Western Maryland College's Big Gifts

November 30, 1994

Western Maryland College has been the grateful recipient of three million-dollar gifts in recent years, an acknowledgment that large "lead donors" are necessary for the private liberal arts school to maintain its recognized quality of education and renovate its turn-of-the-century buildings.

These gifts provide both impetus and example for the Westminster college's big fund-raising campaign scheduled to begin in 1996, the first ever in the 128-year history of the institution. The money is needed for planned renovations in six historic academic buildings, which average 80 years in age, and to build up the college's modest endowment fund of $24.2 million.

The latest large gift is $1.25 million from Martin Hill, a local developer and a college trustee, who will head the comprehensive fund-raising drive. His gift over five years will go to the building program and to the annual operating expenses fund.

"You can't lead where you're not willing to go," said Mr. Hill, whose daughter graduated from WMC last year. "Western Maryland College has a tremendous impact on the lives of people, and the only way a private liberal arts college can continue to do so is if we dig in and support them."

Last year, the college received $1 million from Clementine Peterson that is being used to renovate the fine arts building that is named for her and her husband. Three years ago, Dr. Sam Hoover gave $1.2 million to erect the Hoover Library.

With an enrollment of 2,200 students, nearly one-half in graduate studies, Western Maryland College has largely relied on tuition to pay its $30.3 million operating budget. But alumni have lent support, with annual giving by 40 percent of graduates raising some $1 million a year.

That money, however, goes to meet the rising operating expenses and to reduce tuition increases, not to increase the endowment fund or to pay for capital construction and renovation projects.

Western Maryland College, whose slightly misleading name came not from geography but from the Western Maryland Railway (whose president founded the school), shares the dilemma of many small private colleges in the 1990s: stable enrollment, costs that outstrip reasonable tuition hikes and an increasingly inadequate endowment fund.

WMC hopes to get state help through $3.5 million in bonds to break ground on a new science center. But the main responsibility for supporting the college's future will rest with its alumni and the community that benefits from its existence.

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