Philanthropists gift $52 million to four universities

The Thompson family donates a record $27 million to Bowling Green; more than 5,200 students overall will benefit.

Two teachers turned business executives who have for years contributed large donations to alma mater Bowling Green State University announced another transformational gift to BGSU and three other institutions.

Philanthropists Robert and Ellen Bowen Thompson are giving $52 million to Bowling Green, Grand Valley State, Saginaw Valley State and Michigan Technological universities as part of Thompson Working Families Scholarships, which will help support 5,200 students academically and financially in degree completion.

From the overall gift to the four institutions that partner with the Thompson Foundation, $27 million will go to Bowling Green, the single biggest donation in the university’s history.

“We are exceptionally grateful for the continued generosity of alumni Bob and Ellen Thompson, who have been incredible supporters of BGSU for decades,” said President Rodney Rogers. “They have made an immeasurable impact on hundreds of BGSU students, and with this unprecedented gift, we will be positioned to ensure a BGSU education is accessible and affordable for many deserving students.”

The Thompsons have given a total of $47 million to Bowling Green, and this donation will go directly to students from “working families, military backgrounds and high-potential students who have significant financial need.”

Thousands of students have received millions in scholarships from the Thompsons, who delivered some advice to those who earn them:

“You can do things to help others, one-on-one, and make it happen,” he said. “You’re almost obligated by me to do that. Do what you can and someday I hope you’ll look back and say, ‘This changed my life.’ ”

One of those who earned a Thompson scholarship, Saginaw Valley State’s Emily Wahl, said the gift indeed has started her on a path to success.

“This scholarship helped me immensely,” said Wahl, who graduated in December 2020 with a degree in professional accountancy. “I haven’t had to take out a loan at all, and I’m really thankful for that opportunity.”

Like Bowling Green, Saginaw Valley State received a record gift as well from the Thompsons – $6 million.

At Grand Valley State, which has seen more than $11 million for the Thompson Scholars program, there were more than 800 recipients this past year, including student Landyn Teachout, a communication studies major.

“It has always been my goal to pay for the majority of my college experience through working and obtaining scholarships,” GVSU. “During the summer, I work at Target full time, and during the school year, I am a resident assistant here at GVSU. I feel fortunate to be on the receiving end of the Thompsons’ generosity.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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