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Drake unveils The Ron and Jane Olson Center for Public Democracy
Merging their love for Drake with their dedication to revitalizing democracy, Ron and Jane Olson, along with several other generous donors, have made significant gifts to solidify Drake’s place as a leader in civic and political engagement.
The need has never been greater in our society for solutions to build a healthy democracy, and Drake is addressing this concern in large part through the work of The Ron and Jane Olson Center for Public Democracy.
The Center, named on behalf of Ron and Jane Olson following a $5 million gift from the couple, brings together Drake’s expertise across disciplines and the innovative approaches required to create a hub for democratic discourse, dialogue, and action focused on supporting a healthy democracy.
Ensuring Drake is the school of choice for politically minded students everywhere.
“This gift from the Olsons is an investment in educating the next generation of public servants and engaged citizens who will go on to strengthen and transform our local, state, national, and global communities,” said Drake University President Marty Martin. “We are deeply grateful for Ron and Jane’s generosity and honored to name the Center for Public Democracy on their behalf.”
The Olson’s gift, combined with contributions from other generous donors through The Ones campaign, brings the total support for the Center to $8.2 million. These gifts will help the Center to advance public participation, civility, and civic leadership through immersive learning experiences, scholarship programs, research, and an expanded set of events.
A Legacy of Support
Ron has been a devoted ambassador for Drake since he first enrolled in 1959. During his time at Drake, he served as student body vice president and played halfback on the football team. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 1963, which was a springboard for a long and distinguished law career. In 1966, Ron received his JD from the University of Michigan and a Ford Fellowship to study at Oxford University.
In 1968, he moved to Los Angeles and joined the law firm now known as Munger Tolles & Olson. Over the course of his career, he has represented leading companies in aerospace, entertainment, petroleum, technology, retailing, and law firms. Among his individual clients have been Norman Lear, the founders of Google, and Bill Gates. In addition, he has had an active pro bono practice that led to the naming of the new LA Legal Aid building, the Ron Olson Justice Center. His board service has included Berkshire Hathaway Incorporated and numerous nonprofits including the chairmanship of the RAND Corporation.
With a passion and commitment to global humanitarian work, Jane’s values closely align to those of the Center for Public Democracy. Jane has worked with The International Rescue Committee and spent several decades working to broaden the base of Human Rights Watch, including a seven-year stint as its international board chair. She is a published author of World Citizen, Journeys of a Humanitarian, and is a frequent speaker nationally, including at The Harkin Institute at Drake. Throughout her career, she has also been deeply involved with Project Head Start, Armory Center for the Arts, and All Saints Episcopal Church.
The Olson’s transformational gift creates a legacy at Drake—one that will cultivate the next generation of public servants who go on to strengthen our democracy, and in turn, improve the world.
Previously announced Center for Public Democracy gifts:
Drake has previously announced gifts from Bill, BN’60, and Nancy Longfield, ’62, of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., and Johnnie, LA’65, and Anne Carson of Reston, Va., to support the Center for Public Democracy. Bill and Nancy Longfield created 10 Public Democracy Scholarships with a $1 million gift. Johnnie and Anne Carson generously committed two $100,000 Public Democracy Scholarships. The Public Democracy Scholars program will prepare students to be civic leaders through dedicated coursework and immersive engagement. Scholars receive a $5,000 scholarship each year for their participation in the program.
Newly announced gifts:
The late Robert Rewoldt, LA’55, of Frederika, Iowa, has also given $400,000 to create four Public Democracy Scholarships.
A. Joyce Smith, ED’55, GR’81, created the A. Joyce Smith Public Democracy Fund. This fund will help position Drake as a thought leader for democratic practice and bipartisan discourse. Joyce and her late husband, Louis, have been long-time supporters of Drake. Joyce lives in Des Moines.
William, LA’73, and Betsy Duffey, of Atlanta, Ga., made a $20,000 gift to The Ones campaign. The couple has designated $16,000 of that gift to the Center for Public Democracy. The rest of their commitment will support The Drake Fund.
Anita Bales, BN’83, pledged $1 million in a planned gift to support the Jay N. Darling Institute. Her gift will create three DarlingCorps scholarships, cover expenses for the DarlingCorps scholars, and give $200,000 in support of faculty who work with the Darling Institute. Anita lives in Vail, Ariz.
Previously announced major gifts:
Bill, BN’60, and Nancy Longfield, ’62, of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., supported The Ones campaign by creating 10 Public Democracy Scholarships with a $1 million gift. The Public Democracy Scholars program provides powerful opportunities for students to engage in the democratic process and prepare for careers in public service. Scholars receive a $5,000 scholarship each year for their participation in the program.
Allied Construction Services and Bob Maddox III, committed $50,000 to The Ones campaign for the Student Center in the revitalized Morehouse. Bob, a friend of the University and a resident of Des Moines, was inspired to support the campaign after attending a campaign event at the home of Suzie Glazer Burt, co-chair of The Ones campaign.
Mary Ellen, PH ’88, and Stephen Fitzsimonds, BN '87, generously committed $32,000 to create the Fitzsimonds Faculty Fellowships. The Fitzsimonds Faculty Fellowships enable faculty innovation and course redesign to provide meaningful community-based learning opportunities. Over a four-year period, their investment will support up to 16 faculty members who will develop new experiential learning opportunities for more than 400 students each year.
The estate of Joseph Massik, LA’50, and the estate of Carolyn Livingstone, Joseph’s former spouse, has collectively given more than $3.7 million to The Ones campaign. The gifts have supported the overall operation of the institution. Joseph spent 50 years in real estate development in the Boston area.
In June, Drake University also celebrated three additional and remarkable gifts to Mediacom Stadium, the new community stadium being built in partnership with the Des Moines Public Schools. Three areas of the stadium will recognize these well-known companies for their support:
- The Casey’s Concourse and Plaza
- The SCHEELS Video Board
- The Fareway Hillside
L. Suzanne (Jost) BeDell, JO’81, from St, Louis, Mo., funded an endowed scholarship for Digital Proficiency with a gift of $100,000. The Inclusive Scholars of Digital Proficiency program addresses the growing demand for leaders with diverse talents and perspectives in technology careers. This gift will annually provide a $5,000 scholarship to a student majoring in math, math education, computer science, data analytics, artificial intelligence, or information systems.
Joe, BN’80, and Leslie, LA’79, Aiello generously contributed $500,000 to the University Center. The University Center will be a focal point for the community and provide dynamic spaces where students and campus partners can gather to create, learn, reflect, and play. Joe and Leslie’s gift will be celebrated with a named space in the University Center. Joe is a member of the Drake University Board of Trustees.
Randy Stolt, LA’73, of Savannah, Ga., created a generous endowed scholarship in memory of his late wife, Valerie. The scholarship will support an undergraduate or graduate student studying science, biology, chemistry, technology, pharmaceutical science, math, and/or computer science. Randy will be celebrating 50 years as a Drake graduate later this month.
Tracy, LA’86, and Franklin Codel designated a planned gift toward the University’s endowment and the Tracy and Franklin Codel Excellence in Math Education Scholarship. Their scholarship supports a student who is preparing to teach secondary math. The Codels live in West Des Moines.
Larry, BN’73, GR’79, and Kathleen, LA’76, Zimpleman made a multi-million dollar philanthropic investment in the future of the college of business. In honor of their extraordinary commitment and their decades-long relationship with Drake, the University has named the business college the Larry and Kathleen Zimpleman College of Business.
Sammons Financial Group committed $3.15 million to Drake for the development of the Sammons Intercultural Center and Sammons Plaza. Their investment will also create a total of 14 endowed scholarships.
Mediacom Communications made a leadership-level, naming gift to create Mediacom Stadium, a vibrant athletic venue located in the Drake neighborhood that will serve Des Moines Public Schools, Drake’s Division I soccer teams, and the community.
Marshall Flapan, LA’59, from Des Moines, Iowa, recently created the Marshall and Judith Flapan Professor of Biology at Drake University. Endowed, named professorships are the highest honor a university can bestow on a faculty member. This $1 million endowed fund will recognize an outstanding faculty member in the biological sciences, empowering them to make significant contributions to Drake University, its students, and the field of biology.
Greg, PH’76, and Cie Johansen have supported Drake in numerous ways over the years. Through The Ones: Drake’s Campaign for the Brave & Bold, the Johansens have invested in the Meredith renovation project with funding for solar panels, the Knapp Center renovation, and John Dee Bright College. Greg has served on the Drake Board of Trustees since 2015. The couple lives in Cumming, Iowa.
Steven, PH’73, and Connie Kamerling of Kalamazoo, Michigan, recently committed $400,000 through an estate gift to support the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Their gift will create the Steven G. and Connie D. Kamerling Endowed Scholarship and the Steven G. and Connie D. Kamerling Endowed Student Research Fund. The scholarship fund will be awarded to pharmacy students who are interested in careers outside of community practice during their last two years in the pharmacy program. The research fund will enhance student research in pharmacy. Steve will celebrate his 50th Drake class reunion this spring.
Four retired federal judges, who are alumni of the Drake University Law School, recently united to create an endowed scholarship for Drake Law students. Judge Mark Bennett, LW’75, who serves as director of the Drake Law School’s Institute of Justice Reform & Innovation, spearheaded the idea as he had seen the need for increased scholarship support firsthand through his role on the faculty. His colleagues, the Honorable James Gritzner, LW’79; John Jarvey, LW’81; and Linda Reade, LA’70, LW’80, quickly agreed to also fund the scholarship.
Michael McGrath, GR’73, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was grateful for the support he received as a graduate student in the 1970s and wanted to “pay it back.” He created the Michael McGrath Endowed Scholarship, which will be awarded to undergraduate students from historically underrepresented populations, with a $1 million gift.
Principal Financial Group in Des Moines advanced The Ones: Drake’s Campaign for the Brave and Bold with a recent investment of $750,000. The gift is designated for the University Center, which is the new student center, and the Inclusive Scholars of Digital Proficiency program that will build a diverse pipeline of talent in technology and analytics. The company has given more than $13.5 million to Drake University throughout the years.
Wells Fargo gave $500,000 to the Drake Small Business Clinic. The gift will formalize the partnership between the Drake Small Business Clinic and the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families to provide resources to local entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds as they launch and grow their businesses.
Dr. Richard Deming, a generous doctor and philanthropist in Des Moines, has established The Deming Initiative: A Path to Joy through Social Impact at Drake. The Deming Initiative enhances Drake’s Changemaker priority by offering grants for students and faculty whose projects advance social change and, ultimately, create a path to joy for those impacted by the work. He committed a $62,500 cash gift and a $1 million deferred gift.
Darnell, BN’80, and Donna, LA’80, Pettengill honored their families’ ties to rural America and Drake University with a $100,000 gift to the Jay N. Darling Institute. The investment will create a DarlingCorps Scholarship, which provides opportunities for a Drake student to partner with a rural community on a service or research project. The Pettengills, who live in Rio Verde, Arizona, also gave $35,000 to the Center for Public Democracy to fund a summer youth leadership institute led by the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center. The couple has supported Drake University for many years, including service on the Drake Parents Board. Their children Laura, BN’09, LW’12, and Michael, BN’12, LW’15, are also Drake graduates.
Building on a history of championing Drake’s entrepreneurial and sustainability programs, John Lorentzen, BN’77, LA’77, and Penney Fillmer of Deer Grove, Illinois have made a leadership gift to the Jay N. Darling Institute. Their gift will create a $100,000 DarlingCorps Scholarship and a $30,000 endowed fund to support the institute’s programming in rural America.
Johnnie, LA’65, and Anne Carson from Reston, Virginia, have generously committed two $100,000 scholarships for the Center for Public Democracy. The Public Democracy Scholars program will prepare students to be civic leaders through dedicated coursework and immersive engagement. Their passion for the Center for Public Democracy reflects the Carsons’ strong commitment to democracy and public service, including Johnnie’s leadership as ambassador to Uganda, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Drake University Law School celebrates a $3.25 million gift to establish the J. Locke (LW’48) and Harriet S. Macomber Drake Law School Fund that will support the Drake Entrepreneurial and Transactional Clinic. The clinic represents entrepreneurs and innovators located in underserved Des Moines neighborhoods and rural communities who are not able to afford legal counsel.
Tom Bernau, BN’85, LW’88, president of Bernau Capital in West Des Moines, Iowa, recently committed a $1 million gift to Drake Law School. Tom serves on the campaign steering committee and the Drake University Board of Trustees.
Ike Vanden Eykel, BN’71, and his wife, Cathy, contributed $1.05 million to support the operations and long-term vitality of Drake University. Ike serves on the Drake University Board of Trustees and the campaign steering committee. Ike and Cathy live in Dallas, Texas, where Ike is a managing shareholder and CEO at Koons-Fuller PC.
Steve Nellis, BN’64, contributed a leadership gift to the campaign. His gift will support scholarships for the John Dee Bright College along with renovations around the Drake campus, the annual fund, Drake Athletics, and the University’s live mascot program. Steve serves as an honorary chair of the campaign and is the retired division general manager for Praxair, Inc.
Sue Wright, retired deputy provost at Drake and professor emerita of sociology, generously contributed $100,000 to create an endowment for the Crew Scholars program. Crew Scholars provides resources proven to help students of color achieve academic success, become campus leaders, and thrive at Drake.
Marta Codina recently committed a leadership level planned gift to the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center. The Ray Center is one of the nation’s leading institutes for providing character education for youth from early childhood through college-age. Marta, who is a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Bank, has served on the Ray Center’s board since 2011 and joined the Drake University Board of Trustees in 2021.
Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino recently approved three grants to Drake University. They are contributing $275,000 to the Knapp Center renovation, $20,000 to Sprout Garden, which supports student community engagement, and $56,850 to the Robert D. and Billie Ray Center.
Campaign co-chair and Drake Trustee Suzie Glazer Burt has donated more than $8 million to the campaign, including major gifts to the women’s basketball program. As part of her leadership giving to Drake, she and her late husband Gregory Burt helped create the Gregory & Suzie Glazer Burt Boys & Girls Club on the Drake University campus.
Campaign co-chair and Drake Trustee Mark Ernst, BN’80, and his wife, LeighAnn Davis, have pledged $3 million for unrestricted uses, reflecting a strong endorsement of the University and its leadership.
Peggy Fisher, FA’70, the chair of the Drake University Board of Trustees, and her husband Larry Stelter, have pledged $3.325 million to the campaign. Their gift will support a number of the University’s priorities including the University Center, the Burt Club, the men’s basketball program, and various gifts supporting the University’s annual fund and endowment.
Paul Schickler, BN’74, GR’83, and his wife Claudia have donated $6 million to the campaign. Their contributions will help renovate the Knapp Center, fund the men’s basketball program, and support the Jay N. Darling Institute. The Darling Institute collaborates with rural communities to make them more sustainable, competitive in the global economy, and resilient for future generations. Paul also serves on the Drake University Board of Trustees.
Karen Shaff, LW’79, and her husband Steven Jayne, LW’78, have pledged $1 million to the campaign to support the Drake University Law School Refugee Clinic. Through the Refugee Clinic, second- and third-year Drake Law students provide free legal services to individuals who are applying for asylum in the United States and other forms of humanitarian relief.
Sheldon Fleck, LW’75, and his wife Terry Fleck, PH’74, have contributed $1 million through the campaign to be used by the Drake University Law School to create the Sheldon T. and Terry K. Fleck Endowed Law Scholarship. One Fleck Scholar will be chosen in each Drake Law School class based on demonstrated need, superior academic records, and potential. The scholar will receive full tuition and additional financial support.
Honorary Campaign Chairs, Bill, BN’57, and Jean Buchanan, recently enhanced their support for the Buchanan Center with an additional $2 million gift. Housed in the College of Business and Public Administration, the Buchanan Center offers a variety of curricular and co-curricular programming to foster entrepreneurship among Drake students.
Gary Porter, BN’72, and his wife Melissa Porter have invested in Drake’s future with a $2 million estate gift for the University Center and a $100,000 endowed gift to the Changemaker Scholars program. The Changemakers Scholars program creates opportunities for students to use their talents to create positive change in the world.
Meredith Corporation Foundation and the Edwin T. Meredith Foundation collectively committed $3 million to the renovation and enhancement of Meredith Hall. Meredith Hall is the home of Drake’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication; renovation work will begin this summer.
The David J. Noble Foundation recently committed $1 million to the Noble Center in Drake’s College of Business and Public Administration, including funds that will provide scholarships to students who are first in their family to attend a four-year institution. In 2014, the late David Noble and American Equity committed $1.5 million for the CBPA to create the Noble Center.