Rick Simonson, ’72
Keeping a promise by making a college education possible for future generations
Rick Simonson was known as a go-getter from his earliest years. Driven by the twin passions of politics and education, he developed a reputation as someone willing to tackle the tough jobs and see them through to ultimate success. Rick passed away in July 2012, but Albion students still benefit from his leadership and his many contributions to the College, including most recently an endowed scholarship fund.
“Rick loved Albion College,” says his longtime friend James “Mick” Middaugh. “Remembering how he had been helped by scholarships, he included in his estate planning a scholarship for individuals seeking to attend the College. Rick’s passing is a tremendous loss. However, his legacy of saving, caring, sharing, and giving back will enrich students’ lives in perpetuity! Rick’s commitment to advancing education will live forever through his scholarship funds.”
Rick’s Albion classmates may remember him best as president of the Student Senate during his senior year and as one of the founders of the College’s Project 250 Awards, created in summer 1971 to honor newly inaugurated President Bernard Lomas. With Rick spurring them on, the five-member steering committee set a goal of raising $250,000 to establish an endowment for the annual awards which were to recognize student achievement in and out of the classroom and particularly to honor outstanding leadership and service to the campus community.
“I remember talking with Rick about his high school experience and how he was one of the few from his graduating class who even considered attending college,” says Lyn Ward Healy, ’72, a co-founder of the Project 250 Awards. “I think this impacted his entire view of education during his lifetime.”
After a year of fundraising that entailed traveling 12,000 miles to build support from alumni, foundations, and corporations, the students exceeded their goal by spring 1972, bringing in a total of $276,824. Since then, the Project 250 endowment total has grown to $1.4 million, and $1.5 million has been awarded to Albion upperclassmen.
A political science and economics major while at Albion, Rick went on to become chief of staff for two Michigan state senators and also ran President Gerald Ford’s 1976 presidential campaign in Michigan. His connections with President Ford led to his involvement in the founding of what is now the Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service at Albion. Rick also managed the successful election campaign for former College trustee Mary Coleman for a Michigan Supreme Court seat, the first female justice—and later chief justice—in Michigan history.
Rick used his political prowess—and his significant contacts in Lansing—to advance many educational causes, serving as director of state and federal affairs for the Oakland County Schools later in his career. Devoted to his hometown of Baldwin, located in impoverished Lake County, Rick personally established a college scholarship for students there and also spearheaded the creation of the Baldwin Promise that today provides all Baldwin High School graduates with a four-year college scholarship.
On retiring from public service, Rick established an endowed scholarship at Albion that will assist students majoring in economics and management who also show leadership potential, and he provided further funding for the endowment through his estate plan.
“Endowed scholarship funds are even more critical today,” notes Ann Whitmer, Albion’s director of financial aid. “Many of the Michigan families we serve are still dealing with the effects of the Great Recession. Endowed scholarships can help bring an Albion education within reach for these students.”
Dennis Cawthorne, ’62, first met Rick when Dennis was campaigning for a seat in the Michigan Legislature, and he later would sponsor Rick as a legislative page. Dennis also encouraged him to apply to Albion College. He notes that Rick’s drive and his determination to help others were evident even then.
“I always had the highest regard for Rick’s character and his initiative,” Dennis says. “He took special pride in doing something to help uplift and lead his community. He had a true spirit of public service, and that was demonstrated not only in his career but in his support for educating young people.”
Sharon Gates Rees, ’53
Getting women out of their shell
Sharon Rees, ’53, believes women can have an impact on politics in high-level jobs. So, for the last five years, the Sharon Rees Annual Fellowship for Women in Public Office has been funding expenses for Albion College female students to participate in political internships in Washington, D.C. Rees believed that if female students interned in Washington, D.C. during their college years, they would develop skills and contacts that would benefit them far into the future. “I really felt women should be encouraged to become more active in the political scene early,” Rees says.
Rees did not dream that her fellowship would make a difference so quickly. The first Fellowship for Women in Public Office was awarded during the 2006-07 school year to Alexandria Judson Walker, ’07. A rising senior at the time, Walker completed her internship in the summer of 2007 at Congressman Dave Camp’s personal office. She used that experience to become a staffer in that same office on Capitol Hill immediately after graduating. “I thought it might take a decade or more,” says Rees. Instead, her gift had an immediate impact.
Walker’s fellowship enabled her to afford to live in Washington, D.C. during her internship, but Rees’ advice was the first fellowship recipient’s most important takeaway. “She gave me a small turtle sculpture and explained that turtles can never get anywhere unless they stick their heads out of their shell. Women, especially in politics, need to stick their heads out to make an impact,” says Walker, whose turtle still stands on her dresser.
A member of Delta Zeta sorority and the Albion College Players, Rees played leads in several plays and won two oratorical contests while in college. When she told a faculty member that she wished there were a classical music program on the radio, a radio show came about promptly—with Rees as host. She also produced a dance recital. “At Albion, we were taught we could do anything,” she says. “And we went ahead and did it.”
Rees became traffic manager of ABC TV in Detroit, where she met her husband, a producer. Later, she developed her own marketing and public relations company. Two of her three children are working in the arts, her early passion; the third followed in her footsteps in marketing. Her granddaughter, Hollis Andrews, ‘11, who studied theater and creative writing, “is already in the cast of a movie about the Wizard of Oz,” says Rees.
Not only did Rees establish this annual fellowship to provide immediate support for female students, she also included Albion College in her will. Through her bequest, Rees will continue to support Albion College women in politics. Rees is glad she began giving early. “I love to meet the recipients,” she says, “and give them their turtles.”
Margaret Lawrence Jack, ’41
Putting education first by assisting tomorrow’s teachers
At her home in Grand Rapids, Margaret Lawrence Jack, ’41, pulls out a personal memoir she wrote for her family and turns to a photo taken of her and her father, Howard Lawrence, at her Albion graduation. Her father was president of the College’s Board of Trustees at the time.
“I have a very fond memory of graduation,” she recalls. “My dad was sitting on the platform with President Seaton. When it was time to get our diplomas, Dad stood up and handed my diploma to me. He was grinning, and I could tell he was proud of me.”
Margie’s graduation was the result of a connection with Albion that began in her childhood, and that connection has continued in the ensuing years through her financial support. Her father had joined the board in 1927, and conversation about Albion was a regular occurrence in the Lawrence household.
“Albion College was spoken about in my family from the time I was a young girl,” she says. “When I was thinking about colleges, I didn’t even consider another school. I always felt honored that my parents wanted me to go to Albion.”
While at Albion, Margie prepared for a career in teaching and became involved in a range of campus activities. Her leadership skills stood out, and as a senior she served as president of her sorority, Delta Gamma, and as vice president of Mortar Board, the national honorary society that had been established at Albion that year.
She says she always “felt at home” at Albion.
“It was more personal—they knew me there,” she reflects. “I wasn’t just a number in a class. Any of us who went to Albion felt more a part of a community than we would have at a bigger university.”
After graduating from Albion, Margie was married and raised her four children. She later taught for 20 years in East Grand Rapids elementary schools and along the way earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Michigan.
Philanthropy, and particularly support for Albion, was part of her family tradition. For decades Margie has supported Albion’s annual fund through gifts that provide immediate scholarship support to students, an especially important need in these challenging economic times.
“My family was always interested in helping where they could,” she observes. “We knew education was a place where funds could be well used.”
Her parents established an endowed scholarship fund at the College, and in addition to her regular annual fund support Margie has created a second endowed scholarship in honor of her father and designated for students planning a career in elementary education. As a former educator, Margie has made giving to education a personal priority, believing that it is one of the most meaningful ways she can make an impact on society.
“I still have very warm feelings for the College,” she says, “and am happy to do what I can for Albion.”
The Lawrence family’s ties to Albion extend across several generations. Following Margaret to Albion were her brothers Paul, ’43, Gordon, ’52, and Walter, ’55, and her grandson, Sean Gill, ’92. Her father, Howard Lawrence, served on the Board of Trustees from 1927 to 1961 and was board president for over 20 years.
Mark Newell, ’77
New tools for solving real-world problems
Given that Mark Newell, ’77, graduated from Albion in three years—and with summa cum laude honors—it’s fair to say he spent more than a few hours in Stockwell Library as a student. Now his presence in the library will continue to be felt on into the future—albeit in an entirely different way—through a major gift supporting the new Center for Teaching and Learning to be added to the library as part of Phase II of the Stockwell renovation campaign.
The Newell Center for Teaching and Learning will encourage faculty to test advanced systems and software for use in teaching and further develop their expertise with the new technologies available. They can then determine how these technologies can be incorporated effectively into their teaching. Students will likewise benefit by developing their technology skills and applying those to problem-solving and decision-making.
“As a board member, I was aware of the current focus on key infrastructure projects, including the library renovation, and how important those will be for students and for the future of the College,” Mark says. “This is a great project—taking the old-fashioned approach to a library and turning it into something that is more up-to-date and useful for the longer term. Others have committed major support to other parts of the library, and I’m just happy to be able to help as well.”
In addition to his personal contribution, substantial support for this project has come from donations made by his partners in honor of his December 2011 retirement from the international law firm of Latham & Watkins.
Mark was the third member of his family to attend Albion College, preceded by his mother, Janet Albaugh Newell, ’53, and his sister, Nancy Newell, ’75. He says he particularly wanted a college where he could have close contact with his professors, and he found that at Albion. Among his faculty mentors were Julian Rammelkamp (history), who encouraged his aspiration to attend Harvard Law School, and Charles Schutz (political science), who always relished the opportunity to debate ideas with his students.
Mark recalls, “The approach that Dr. Schutz used was to demand deep, rigorous thought, and if you strayed from that he would call you on it, and ask you to explain it. That’s a great way to learn, and it’s also highly relevant in the practice of law.”
After graduating from Albion, Mark earned both a J.D. degree and a master’s in public policy from Harvard University. Prior to entering the practice of law, he served as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. from 1982 to 1983, where he worked on several important opinions, including decisions related to abortion rights.
In 1983 Mark joined Latham & Watkins in its Washington, D.C. office, and he would remain there for the next 28 years, specializing in complex business litigation. He became a member of the firm’s executive committee in 1999 and three years later was elected vice chairman and chief operating partner, a position he held until just before his retirement. In this influential role, he was instrumental in the firm’s expansion into what are now 31 offices in 14 countries around the world.
“I helped to plan for that growth and to identify lawyers and law firms to bring into Latham & Watkins, and then to integrate them… so they could become part of a single global enterprise,” he explains. “That gave me the opportunity to visit many places I had never visited, and to meet people from many different cultures and backgrounds. I ended up traveling throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.”
Today Latham & Watkins has more than $2 billion in revenues, and its size—with over 2,000 attorneys—ranks it among the top ten law firms in the world.
Mark is currently serving as general counsel of the United States Golf Association (USGA), providing oversight for the USGA’s legal staff and advising on policy matters. One of the most interesting aspects of his role, he says, is serving as a rules official during USGA championships. “We are out on the golf course with the players and are called upon to make rulings during some of the most important golf championships that are played,” he says. “That’s a great deal of fun.”
At Albion, he chairs the Academic and Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees.
“The College has a remarkable history and reputation as a school of outstanding quality,” he observes, “with a tremendous faculty devoted to teaching. As we cope with a difficult economy, as well as with the rapid changes in society, my hope and belief are that we will continue to find a way to retain the core value of a liberal arts education, while ensuring that what the College is offering to students and parents is relevant to them.
“We want students and parents to feel confident that the value of an Albion education will be both intellectual and real-world. Albion has succeeded in doing both in the past, and I’m confident it will do so in the future.”