Photo by Skip Rowland '83
In 1969 thousands huddled around black and white TVs to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Americans continued to press the U.S. government to “bring our sons home” by ending the Vietnam War. The 1960s music scene was transformed through Led Zeppelin’s debut album and Woodstock forged a brief moment of cultural unity through rock and roll.
The Class of 1969 were students at William & Mary during this era and were making history in their own way. In April the class returned to the university for their 50th Class Reunion and left a new mark by raising over $20.7 million, significantly surpassing their initial goal of $13 million. The class also achieved a high participation rate, with 54% of classmates giving back to William & Mary.
The two class projects were support of the Class of 1969 Scholarship Endowment and the expansion of the Alumni House, which is slated to reopen in the fall of 2020.
“We wanted to leave a legacy with our scholarship,” said Reunion Committee Chair Gale Gibson Kohlhagen ’69. “We also wanted to leave a roadmap for future 50th Reunion Committees to follow. We not only left a legacy, but created a handbook to pass on to coming classes.”
The reunion took place over Traditions Weekend, which honors three distinguished groups at William & Mary: 50th Reunion Class, the Olde Guarde and the Boyle Legacy Society. This was the second year for the weekend, which includes several events to engage and connect alumni and friends with each other and William & Mary.
During the class gift presentation dinner William & Mary President Katherine Rowe recalled 50th Reunion Committee members asking her what their goals should be when they began planning for the celebration a year ago.
“I asked you to build a template for other 50th Reunion classes to follow and that is what you have done,” Rowe said. “You should be extraordinarily proud of what you have created — as extraordinarily proud as we are.”
To summarize the great impact of the class’ gift, Rowe referenced a quote that Dennis Kim M.B.A. ’19, a former Army Medical Corps Service Officer in Afghanistan, shared over Charter Day weekend in February.
“Dennis said, ‘Philanthropy and generosity are in keeping with the greatest traditions in the history of William & Mary,’” Rowe emphasized. “That commitment and drive to see the future and envision it — that’s what you have brought together today. I’m so grateful for your investment in the future of William & Mary. This is an extraordinary legacy you are building.”
Ninety-one percent of the Class of 1969’s total was a result of planned gift commitments, with classmates including William & Mary as a beneficiary of their estate plans. The committee emphasized estate gifts when reaching out to classmates to contribute, and explained this form of giving as a viable option to provide long-lasting financial support to the university.
“The important concept behind a legacy gift is that a few thousand dollars multiplied by several hundred people over decades makes a great impact,” said Donn Wonnell ’69, committee co-chair for planned giving. “That amount funds a lot of scholarships for students who should have the opportunity to attend William & Mary. People often say I’m not a millionaire, estate planning is not for me, but this is a myth.”
Reunion Committee Co-Chair Jim Taylor’s ’69 comments echoed Wonnell.
“People don’t realize that you can be very specific with your estate plans,” Taylor said. “I don’t think 15 years ago we had that same ability. You have the opportunity now to be very intentional about your gift.”
Donnie Chancellor Wintermute ’69, co-chair for participation, encouraged all committee members, to call, email or write all classmates to contribute, especially those who had never given or hadn’t given in many years.
“Many people I called were just so happy to hear from a classmate, particularly the people who couldn’t make it,” Wintermute said. “A simple phone call meant so much to them.”
Ultimately, the leadership team said this type of engagement helped boost participation numbers.
“The wonderful thing about our 54 percent participation rate is that once people give, they tend to give again,” said Win Whitehurst ’69, reunion committee co-chair for events. “For some, it was the first time they had given. Maybe this will be the start of continued giving for them. It was also a way to reconnect with classmates 50 years later.”
Kohlhagen continues to encourage all classmates to remember the Class of 1969 Scholarship with their future gifts to William & Mary. As she noted, “We began our campaign in July of 2018 with $52,000 in our scholarship and at the end of our reunion in April we had commitments in place that will bring the total to $899,700. We hope to see this endowment reach and surpass the million-dollar mark in the next few years. Go Class of 1969!”