Meet the Couple That Wants to Put Their Alma Mater on the Map

Richard and Virginia Hunsaker recently gave $35 million to their alma mater, the University of Redlands, to fund scholarships. Richard, raised in Long Beach, originally dreamed of Stanford but was convinced by his high school counselor to go instead to the inland Southern California school started by Baptist preachers instead. At the time, enrollment was only about 1,200 students.

Yep, Hunsaker eschewed the Ivy Leagues (and its equivalents) and turned out just fine. More than fine, actually, and the couple's story serves as a good example of how deep connections to a school and region can motivate decades-long giving. 

To preview the lessons of this story: Couples who are both alumni of a school can have an unusually high level of loyalty, and that may be even more true if the institution is an underdog, since—as we note here often—donors can get especially excited if they believe their giving can help a school rise from obscurity to a more elevated spot in the higher ed universe. 

Throw in a love story that actually started on campus and, well, you can pretty much bank on future giving. 

Richard Hunsaker met Virginia in 1948 while they both were freshmen at the University of Redlands and the two married after they graduated. Hunsaker went on to found Hunsaker Management, which manages industrial and commercial property in Southern California. The couple currently lives in Corona Del Mar in Newport Beach, and the Orange County-Inland Empire region has been a site for past philanthropy by the couple.

The couple has given at least $6 million to Orange County Performing Arts Center, and smaller gifts to UC Irvine, Segerstrom Center for the Arts and Wooden Floor, a nonprofit dance program that serves at risk youth in the Orange County area.

As for the Hunsakers' giving to their alma mater, that began in the mid-1950s when the two were just young graduates. By the late 1970s, Hunsaker joined the board of trustees. At the time, the university was struggling financially and its endowment had dropped to just $7 million.

Later, Hunsaker helped select the university's eighth president, James Appleton, who served from 1987 to 2005 in that position. Appleton is credited for helping to turn the university around and the Hunsakers were a family that Appleton tapped for money. (The Hunsakers gave at least $7 million to the school between 1987 and 1989 alone). These days, the endowment at University of Redlands sits at around $140 million. Not bad, but not huge, either. 

This latest gift brings the Hunsakers' support for the university to nearly $75 million. In the past, they've funded four endowed chairs and put millions of dollars behind the Hunsaker University Center. This latest $35 million gift will focus on scholarships. Starting with the next freshman class, a Hunsaker scholarship will be awarded annually to eight incoming Redlands students.

Related - Campus Cash: Scholarships

It's worth noting that Virginia went to Redlands on a California PTA scholarship, which covered the then $600 tuition (these days it sits at $44,000). What's more, she has a history with Wooden Floor, the aforementioned youth dance program, where Hunsaker currently sits on the board of directors. The couple has funded scholarships at Redlands for youth who have been through the Wooden Floor program, which not only involves arts education but also academic tutoring and college preparation.

Finally, the Hunsakers have been vocal about their latest gift being used to perpetuate a new cycle of success at Redlands, that graduates successful young people who will then give back to Redlands in a similar manner. 

For Hunsaker, one measure of this success means upping the endowment even more: “I want to at least be better than Occidental. They’re about $300 million.” 

What's more, a lot of people have heard of Occidental, which is not true of the University of Redlands.

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