The largest gift in Ohio Wesleyan history will help support a $60 million residential renewal project.
By Molly Vogel
It was a gorgeous spring day on campus as nearly 800 alumni and friends returned in May, eager to see one another and rediscover a place they once called home. Some took campus bus tours, others dropped in on fraternity open houses or booked modern rooms in the new Small Living Units on Rowland Avenue, exploring the familiar and the new.
The time of homecoming was a fitting setting for Ohio Wesleyan to announce trajectory-changing plans and history-making support. With afternoon clouds rolling in from the west, alumni, faculty, and staff gathered in Founders’ Circle Plaza in front of Slocum Hall for the annual induction of lifetime donors of $1 million or more to Founders’ Circle, or $500,000 or more to Associate Founders’ Circle.
President Rock Jones acknowledged OWU’s most generous and committed donors, then had to acknowledge the rain as it began with a drizzle and quickly turned into a deluge. Jones called for everyone to head to Gray Chapel, and after a brief intermission, the ceremony picked back up, slightly soggier but with spirits undampened.
“Today is a momentous day in the history of Ohio Wesleyan,” Jones continued. “Today is a day we have never experienced before. Today, among family and friends, and with the special participation of the remarkable Class of 1969, I am thrilled to share news that will shape this institution for years to come.”
As the audience watched, the Bishop mascot then took the stage to help reveal the news, unrolling a 17-foot-long sign announcing the largest gift in school history: $10,000,000.
“We have never had an outright gift with that many zeros,” Jones said to a standing ovation. “Our donors are anonymous, they have asked that their names not be revealed, but here’s what I can tell you: This is a gift of gratitude. It’s a gift of gratitude for Ohio Wesleyan, first individually as students and then second, to this campus, where they met. This is a gift of gratitude for the enduring mission of Ohio Wesleyan and its commitment to undergraduate residential liberal arts education.
“This is a gift of confidence in the future of Ohio Wesleyan and the important work that happens on this campus every day. Most importantly, this is a gift of confidence in our students who are on this campus today and those who will be on this campus for another 177 years.” The gift was part of $23.56 million in giving announced that day, including $5 million from Board of Trustees Chair John F. Milligan ’83 and Kathryn Bradford Milligan ’83, co-chairs of the Connect Today, Create Tomorrow comprehensive campaign; $4.2 million from Trustee Katherine Boles Smith ’71 and Alton Smith; and $2.2 million from Trustee Kara J. Trott ’83. With that tremendous support, the University’s seven-year campaign later exceeded $197 million as the fiscal year closed June 30 toward what was once thought to be an ambitious goal of $200 million, with two years left in the campaign and goals remaining for scholarship support and more. (Read more at owu.edu/campaign.)
Jones went on to announce plans for a “Residential Renewal” on the west side of campus, where the JAYwalk ends. The $60 million multiphase project now under development includes new student apartments for seniors, renovation of Smith Hall to create a first-year student village, revitalization of fraternity and adjacent theme houses, and improvements to Welch Hall and Hayes Hall.
“We know the state of our student housing has deterred us in attracting new students who might otherwise find our academic and athletic programs compelling. With the new Rowland Avenue Small Living Units, Gillespie Honors House, and newly rebuilt Butler A. Jones House of Black Culture, our new housing options will transform the OWU residential experience into an enrollment advantage,” Jones said later.
Recent graduate Milany Duarte ’19, a sociology and international studies major from Cabo Verde, reacted to the news during the ceremony. “I was lucky enough to live in one of the new SLUs, the Sloan Family house, as part of the House of Linguistic Diversity. It was in this house that I found a community that would come to define my time at OWU as we supported each other and worked to promote cultural and linguistic awareness,” Duarte said.
“Having lived in one of the newest buildings on campus and been the envy of my friends, I can say with authority that having more modern housing will be a huge draw to OWU,” she said.
Amy Downing, professor of zoology, represented faculty at the ceremony, saying: “I can only guess that this gift has been motivated by a deep love, connection, appreciation, and gratitude to this institution. The faculty share these sentiments. The faculty at OWU are deeply committed to this place, to our students, to these historic buildings, and to the mission of our institution to guide our students on their path as they gain knowledge, competence, and character for leadership, service, and continued learning in a complex and increasingly global society.
“This amazing gift to OWU makes our work feel valued and important, and it also gives us hope and optimism for the future of OWU.”
The $60 million project will be financed through borrowing, historic tax credits, and philanthropy, with $15 million already raised toward the $20 million necessary to cover the debt payments without adding to the University’s overall debt burden, as of the end of the fiscal year. (Essentially, OWU is paying off one credit card, and donors are helping to keep payments the same on the new one.)
The Smith renovation and construction on the new apartments are scheduled to begin in early fall.
“We are thrilled to be able to move forward with this exciting project, which will undoubtedly have a transformational impact on our students’ experiences at OWU. We’ve known for some time that many of our residential buildings are in need of serious attention, and I cannot wait to see students enjoying these new facilities,” said Dwayne Todd, vice president for student engagement and success.
In addition, the University is planning an $11 million project to renovate Slocum Hall, one of 10 locations on campus included on the National Register of Historic Places, including the restoration of its iconic Reading Room and its 70-foot-by-20-foot leaded glass ceiling. Study of that project, with the participation of a campus task force, is ongoing as fundraising continues.
In a prepared statement, the donor couple said they are pleased to give back to a university that gave them so much during their time as students: “Our Ohio Wesleyan experiences were pivotal in our lives, and we are pleased to support the University’s ongoing efforts to provide a campus living and learning experience that is second-to-none. We can’t wait to see the beautifully restored Slocum Hall and transformed residential campus. We hope others whose lives have been positively impacted by Ohio Wesleyan will join us in supporting the Connect Today, Create Tomorrow campaign.
A campus task force has been studying possible plans for Slocum Hall, with the primary intent of preserving its character and renovating the largely unused south wing. Slocum is the future home of the Career Connection, the part of the signature OWU Connection program focused on internships and career development. Slocum is expected to remain the home of the Office of Admission and house the Leland F. and Helen Schubert Honors Program.
“When prospective students and their families visit this campus, they will visit Slocum Hall to visit the Admission office, but while they are there they will be reminded that we care about who you are as you prepare to arrive and we care about who will be when you prepare to leave,” Jones said.
Admitting he was choked up at the occasion, Jones reiterated the significance of the day’s news. “(This gift) is an affirmation of the love that every person in this room and alumni of Ohio Wesleyan across this country and around the world have for the mission of this institution and for its impact on their lives.”
Renderings courtesy of Little Diversified Architectural Consulting