Longtime donors Richard and Marilyn Vitek, ’56 ’56, have honored their class’ vintage with additional, targeted gifts leading up to their 60th reunion.
By John Perney
Leave it to Richard Vitek to turn to chemistry to briefly sum up his Albion College experience.
“Professors, students just all bonded together very well,” says the retired chemical researcher and highly successful entrepreneur. “They did a lot of things together, and there is a tremendous camaraderie that sticks.”
The characteristics of that camaraderie usually evolve and deepen over time, and for 1956 alumni Richard and Marilyn Young Vitek (right), the year of their 60th Albion reunion was the right time to toast those connections through what Richard calls “a program of possibility”—a group of particular gifts to the College that carry immediate impact.
The Viteks’ generosity to the College had already been substantial: their major gift funded the technology teaching auditorium (Norris 102) in the Science Complex project more than a decade ago; they had created endowed scholarships in chemistry and biology in Richard’s and Marilyn’s names, respectively; and they also had given to the President’s discretionary fund as well as unrestricted gifts.
Now, just in 2015-2016, the couple has given:
• Nearly $86,000 to renovate the long dormant greenhouse in Olin Hall and create the Young Greenhouse and Marilyn Young Vitek, ’56, Atrium Study Lounge;
• $50,000 to establish the Richard K. Vitek, ’56, FURSCA Endowment, benefiting the College’s Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity;
• $30,000 for a thermogravimetric analyzer (TGA) for the Chemistry Department (the instrument measures the weight change in a sample as a function of heating the sample);
• More than $18,000 to the Biology Department for analytical supplies and imaging equipment from Fotodyne, the Hartland, Wisconsin-based company founded by Richard more than 30 years ago that was the first enterprise dedicated to the manufacture and marketing of laboratory and scientific instruments for the separation, visualization, and analysis of DNA;
• And more than $17,500 to the Physics Department, which coupled from additional funds from the College’s Information Technology Office will create a designated “IT floor” for physics in Palenske Hall.
• Additionally, a gift of two original 1970s works from American landscape painter Robert William Wood to the Art and Art History Department is being discussed.
Concerning the science department gifts, Dick mentions rather humbly that “small needs are often overlooked, and we wanted to help some of the departments with some of their needs.”
Similarly, Marilyn, whose degree is in home economics, adds about the greenhouse project: “My Dad loved gardening and his greenhouse. That was his life. It sounded like a really good project to us.”
Vision and Impact
Forty years ago, in 1976, a gift from Marilyn’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Edward J.F. Young (who had connections to two legendary Britons: coach Dale Sprankle and Admission’s Frank Bonta, ’49) made possible the Young Greenhouses attached to Robinson Hall. The facility—consisting of fern, mesophytic, cacti, and tropical rooms—was relocated to Olin during Robinson’s 1990s renovation but not used to its full potential. Now, the Young Greenhouse will grow landscaping plants for use campus-wide, allowing not only for student hands-on experiences with faculty and staff, but also for significant cost savings, as those plants up until now usually had been purchased by the College at retail.
Adjacent to the greenhouse, the Vitek Atrium (right) has already become the popular multidisciplinary collaboration and study space, conducive to reflective learning, that the couple envisioned.
“We are thrilled that you have decided to renovate this area,” wrote Andy Boyan, assistant professor of communication studies and faculty liaison for Olin Hall, in a letter to the Viteks. “With your generosity … we will be able to showcase Olin Hall as a place where learning and student life happens side by side.”
In a letter thanking the Viteks for the TGA, associate professor of chemistry Kevin Metz wrote that prior to the gift, his students’ research had been limited and dependent on his access to a TGA in Ireland through a separate arrangement. “Your gift will allow my students and me to push our research efforts forward in a more consistent manner and, more importantly, will allow my students to learn this valuable technique for themselves,” Metz wrote.
Indeed, for Richard, the importance of developing skills in the lab as an undergraduate was a key factor in the new FURSCA Endowment, which will have an award preference for projects in environmental chemistry. “Albion College gave me tremendous knowledge in my field,” he says. “Because of the educational training I received at Albion, I was well prepared to go on to graduate school, and from there develop an excellent career in chemistry and biochemistry.”
Richard’s work impacted several industries. He collaborated with the Coast Guard to develop a methodology to identify and inspect ships suspected of causing oil spills. Using thin-layer and gas chromatography, he successfully identified and quantified dangerous levels of poisonous aflatoxins in commercial peanut butter. And he also discovered that previous testing mechanisms for arsenic in food products, particularly California wines, were insufficient, prompting action from the Environmental Protection Agency.
When it comes to impact, Richard deftly shifts the focus to his Albion professors who made a liberal arts difference, especially Chemistry’s Albert Monk and Physics’ Howard Pettersen. “Dr. Pettersen invited us to his home on occasion, and we just talked about physics,” he says. “He’d play Beethoven and taught us how music was tied into mathematics.”
Yet Richard and Marilyn firmly acknowledge the rewards they have experienced in their support of student learning, which eclipses $570,000 across three decades of giving.
“It’s always been our wish to help students,” Marilyn says. “We get wonderful letters from students when they receive their scholarship. It’s fascinating to read them and find out that they truly appreciate it. We know the expenses for college have just skyrocketed, and so many of them say that with family circumstances they just would not be able to go to Albion without that extra support.”
A Special Time and Place
The Viteks will make the trip to Albion from Florida to celebrate their 60th reunion at Homecoming in October, which will include a reception at the Young Greenhouse and Vitek Atrium (right). But forgive the Illinois natives if they sneak in an extra “happy 60th anniversary” during the weekend—Marilyn and Richard were married two weeks after graduating from Albion, and they easily recall how it all began.
“I was studying for a final, and I needed to go to the student center in Baldwin to have a Coke and wake up a little bit,” says Richard, describing his freshman-year memory. “I went down there, and I saw one person sitting by himself. We started talking about chemistry and physics, and he pulled a picture out of his wallet, which I thought was very unusual. He said it was his sister, and I realized it was a girl I had seen outside the physics building every Tuesday and Thursday.”
“I remember the story,” says Marilyn, whose brother Bob Young, ’55, just happened to be in the right place at the right time. “The first date we had was the play Androcles and the Lion.”
The George Bernard Shaw work proved to be just the opening act of the Viteks’ long-running association with Albion. In 1985, their youngest daughter, Evelyn, graduated with honors; now, the couple’s gifts in 2015-16 represent another milestone.
“We feel very fortunate that we are able to do this, to further the exceptional educational programs for Albion students,” Marilyn says. “And we will continue to support Albion in this endeavor.”
This story was originally published in the Fall 2016 edition of Advancing Albion.
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.
The power of giving is felt in countless ways. Each experience is unique to each donor.
"I believe it's important to give back to Albion because Albion gave so much to me," says Meg Goebel, '79.
"Time marches on," explains Jim "Quince" Donahey, '75. "And what you plan to do in the future, sometimes you need to do now. Becuase there's no need to wait any longer."
Hear more from Meg and Quince in their videos below.
Each year, Albion College 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.”
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.