Think beyond checks, endowments and scholarships. Explore alumni donations that have truly broken the mold.
Many alumni proudly boast their alma maters’ names and logos on sweatshirts, bumper stickers and even tattoos.
However, universities rely on donations for everything from research and scholarships to new buildings, and many graduates are happy to give back. Higher education giving totaled almost $53 billion in 2021 and 2020, and Michael Bloomberg made headlines in 2018 when he donated $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins, his alma mater.
But while sustaining checks and endowments are tried-and-true ways to support a university, some gifts may land further afield. Here are a few.
The University of Sydney received one of its biggest bequests from an alumnus in 1961. John Power, a former doctor hailed as Australia’s most prominent cubist, gifted a large collection of his own work – oil paintings, collages, chalk drawings and even double-sided glass works – to the university in his will. He also left the institution shares valued today at around $15 million. John’s donation, now worth a mighty $34 million, helped advance contemporary art across his homeland and, eventually, seeded the establishment of the Museum of Contemporary Art on Sydney’s Circular Quay.
American inventor Luther H. Blount built more than 300 boats, including ferries, dinner boats and commercial trawlers. So it was only fitting that he express his gratitude to Rhode Island College, the Wentworth Institute of Technology and Roger Williams University – all of which had presented him with honorary doctorates – by collectively gifting them The Niagara Prince in 2006. The $6.5 million, 175-foot cruise ship formed part of Luther’s cruise lines. The plan was for the three New England schools to sell the ship and split the proceeds.
Living through the Great Depression made Grace Groner, a secretary for 43 years, an expert saver. Her frugal habits added up – she bought secondhand clothing, walked everywhere instead of buying a car and lived in a one-bedroom home. However, the source of her wealth came from a $180 stock purchase she made in 1935 and continued reinvesting. When she passed away in 2010 at age 100, her alma mater, Illinois’ Lake Forest College, received a $7 million gift along with – perhaps even more interestingly – her home, which now houses scholarship winners who have benefited from Grace’s donation.
A large gold nugget believed to have sparked Australia’s gold rush and a mummified baby crocodile from ancient Egypt are two of many peculiar donations gifted to the University of Sydney.
The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences has also received several exceptional gifts, including insect collections, rare wood specimens and over a dozen stallions.
Sources: sydney.edu.au; psu.edu
Sources: triplem.com; comettv.com; ucalgary.ca; blountsmallshipadventures.com; bizjournals.com; dailyreview.com; sydney.edu.au; mentalfloss.com; philanthropy.com; insidehighered.com; nbcnews.com; case.org