when talking about his professors, fraternity brothers, and cross country teammates. He had planned to major in history and become a high school teacher and coach, but all of his plans have changed. “Three years ago, I hadn’t been trained to ask the hard questions.”

He now plans to attend divinity school to become a minister.

“Young men come to Wabash College and change the way they think,” Prellwitz said. “They are shown they can make a difference. Then they do make a difference.”

In Messer, who graduated 18 years ago, and Prellwitz, who is about to complete his junior year, there are two shining examples of the power of Wabash’s scholarship program.

A kid from a working-class, single-parent household in southern Indiana and another kid from a strawberry farm in Wisconsin, both linked through philanthropy and both lives transformed by their Wabash education.

Philanthropy at Wabash is a bit like a patch of strawberries at the Prellwitz farm. Through their gifts, alumni and friends plant seeds that when sewn and cultivated produce amazing results.

Prellwitz said it best: “Promising young men are provided an opportunity to attend Wabash College… four years later, there is a bountiful harvest.

“Because of your generosity,” Prellwitz said to the donors, “every year there is a bountiful harvest.”

And that harvest is worth celebrating.