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Dean Coughenour Trust Gifts $1.5 Million To McPherson College

Dean and Verlla CoughenourThe idea of “paying it forward” was important to Dean Coughenour, a 1951 graduate of McPherson College, and a recent gift made to the college will ensure that students benefit from the same generosity he received as a student. The college received $1.5 million from the Dean Coughenour Trust to establish an endowed scholarship fund and support the Student Debt Project.

The Dean Coughenour Endowed Scholarship will focus on Kansas students who demonstrate financial need, especially those who have shown leadership abilities. The $1 million endowment will fund $50,000 in scholarships each year. The remaining funds will support the continued growth of the Student Debt Project by increasing the matching funds awarded to participants.

Students participating in the Student Debt Project are required to work. All the income earned from their job(s) is applied to their McPherson College account, which earns them a 25% match, funded by McPherson College donors. In the fourth year of the program, students have reduced their debt at graduation by $12,000 per student and retention of students participating in the program is 93%.

“Both of these initiatives appealed to me,” said Susan Lundstrom, Coughenour’s daughter. “They reflect my Dad’s belief that students should take responsibility for their education while also honoring his commitment to paying back the kindness given to him as a student.”

Coughenour grew up in McPherson. Raised by a single mom during the Great Depression, college would not have been an option had it not been for the generosity of a local doctor who contributed financially toward his college education. According to Lundstrom, the expectation was that he would put effort into his education and, if he were able in the future, help someone else in a similar way.

After graduating with a degree in history and a minor in English, he and his wife Verlla, whom he met at McPherson College, moved to Oberlin, Kan., where he taught in the high school for five years. In 1958, he switched careers and moved to Manhattan, Kan., where he purchased Ag Press and served as editor of the Grass and Grain newspaper. He successfully built his publishing business for the next 30 years.

“McPherson College was one of the few things that my dad consistently supported,” Lundstrom said. “His experience there established a foundation for the rest of his life. It seems fitting that we continued to support something so dear to him.”

President Michael Schneider said, “Dean believed that students should have some ‘skin in the game’ and take responsibility for their college education. Both Dean and Verlla recognized the importance of work and would be pleased with the progress students are making to graduate debt free. We are grateful that the Dean Coughenour Trust is recognizing the legacy of two special, hard-working McPherson College graduates.”