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It Began in a Van

Jerry Holman, Paul Hoffman, Eugene Lichty

(L-R, Jerry Holman, Paul Hoffman, Eugene Lichty)

The President’s Club came into being in 1979, through the visionary efforts of President Paul Hoffman, Dr. Merlin Frantz, Mr. Eugene Lichty, Ms. Connie Andes, Mr. Sid Smith, and Mr. Jerry Holman.

McPherson College was operating in the red and desperately needed a plan to balance the budget. In those early years, nearly 400 donors stepped forward by giving $1,000 to McPherson College’s annual fund. These donors became the first members of the President’s Associates Club, its name during the first 25 years. It was not easy to donate such a large amount during that period in history. The average income per person was only $17,500. Interest rates averaged 15.25%, the Dow closed the year at 838 points, and due to a crisis in Iran, oil prices increased around the world and the public began panic buying, making things worse.

During the MyMC fundraising campaign spanning 2005-2008, two $25,000 President’s Club matching gift challenges—one from an anonymous alumni couple and one from Rebecca Morrison ’39 of Salina, Kansas—were launched.

These matches were issued in an effort to encourage more donors to make impactful annual fund gifts. In turn, it was at this time that the President’s Club expanded into multiple giving levels to inspire greater participation and meet the matching gift challenges.

The President’s Club began offering giving tiers, starting with President’s Associates ($1,000 to $2,500) and the addition of two new giving tiers, which highlighted the importance of donors increasing their yearly gift amounts to provide greater support for MC students: President’s Builders ($2,500 to $5,000) and President’s Partners ($5,000 or more).

Today, there is a total of five giving tiers, including President’s Friends (starting at $500). This starter giving level introduces young alumni and other supporters who are new in their relationship with the College a meaningful way to give to MC.

President’s Club gifts continue to be designated “where needed most” and provide the backbone of support for scholarships and programs, like the student debt project. In fiscal year 2020, President’s Club gifts totaled nearly $1.5M.


“It Began In a Van”
From Eugene Lichty’s reflections at the 25th Anniversary President’s Associates banquet. 

According to my daily reminder for the year 1979, and confirmed by Joanna Hoffman’s diary, it was June 14 that seven of us were returning to McPherson from a Council for the Advancement of Secondary Education Institute in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The occupants included Dr. and Mrs. Hoffman, Dr. and Mrs. Merlin Frantz, Connie Andes, my wife Eloise and myself. Mr. and Mrs. Sid Smith and Jerry Holman had traveled earlier in another vehicle. At that Institute, we were challenged to develop programs that would help keep the small colleges alive.

Rather than flitter or sleep away our traveling time, we decided to hold a development meeting. We all had heard President Hoffman’s speeches about the small colleges disappearing, and we were much aware that McPherson College was operating in the red. I think it was Merlin Frantz who had a dream that if we would get 1000 alumni and friends to give $1000 each, we would raise one million dollars! Even though it looked like pie in the sky, it did get us to thinking. Why not see how many we could challenge to give $1000 the coming year?

OK, so what do we name it? There were many ideas, none of which I recall, except we finally settled on the term “Presidents’ Associates.” We discussed for some time where the apostrophe should be placed! Obviously, that was wise strategy since we had the president in the van! This was in the days of newsprint rather than the indispensable laptop computer. So, we stuck paper on some of the windows, and went to work on developing a strategy.

The philosophy was quite simple; it might compare to an inverted pyramid. We began at the top rather than the bottom. With the name chosen, our president had little choice but to commit the first $1000. Then we appealed to the development staff. (I am a firm believer that one cannot effectively ask another for a gift if you have not first given yourself.) We skipped the trustee board since they were already involved in a challenge program. Next we contacted the remaining faculty and staff who had sufficient resources to commit at least $1000. Finally, we included a broad constituency of alumni and friends. Again, we tried to keep it simple and inexpensive.

One of the first meetings in my date book was on November 6, 1979. It was held at the home of Bob and Anita Wise. Previous to that meeting, I had met with the Wise’s to explain our program. They were well aware of the financial straits of the college and were invited, maybe even encouraged, to become members of the local PASS committee. At their agreement, we asked if we could have a meeting in their home, to which they readily agreed.

We next decided on a person who would be responsible for securing light refreshments for the close of the meeting. We also asked the Wise’s to suggest names of people to invite to the home meeting. Finally, we informed the Wise’s that one of the requirements of the local committee was that they be the first to make the $1000 commitment to join the PASS committee!

At the home gatherings that followed, Dr. Hoffman would set out the needs of the college, and a staff member would explain the follow-up contacts for commitments. Most calls were made the following day with a committee member accompanying a staff member and frequently using their own car. The strategy obviously worked.

In closing, I want to quote from a paper I wrote at the request of Jim Dodson in the month of June 1990 before my retirement: “Looking back, it may have been the initiating of the President’s Associates Program which marked the turnaround from deficit-spending to balanced budgets at McPherson College.”

Thanks to all of you who made this possible.