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UW-Eau Claire campaign exceeds goal, raises $73.4M

Funds to help university with Confluence Arts Center, events center, scholarships, research

posted Feb. 17, 2017 12:00 a.m. | updated Feb. 17, 2017 12:15 p.m. (CDT)
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by / Julian Emerson. bio | email

The UW-Eau Claire Foundation’s annual employee appreciation luncheon is typically a relatively jovial event, but Thursday’s get-together at the university’s Davies Center was a full-on celebration.

Foundation President Kimera Way announced at the event that the university’s Power of Possible Centennial Campaign, which kicked off in 2008 and ended Dec. 31, had raised $73.4 million, well above the $60 million goal. The smiles that creased the faces of Way and others and congratulatory handshakes and hugs were evidence of the campaign’s success.  

“This was a lot of work, and today it feels really good,” Way said shortly before speaking at the luncheon.

Money raised will go toward a wide variety of university-related efforts, helping pay for everything from the Confluence Arts Center currently under construction in downtown Eau Claire, to a yet-to-be-built major events center along Menomonie Street, to scholarships for students, to research for professors.

“Virtually every area of campus will be touched in some way by this money,” Way said Thursday shortly before addressing the luncheon.

Much of the money donated has already been publicized. For instance, the campaign’s largest gift was a $10 million commitment of money and land from university alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag, who donated the County Materials Corp. former property along Menomonie Street to house an events, sports and recreation center that would involve the university, the Eau Claire YMCA and Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire.

Gifts to support the $45 million Confluence Arts Center also make up a major part of the campaign total, Way said. Backers have raised $15 million in private donations for the center, which will be used by the university and community arts groups. The facility also received $20 million in state money, $5 million from the city of Eau Claire, $3.5 million from Eau Claire County and new market tax credits.

Another campaign gift came last March from Mid-West Family Broadcasting, which donated its 99.9 FM frequency to the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. That donation, which included the radio license, transmitter, tower and other equipment, was valued at $1 million. The gift led to the formation of Blugold Radio, the region’s first indie rock station.

Other money will help students directly in the form of scholarships and enhanced learning opportunities such as research opportunities at locations around the world, UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt said.

“This is about the future of the next generation,” Schmidt said.

Meghan Hosely, a 21-year-old senior organizational communications major from Sun Prairie, knows firsthand the benefits of foundation dollars. Last summer, Hosely, a Spanish minor, traveled to Costa Rica, thanks in part to a university scholarship that paid much of the trip’s cost. 

“That money really made the trip affordable for me,” she said. 

Big challenge

Back in 2008, when the UW-Eau Claire Foundation board of directors decided to go ahead with a $60 million fundraising campaign, its prospects were far from rosy.

The nation was in the throes of an economic recession that seemed likely to make such an endeavor challenging. But those officials were determined to come up with money needed to provide students and faculty with the kinds of opportunities needed to further their educations and research.

After four years of the “quiet phase” of the fundraising effort, the foundation in 2012 kicked off its public campaign. They took that action despite the university having no chancellor at the time. Brian Levin-Stankevich had left the university for a job in Utah, and his replacement had not yet been hired. 

“Most people would have said we were nuts for going ahead with this at that time,” Way said. 

‘A better place’

In addition to helping pay for projects and providing experiences for students, the fundraiser’s success also is evidence of support UW-Eau Claire engenders in the community, Schmidt said. 

The donations allow the university to play a more vital role in terms of partnering with community organizations to “make Eau Claire a better place,” the chancellor said. The Confluence Arts Center and the planned Sonnentag events center are examples of those partnerships, he said.

While UW-Eau Claire alumni gave generously to the fundraiser, more than 40 percent of donors did not attend UW-Eau Claire, Way said. About 39,000 donors made pledges to the campaign. Of those, 148 gave $100,000 or more.

Those numbers are music to Way’s ears. Donations that make projects like the arts center and events center possible are highly important, she said. But so too are commitments to a special fund used to help students in need. Recently university officials used that money to house a UW-Eau Claire student they learned was homeless. 

“For me, that is just as important as any big building,” she said. 

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