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Spirited 1954 Class Reunion Wins Case Award

July 6, 2005

DELAWARE, OHIO -- The Class of 1954 showed they care about Ohio Wesleyan's Past, Present and Future with a 50th reunion project that broke records of fundraising, participation and attendance. The class contributed gifts totaling 2,094,632 dollars, including 180,000 for the restoration of the Sulphur Spring, 312,000 for the annual fund, and 500,000 for the creation of a "Future's Fund." A record 75 percent of the class contributed gifts, and 200 out of 310 living members returned for the reunion festivities in May of 2004. The project was awarded a bronze medal from The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) in the Yearlong Special Events category out of eleven other entries in May of 2005.

Donna Burtch, OWU's Director of Annual Giving, who helped organize the 50th reunion, submitted the final project to the CASE competition. She says the Class of 1954 exceeded expectations in every single realm.

"This is the first time a 50th reunion class here undertook such a comprehensive project, and provided so significantly for the annual fund," Burtch says.

Traditionally, alumni give back to OWU through their class fund, which supports the school's annual budget. On reunion years, classes strive to achieve enhanced gifts and festive programming, especially on the 25th and 50th reunions. The Class of 1954 got a year's head start, attending the Reunion Officer's Workshop for the Class of 1953.

"This group was so pumped up about the 50th reunion, they came back to see the Class of 1953's 50th reunion," Burtch says. "They basically shadowed and observed them."

The project was staffed by Audry Carter, then Vice President for University Relations; Brenda DeWitt, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations; Chris Setzer, Director of Buildings and Grounds; a secretary, an architectural firm, a student photographer, and members of the Class of 1954. Among the spirited class members, Burtch says four main organizers—Gordon Smith, Jack McKinney, and Paul and Annie Kisseberth—informally led the reunion plans.

Smith led the Past project, the renovation of the Sulphur Spring, hiring an architect to plan the spring's repair, to landscape the grounds, and to renovate the drainage system. The class also plans to create a stone walkway and a wall inscribed with the names of each entering freshman in their class.

The Present project was headed by "doggedly determined" Jack McKinney, who contacted every person from the class by note, phone, or in person, and encouraged them to give back to OWU. The goal was to raise at least 200,000 dollars for the annual fund and to surpass other giving records, and they did it, beating the competitive Class of 1959 by 1,954 dollars.

The Future's Fund, perhaps the most impressive part of the project, is truly a gift to OWU's future. The 500,000 dollar fund comes from a generous 250,000 dollar gift from one alumnus along with gifts from the rest of the class which total to match. The fund is to remain untouched until the 50th reunion of the Class of 2004. At that point, the Class of 2004 can decide how to use the fund which is expected to grow to 50 million dollars.

At their reunion in May, the Class of 1954 presented the 2004 Class President Sualeha Ansari with the Future's Fund along with a time capsule, also to be opened in 2054, containing a photo album and other items.

"It was an amazing thought to do this," Burtch says. "They were basically saying: ‘We're handing this to you… with no strings attached.'"

The rest of Alumni Weekend ran high with spirit and emotion, many thanks to Paul and Annie Kisseberth who, Burtch says, were instrumental in creating a "festive feel." In the Alumni Parade, the Class of 1954 wore specially ordered red and black blazers and hummed along with music with 192 kazoos. Three former cheerleaders even wore their original OWU cheerleading uniforms.

The incredible project has raised the standard for reunion gifts. The Class of 1955 has been inspired by the project, and the Class of 1959 is already well on its way to raising more money for an even more elaborate project.

"Their theme is Today, Tomorrow and Forever," Burtch says. "Forever is a push to encourage classmates to include Ohio Wesleyan in their estate funds, to create endowments of their own to raise money for the school."

Overall, Burtch says, the energy and innovation in these reunion projects is both inspirational and financially helpful, as the school's needs continue to increase, and the size of the pool of donors basically remains the same.

"You leave here, and become pretty busy," Burtch says. "But at a certain point, there seems to be a moment when people realize, ‘I am who I am because of what or who OWU prepared me to be.'"

Thanks and congratulations to the Class of 1954, Donna Burtch and the rest of the planning team, for a tremendous achievement which will impact OWU for generations to come.