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Successful UW-Eau Claire Foundation campaign raises more than $73 million

| Julie Poquette

A new campus-community arts center now under construction. A major events center in the planning stage. Hundreds of new funds providing ongoing support for University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students and faculty. The launch of the Chippewa Valley’s first indie rock radio station.

There is no question: The impact of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation’s recently completed fundraising campaign will be felt by every UW-Eau Claire student and by residents throughout the Chippewa Valley for years to come.

The eight-year Power of Possible Centennial Campaign has exceeded its initial goal by $13.4 million, with a final total of $73.4 million in gifts and pledges raised for the people, programs and places of UW-Eau Claire.

The outcome of the campaign, which officially ended Dec. 31, was announced Feb. 16 during the UW-Eau Claire Foundation’s annual Employee Appreciation Luncheon in the university’s Davies Center.

The UW-Eau Claire Foundation board of directors began the “quiet phase” of the campaign in 2008 and held a public launch in 2012. The campaign goals were to raise $60 million in support of the university and to boost the UW-Eau Claire Foundation’s endowment over the $100 million mark — all by UW-Eau Claire’s centennial year.

“Both goals were reached and exceeded due to the generous spirit of thousands of donors who want to ensure the excellence of the UW-Eau Claire experience for future Blugolds,” said Kimera Way, UW-Eau Claire Foundation president. “What wonderful news to share during UW-Eau Claire’s 2016-17 Centennial Celebration. Thanks to the generosity of our university’s alumni and friends, the Foundation is well positioned to provide key support of UW-Eau Claire’s goals to serve students and our region well into the next century.”

Way noted several statistics that indicate the campaign’s breadth of donor involvement and impact:

  • A total of 39,000 donors made gifts and pledges during the Power of Possible campaign. Fifty-four percent of those donors were UW-Eau Claire alumni, 43 percent were non-alumni and 3 percent were corporations.
  • Donations to the campaign established 600 new UW-Eau Claire Foundation funds in support of UW-Eau Claire students, faculty, programs and facilities.
  • A total of 148 donors gave $100,000 or more during the campaign.

The lead gifts for the Power of Possible campaign were from 1943 UW-Eau Claire alumnus Ralph Duxbury, who gave two gifts totaling $2 million. The gifts from Duxbury, who died in 2013, "spoke to the heart of our centennial campaign,” Way said. "He invested in people through scholarships for students and support for faculty, and he invested in two of our signature programs: choral music and the Wisconsin Academic Excellence Scholarships. He also made a significant commitment to our biology department, creating ongoing, transformational opportunities there."

The Power of Possible campaign’s largest gift was a commitment of money and land from UW-Eau Claire alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag and County Materials Corporation. The gift was intended to make possible the development of a major event center on the gifted land located along the Chippewa River on Menomonie Street in Eau Claire.

The new event center, now in the planning stages as part of what will be called the John H. and Carolyn Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex, will provide a venue where UW-Eau Claire and community organizations can hold larger-scale events than can be accommodated by the university's existing facilities. The Blugold Real Estate Foundation (a supporting organization of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation), the Eau Claire YMCA, Mayo Clinic Health System and UW-Eau Claire are partners in the Menomonie Street project.

Gifts in support of the Confluence Arts Center, another public-private project now under construction in downtown Eau Claire, also make up a significant portion of the Power of Possible campaign total, Way said. The arts center, which will be used by UW-Eau Claire and community arts groups, has received support from the city of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County, the state of Wisconsin and new market tax credits in addition to donations from private donors.

A particularly unique gift to the campaign came in March 2016, when Mid-West Family Broadcasting, Eau Claire, gave its commercial station 99.9 WDRK-FM to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. The gift, which included the radio license, transmitter, tower and related equipment for operation of the station, was valued at approximately $1 million.

The station, now called Blugold Radio and billed as the Chippewa Valley’s first indie rock station, is owned and operated by Blugold Radio LLC, a subsidiary of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.

“Blugold Radio has opened up great real-world learning opportunities for UW-Eau Claire students through the student-produced programming featured by the station, “ Way said. “It’s also proving to be a way we can expand our reach in telling the amazing story of UW-Eau Claire and its impact in our region.”

In addition to the gifts and pledges in support of facilities like the arts and events centers, many other gifts were designated for student scholarships or funds that support the high-impact learning opportunities — like internships, working on research with faculty, and cultural immersion experiences — that UW-Eau Claire is known for. Other donors directed their support to faculty professional development.

“The Foundation’s role is to look at every area of need of the university and address as many of those as possible,” said George Stroebel, chair of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation board of directors. “Through this successful Power of Possible campaign, we have been able to effectively serve the university’s needs across the board — from state-of-the-art facilities to student financial support and expanded opportunities to continued development opportunities for faculty.”

In addition to the immediate resources the campaign has been able to generate across the board for the university, its success positions the university for the future, said UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt. He said university leadership already is looking to 2020 and how key priorities in UW-Eau Claire’s strategic plan would rely on private support to ensure their success.

“One area where we will continue to need university and private investment is in support of academic excellence,” he said. “The role our faculty play in helping students attain their academic dreams is a priority we need to continually invest in to ensure that the value of the Blugold degree only appreciates in the future.”