November 19, 1999
It sounds like a fairy tale, but it will have a real-life impact at Tulane for many years to come. The gift of $18 million-the largest in university history-began with a telephone message left this spring in President Scott Cowen's office from an attorney in north Louisiana.
At first Cowen thought it was a prank. After all, it's not every day that an unknown caller says Tulane has been mentioned in a will for a substantial gift. But the follow-up and subsequent negotiations revealed an incredible treasure from a friend of Tulane who hadn't given to the university in 25 years.
Lallage Feazel Wall of West Monroe, La., wife of the late State Rep. Shady Wall, passed away Feb. 25, leaving Tulane as the recipient of an $18 million unrestricted gift. For Cowen, who announced the gift at his inauguration on Sept. 24, the gift was a dream come true, because it will be used to bolster Tulane's endowment and to fund strategic planning initiatives across the entire university.
"Every president dreams of a windfall like this," Cowen said. "The unrestricted use of the gift was specified by the heirs; they just wanted to do good for the university. It gives us the flexibility to use a portion of this gift for start-up funds for programs that are not easily financed."
The Tulane Board, based on a recommendation from Cowen, has agreed to designate half of the gift for Tulane's endowment, earmarking the income from it for activities to implement Tulane's strategic plan. The remaining half will be used for direct investment in strategic plan-related projects during the next seven years.
"This money is there to make the strategic plan come alive," Cowen said. "We will be setting up a criteria and a process for people to apply for these grants, universitywide. This is for everybody."
He gave several examples. Because undergraduate education is a strategic planning priority, a faculty member could plan a new series of service-learning courses and apply for funding. Similarly, a medical school faculty member could apply for research funds in gene therapy or another area, meeting the strategic plan initiative for expanded research in areas where significant federal funding is available.
Wall's gift is even more extraordinary because she did not graduate from the university. The family, however, does have one Tulane connection-beginning in 1954, she and her father, William C. 'Bill' Feazel, donated money toward a fund that supported a Tulane laboratory that researched migraine headaches. Between 1954 and 1975, she donated more than $300,000 to Tulane.
After her death, Tulane was among a large group of beneficiaries who shared in her estate, which was settled in 4th Judicial District Court in early August. All 39 beneficiaries of her estate were given unrestricted gifts.
"There has never been a gift this large to Tulane," said Jane Bickford, vice president of institutional advancement. "It's unusual for a gift over $1 million to be unrestricted; it makes it extremely special and a wonderful opportunity. Scott will use it to really make a difference at Tulane."
The university will identify ways to recognize Wall's gift formally through an appropriate naming opportunity in the future. The Wall gift helped jump start the new fiscal year in a huge way for Bickford and her staff. They are coming off a successful year in 1998-99 in which a school record of $60.2 million was raised, nearly double the amount of the prior year.
Tulane received 13 gifts of $1 million or more last year, compared to just four the prior year. Those gifts benefit many different areas of the university. One of the largest is an anonymous pledge of more than $5 million for an expansion of the Freeman School of Business.
Additional gifts of note include $2.85 million from the late George Bechtel, a College of Arts and Sciences alumnus, for the Cudd Hall restoration for Tulane College and support of scholarships and programs; nearly $1.8 million for faculty support in pediatrics by the late Elsie Schaefer; $1.8 million from the late George A. Wilson for the Tulane endowment; $1.5 million from the State Board of Regents as matching funds for new faculty support; and $1.26 million from the Collins C. Diboll Foundation for the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the First-Year Experience program.
Proclaiming it 'a banner year,' Cowen added, "It shows the potential this university has. I expect this year to be a record-breaking year."
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