CLA alumnus donates $10 million to U

Heather Fors

Improving undergraduate education was one of the key motivations behind a whopping $10 million donation to the University from former Gopher Richard “Pinky” McNamara.
The donation — second only to Curtis Carlson’s $25 million donation in 1986 — will be used to improve undergraduate advising in the College of Liberal Arts. Portions of the donation will also go to intercollegiate athletics and the University Gateway, an alumni and visitor center.
Exactly how the donation will be divvied up has not yet been determined. Wednesday morning University President Mark Yudof announced news of the gift, which will be allocated over 10 years.
“Pinky, I’m honored to thank you,” Yudof said. “You are an outstanding graduate and an inspiration to us all.”
The donation comes on the heels of a record-breaking $134 million in donations for the 1997-98 fiscal year, including $54 million from University graduates, the largest sum ever.
Donations are pledged to the University every day, ranging from $25 to $10 million.
McNamara is the founder and chief executive officer of Activar, a conglomerate of companies specializing in plastics and construction. He said he wants to give something back to the University, drawing a direct parallel between his entrepreneurial success and his education.
“When your success passes your wildest dreams, it’s time to give back,” he said. “I find everything comes back to the University.”
By donating the money while he’s still alive, McNamara said he hopes to see firsthand the results of his gift.
The guidance he received from liberal arts advisers and a University football scholarship affected McNamara’s entire life, he said. McNamara hopes other alumni will follow his lead in giving back to the University. He said the best way to encourage others is to set a good example.
“There’s a lot of folks out there who owe the University a lot,” he said.
A 1956 graduate with a major he designed encompassing history, humanities, political science and speech communications, McNamara has a history of giving to the University.
He helped the school raise funds as a board member for the University Foundation. In 1992, he donated $119,000 to the CLA advising program in honor of two of his University advisers, Vivian Hewer and Mabel Powers.
Yudof said he was grateful that McNamara targeted liberal arts, pointing out that usually the big gifts are given to the professional schools.
The president emphasized that the money allocated to the liberal arts advising program would supplement the money he proposed in his biennial budget plan which will call for more advisers. The funding for the advisers might go toward a special awards program.
Impacting at least 14,000 undergraduates, the gift excited CLA Dean Steve Rosenstone.
He said he hopes this will help create experiences for students — like the one McNamara had at the University — that would help them after graduation.
“The aim is to do things with this gift that we can’t do with the state’s money alone,” Rosenstone said.