Ken Wolter/shutterstock

Ken Wolter/shutterstock

 “I don’t know what it is about Hoosiers,” said Indianapolis-born Kurt Vonnegut, “but wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.” 

These words could not be more apt for the 13 philanthropists profiled in “The Spirit of Generosity: Shaping IU Through Philanthropy,” by Curtis R. Simic and Sandra Bate. These donors’ success in life is as inspiring as their commitment to giving back to Indiana University.

Through these stories of extraordinary donor partnerships with Indiana University, Simic and Bate, who worked together at the Indiana University Foundation during a period of unparalleled fundraising success from the late 1980s to 2008 (he as president and CEO and she as director of marketing and communications), consider the motivations and aspirations of people whose generosity will affect the university for generations to come.  

Journeys to Giving

The book begins with the story of Jessie H. Cox, a 1944 graduate, whose estate gift established the Cox Scholars, which assists nearly 400 students each year. Raised on an Indiana farm, Cox worked hard to put himself through college and then reaped success, first in a blinds and drapery business and then in land and real estate. When he wanted to downsize his real estate holdings, he called IU with the idea to fulfill a dream he had to help fund scholarships for Indiana residents who had to work hard, as he had, to put themselves through school. He left the largest estate gift at his death in 2008 in IU’s history—more than $80 million—feeling strongly that “the contribution I can make now is to enable people to make their contribution.” 

Then there’s 2009 Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom, an Indiana University Distinguished Professor, named one of the world’s most influential people by Time in 2011, for her work analyzing the economic governance of fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins around the world.

Lin Ostrom came to IU in 1965 with her husband Vincent, who had been offered a full professorship. She was hired to teach American Government, and then political science. In 1973, the pair created the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis “as an interdisciplinary endeavor to bring scholars from economics, political science, and other social sciences to understand how institutional arrangements affected performance of urban police agencies, irrigation systems, and forest resources.”

The workshop became one of IU’s most famous and respected institutes, thanks in large part to the Ostroms’ substantial gifts. That led to the Tocqueville Fund for the Study of Human Institutions. In 2017, the workshop had 90 external affiliated faculty from countries around the world, as well as 55 IU affiliate faculty members.

When Lin won the Nobel prize, she made a call to an IU development officer and asked if she could have the Nobel Prize money come directly to the University. The answer was yes, and the workshop was renamed the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis.  

There’s also the story of V. William (Bill) Hunt, an alumnus and an IU legacy, and his wife Nancy Bergen Hunt. They made a gift to IU for the construction of the state-of-the art Virgil and Elizabeth Hunt Hall, a science facility at IU Kokomo.  

His journey of philanthropy began in his undergraduate years with his membership in the Sigma Chi fraternity and in the Indiana University Student Foundation, where he was assigned to escort Indiana University Foundation directors to their meetings on campus. He was fascinated by the generous philanthropy they spoke of, and vowed that he would also give back to IU.  

After he rose to CEO of Arvin, Inc., a global manufacturer of automotive components, he joined the IU Foundation Board of Directors in 1998, realizing that early dream of philanthropy. He and Nancy also supported the Eskenazi Museum of Art and the IU Student Foundation, and in 2008 created the V. William and Nancy B. Hunt Scholarship in the Maurer School of Law. Bill loved visiting the campus and meeting and talking with the students and faculty members he supported with his generosity.  

“Indiana University was so meaningful to me. It was not a life-changing experience. It was my life,” he said. 

Each story illuminates the values and interests of the donors that inspired their giving, whether it was providing scholarships, endowing a department chair, attracting world-class faculty members, funding scientific research, or renovating and constructing beautiful buildings and green spaces.

Lessons and Legacies

Scattered throughout the stories, there are many sidebars detailing some of the IU development teams’ insights and pieces of advice for their fellow fundraisers.

Maybe the most important of these is to develop long-lasting relationships with donors in order to identify their areas of interest, rather than to simply hit  them up during massive campaign initiatives. “When a donor says, ‘I want to…’ you take your lead and begin to identify ways to help him implement his dreams,” said Tom McGlasson, who worked for more than 22 years at the IU Foundation, developing a relationship with Jesse Cox “that involved putting in place a flexible plan for him to accomplish his intentions.”  

And there are words from the students who received scholarships, like this from Joshua Mullet, a 2017 graduate from IU who was a Cox scholar: “I scoffed at the idea of going to college when I was growing up. I had no interest, primarily because of the financial weight of a college degree. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The friendships, the experiences, the personal growth—these are the things I was allowed to enjoy on a grand scale.  And, I was able to identify and develop my skills with computers. I can confidently say that I am infinitely better prepared for the workforce because of my time at IU.”

The power of philanthropy to change the world? At IU, it’s just one of the important things a Hoosier does.

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