A $1-million scholarship gift from Don and Angela Scott Sheets, ’82 ’82, creates an opportunity to ‘share our Albion with others.’
By Sarah Briggs
You could say this story started in 1979 in George Malone's accounting class. Don and Angela Sheets admit that learning how to read a balance sheet occasionally gave way to flirtation back then as the two sat side-by-side in class. Those days saw the beginning of a lifetime partnership—and a love for Albion College—that have continued to this day.
The Sheets are unabashedly devoted to Albion—and that has been manifested in their longstanding involvement as volunteers, Don as a College trustee and now board chair and Angela as an admission volunteer and now chair of the Admission Ambassadors program launched this past summer. Since graduation they have been loyal donors as well.
Earlier this fall, they established the J. Donald Sheets and Angela Sheets Family Scholarship Fund through a $1-million gift. The Sheets created the endowed scholarship fund to bring an Albion education within reach for high-achieving students who have financial challenges. The announcement came as a fitting exclamation point concluding the September 12 inauguration ceremony for President Mauri Ditzler and was intended not only to help launch Ditzler's presidency but to honor Mike Frandsen, who left the College in June after serving as interim president during the 2013-14 academic year following nine years as a professor and administrator.
Speaking during the inauguration, Don noted, "Our trustees, alumni, faculty, students, staff, and community stand with you, Mauri, and we will work together to build an exciting future for this special college. Combined and marching together, we are unstoppable. The trustees are confident in your leadership, vision, and passion for the liberal arts."
Changing students’ lives
Strike up a conversation with Don and Angela and their passion for Albion quickly shines through. Their gift is driven both by an appreciation for their Albion education and a desire to make the same experience possible for future generations of students.
"We know this scholarship will make a difference in students' lives," Angela says. "That's what we're all about—changing lives—and sharing our Albion with others."
Creating this fund is a way to give back to the institution that nurtured capabilities that have been critical in their professional lives.
Don, who is executive vice president and chief financial officer at Dow Corning Corporation in Midland, says that throughout his career he has needed to work across all sectors of the company from research and marketing to manufacturing and finance. He maintains the breadth of his Albion education has been key in doing that successfully.
Albion, he says, also cultivates flexibility in addressing new challenges and opportunities.
"In our business at Dow Corning, developing and marketing silicone products worldwide, the push to innovate is constant. I've had to stay nimble and adapt in this everchanging landscape. That's where the good faculty, small classes, and high expectations really helped."
Angela, who entered a career in advertising and public relations on leaving Albion, values the communication skills she developed in college, and she continues to tap those in her volunteer work, which encompasses not only her efforts on Albion's behalf but also causes ranging from domestic violence prevention to the arts. "Being able to express yourself orally and on bluebook exams was important when we were at Albion. You had to be able to defend your opinions. No matter what department you were in, that was expected of you."
Faculty set the bar high for students, she notes.
"At Albion, our professors brought things out in us that we didn't know we had and made us rise to a higher standard intellectually."
Succeeding in that environment breeds a sense of confidence that stays with you long after graduation, she adds. "Albion develops leaders who say, 'I can do this—I can work my way through it.'"
A liberal arts education, they insist, enables today's graduates to thrive in an increasingly global society.
"We need institutions like Albion," Don says. "Many of us work in teams drawn from around the world to collaborate and share and learn and develop. The world is rushing to where liberal arts graduates are best equipped to go. We need more people with these broader intellectual skills."
Signaling a belief in Albion’s future
The challenge for private colleges, they acknowledge, is to help high school students and their families understand the value in liberal arts education when faced with a price tag that many see as beyond their reach.
"We've been helping to attract students to Albion as much as we can over the past few years," Angela explains. "You identify students who you know would be a great match for Albion, but in the end they choose to go to other colleges that appear to be less expensive. It's painful for the student, and it's painful for us and for the parents.
"We want to make it possible for everyone who wants to go to Albion to do so."
Don continues the thought. "We hope our gift allows students to do great things and create happiness in their lives. We also see it as repayment for what we owe to Albion. We've had a wonderful life. Our Albion education prepared us to do the different things we've done professionally and personally. When you have the means to give back, you should."
They say they want their gift to be a catalyst, encouraging other alumni to support Albion in any way they can.
"Remember the role that Albion has played in your life," Don says. "You can't deny that it had a great impact. Now is the time, in particular, when the College needs to be affordable for students. We must expand our reach, and we need the resources to do it.
"Albion needs the help of its alumni right now—to make sure that today's students have the same experience we had."
Their gift is also a measure of their confidence in Albion's future.
"From our point of view, doing this is a signal that we believe Albion College will be around for a long time," Don adds. "We expect that both our leadership and the leadership of the administration in making Albion more affordable for students is a long-term commitment. We need to dedicate significant effort to building our endowment for scholarships over many years."
Ultimately, they believe giving should be about advancing the institutions you most cherish.
"We're at a stage now where we are doing some prioritizing in our lives," Angela reflects. "What does our life together stand for? What are the key pillars in our value system? We owe a huge part of our life's success to having met at Albion and having an Albion education. It's time to say what we stand for. We want to address the importance of Albion in our lives. And we hope others will do the same."
Thank you to our alumni, parents, and friends who continue the tradition of equipping our students for successful lives and careers. Each year, our students are provided with an exceptional educational experience, in the classroom and beyond. Your generous support for scholarships, hands-on learning opportunities, and leadership development allows our students to grow and build the tools needed to change the world!
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.”
An Albion College education. It's hands-on. It's the liberal arts. It's career readiness. It's providing you the knowledge, skills, and experiences you'll need to succeed in college, in your career, and in your life.