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WCU’s ‘Lead the Way’ fundraising campaign total surpasses $60 million goal

Balloons fall from the ceiling of the Ramsey Center as the final tally of $61,883,018 raised during the “Lead the Way” campaign is revealed. WCU photo Balloons fall from the ceiling of the Ramsey Center as the final tally of $61,883,018 raised during the “Lead the Way” campaign is revealed. WCU photo

More than 12,000 donors contributed over a five-year period to raise over $60 million for scholarships at Western Carolina University.

The total figure of $61,883,018 — announced Thursday, May 2 — surpassed the original goal in both dollars and timeframe. “Lead the Way: A Campaign Inspired by the Belcher Years” kicked off on July 1, 2014, aiming to raise $50 million by December 2021. When fundraising accelerated at a rate that surpassed expectations, the campaign raised its goal to $60 million in January 2018.

“If David were here, no one would be more proud than he at this moment of stupendous achievement,” Susan Belcher, wife of former Chancellor David O. Belcher, told those attending the May 2 event. “In 2012, David said at his installation address that Western’s No. 1 philanthropic priority will be raising funds for endowed scholarships to make a university education accessible for capable students in perpetuity. In 2017, David said that students are our reason for being. They are our job. They are our success stories. They are a testament to the power of higher education to change lives. This is what makes our support and gifts worthwhile.”

Belcher died June 17, 2018, after a nearly two-year battle with brain cancer, but his legacy lived on.

Lori Lewis, WCU vice chancellor of advancement, said the success of the comprehensive campaign — only the second in WCU’s history — was an historic event that was more than four years in the making.

“History is rarely made alone. There are those who inspire, who help ‘Lead the Way,’” Lewis said. “Each gift counted. Each gift mattered.  Each gift was an investment in the future.”

The campaign resulted in 12,368 unique donors making 51,787 gifts, with 46 percent of those participating first-time donors. The funds will provide 176 endowed scholarships and 24 annual scholarships.

“To think, we finished our campaign more than two-and-a-half years ahead of the original schedule, and we blew far past the original goal of $50 million,” said Interim Chancellor Alison Morrison-Shetlar. “Because that’s just how we do things in The Whee. As I conclude my time at the helm of our university, I leave you with this challenge: Keep it up. Don’t stop. Keep the momentum going. Climb higher mountains. Lead the way.”

Morrison-Shetlar will be returning to her role as provost when Chancellor-elect Kelli R. Brown takes over on July 1.

Representing scholarship recipients, Claire Lemke, who received the Susan Brummell Belcher Scholarship while an undergraduate student and is now studying toward a master’s degree, thanked all those who have made contributions during the campaign.

“To those who have given to students like me, please know that, while your gift may come in the form of financial support, you are also providing positive affirmation,” Lemke said. “Your confidence in us gives us the confidence within ourselves to succeed.”

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