For the Love of Wilson

For the Love of Wilson

Wilson’s calendar does not begin on January 1 and end on December 31. Nor does it simply follow the academic calendar beginning with the first day of classes and ending with graduation ceremonies. For the Wilson community, the calendar starts with student move-in day and all the excitement and bustle that marks the reopening of the college. And it ends with Reunion and the return of our alumni, who come together to renew their friendships, share memories, and celebrate the College — a fitting send-off for the old year.

This year was no exception. The Class of ’73 and the Class of ’98 showed up in numbers to celebrate their 50th and 25th reunions, respectively. And we had alumni representing classes from 1952 all the way up to 2023. The alumna who traveled the furthest came from Ecuador!

Two Goods Do Make a Right

In his welcome speech, Wilson President Wes Fugate summarized the state of the college, joking that he might have titled his talk “the good, the bad, the ugly, and the good.” The first “good” included Wilson’s remarkable enrollment increases before the pandemic, which bucked the negative growth trend in many similar institutions. The “bad” referenced the pandemic’s negative financial and enrollment effects. And the “ugly” described the long-term repercussions of the lower enrollment combined with a looming “demographic cliff” (beginning in 2026, there will be 15% fewer students graduating from high schools due to the decreased birthrate during the great recession of 2008).

The second “good” is how the College has responded to “the bad and the ugly.” Wilson was proactive and addressed the challenges through Future Wilson: The Phoenix Rises – a five-year strategic plan that lays out a path to financial and academic security. Fugate touted the steps we have already taken towards fulfilling the plan — more graduate courses, new undergraduate programs, Wilson College Online, the success of our athletics teams, and the reimagined creative arts options, to list but a few of the recent gains.

He concluded his speech with the official launch of the We Rise campaign — a $16 million fundraising effort to help implement the strategic plan described in detail throughout this issue of the magazine. And although this was the official launch event, he announced that we had already raised $12 million in cash and pledges! Given the generosity of alumnae, alumni, and friends of the College, he had no doubt that we would meet the target and put Wilson on sound footing once again.

Fund the Fund

The cost of a higher education degree today is high and out of the reach of many. This is why Wilson has kept its tuition and board rates low and gives generous financial aid packages to deserving students. Robin Bernstein, Esq., vice- chair of the We Rise campaign, understands why a donor would want to fund scholarships and other forms of direct aid to students. But years on the Board of Trustees have taught her that the Wilson Fund and additional unrestricted funds are critical too.

Class of 1973 Reception in the John Stewart Memorial Library

“The Wilson Fund is important to me because it helps cover the operating expenses that get us through year to year. Every year has its own issues, especially on an old campus, and some- thing unexpected always comes up,” she said. “If you leave money in a restricted fund, which is fine, what was seen as the most important thing in 1909 when you died might have no relevance in 1929 or 2029! Unrestricted dollars, however, provide for things that you may not have even thought of existing.”

“Everything that goes to the annual fund is unrestricted,” she explained. “It’s not enough to carry the College, but it creates a safety buffer against the unexpected costs.”

Odds and Evens

The rivalry between the Odds and Evens is alive and well if the back-and-forth chanting at the Reunion lunch is anything to go by. This good-natured teasing is one of Wilson’s oldest traditions. But don’t let the rivalry fool you. When it comes to the College’s welfare, the Odds and Evens put aside their differences and unite to work together. That’s precisely how Cynthia Dimmick Grove ’63 and Julia Solleveld Osborne ’64, both We Rise Odds and Evens subcommittee members, approach raising unrestricted funds.

Cynthia Dimmick Grove ’63

“My class of 1964 will be looking at their 60th reunion next year,” Osborne said. “And I have been a fundraising cheerleader for 60 years!” She hopes to present the College with a bumper gift next year at Reunion. “I’ve been telling my classmates for years that they need to reflect on what Wilson did for them. And by helping Wilson now, they are passing that gift on. on.” The Class of 1964 has decided to create a “Class of ’64” scholarship. However, while this will be a named gift to honor the class and will be presented at Reunion next year, it will be given as part of the We Rise campaign. This means the College can award the funds to whoever needs them most on behalf of the class. In that sense, it is not like an endowment that is limited to spending funds in very specific ways.

Julia Solleveld Osborne ’64

Grove agrees that the College needs unrestricted funds. She reminds her classmates, “It’s not money wasted because there is the strategic plan, and it’s already working.” Grove’s motivation is simple: “Wilson College really helped to create the person that I think I am today,” she said. “It’s important to stay connected and be supportive of the place where you spent four important years of your life.”

Both women have been encouraged by the College’s administration under Fugate. In particular, they are impressed by how proactive the strategic plan is. “We’ve done an incredible job of keeping pace and even being head of the storm,” Grove said of the College’s preparations for the challenges ahead. “We have an ambitious strategic plan to help us to remain the cutting-edge institution that began 154 years ago thanks to the generosity of Sarah Wilson,” Fugate said at Reunion. “It remains the highest honor of my life to serve this remarkable College. I am humbled to walk alongside each of you as her president. Thank you for being here this weekend. Thank you for being loyal to your alma mater. And thank you for what you will do for her in these coming years.”

Embracing a Challenge

Robin Bernstein joined the Board of Trustees in 1996. She had known of Wilson since childhood (through a friend who lived in Chambersburg) and considered it “the little engine that could” because of how the school had scrapped her way back into existence and relevance after the near closing in 1979. She liked Wilson’s fighting spirit, knew many alumnae, and, she admitted, was a little jealous of the women who had come here.

At her first Trustee meeting, she was shocked to hear the head of physical property explain how he had saved money by soldering the front of one truck onto the rear of another to create a usable vehicle. “Then I remember going into the ladies’ room, and the plaster was falling off the ceiling,” she said. “I thought, what have I gotten myself into?”

Luckily, Bernstein likes a challenge. After the initial shock of the College’s finances, she rolled up her sleeves and joined the fight to put the College on a firmer financial footing. She served two terms on the board, including a three-year stint as chair, and retired on June 30, having served for a grand total of 18 years.

When she became chair, some alumnae questioned why a non-alumna would care so much about the College. Bernstein considered this a valid question and had to ask herself why she felt such a strong connection to Wilson and didn’t feel the same about her own alma mater.

Then she had an epiphany. “I realized that I love this place because it is very much like my prep school in Philadelphia, which was Quaker. There like here, the faculty mentored you, and you could go into the classroom after school and talk about anything with them.” Not only did this realization clarify why she felt so strongly toward the College, but it motivated her to put even more of her time and “treasure” into keeping Wilson a viable and relevant school. “There are very few institutions left where the students are supported the way they are here.”

2023 Reunion Awards

Attendance Awards

Silver Cup
Class with the greatest percentage of class members registered.
Class of 1973
25% in attendance

Reunion Bowl
Class with the largest number of class members registered.
Class of 1973
29 in attendance

Fundraising Awards

President’s Plaque
Class with the highest 5-year participation of giving to Wilson Fund.
Class of 1963
53% of participation

Silver Tray
Class with the highest 5-year total giving to the College.
Class of 1963

Class Crystal
Class with the highest Wilson Fund giving for the current fiscal year.
Class of 1963


50th Class Gift

The Class of 1973 celebrated their 50th reunion with a gift toward scholarships for female students as part of the We Rise Campaign.
Class of 1973


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