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The WVU Foundation since 1954

The origins of the WVU Foundation can be traced to the vision of WVU's 13th president, Dr. Irvin Stewart. An active fund raiser himself, Dr. Stewart was instrumental in stepping up efforts to enlist educational support from donors, and often spoke of the need for private gifts to provide for the future of the University. In fact, shortly after assuming the presidency in 1946, he proclaimed, "If you have faith in the West Virginia of tomorrow, you may confidently spend your money at the University!" West Virginia University grew dramatically in the years immediately following World War II. As a result of this incredible growth, the University needed private contributions to help satisfy the need for increased staff and new facilities.

Dr. Stewart thus began urging business and industry to do their fair share to "make substantial contributions toward the improvement of research facilities in the University." He also was forceful in urging support for scholarships, stating, "It's to the benefit of industry itself to see that young people…are assisted in preparing themselves for (their) professions."

To meet increasing financial demands, Stewart also encouraged internal fundraising efforts, typified by an article sent to faculty in 1953 entitled, "How Foundations Prefer to Be Approached." In an attached memo, he explained the information would benefit "members of the faculty who might be considering the desirability of approaching a foundation for assistance on some project," adding, "If I can be of assistance to members of the faculty in this area, I shall be glad to do so."

By 1954, however, the need for a separate agency to administer private gifts became critically evident. In that year, six donors requested that their gifts be combined and used to purchase stock in American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T), with the income used to establish a special scholarship. A problem arose at once because all such private gifts were first routed through the State treasury, thus making them State funds. Since the State was prohibited from becoming a joint owner or stockholder in any company, Assistant Attorney General Robert E. Magnuson ruled such a purchase illegal.

Because of this decision and other factors, including inadequate funding from the West Virginia Legislature, Dr. Stewart increased his efforts to establish a private foundation to guarantee the University greater freedom and autonomy in the use of its funds. He envisioned an organization whose role would extend beyond the custodianship of gifts into the realm of actively seeking support for programs, services, equipment and facilities that the State might be unable to fund.

Largely due to the impetus created by Dr. Stewart, the WVU Foundation was officially incorporated on Dec. 3, 1954, with an eleven-member board. Nearly 70 years later, the WVU Foundation, with a 27-member board, remains strong in its mission to enrich the lives of those touched by WVU by maximizing private charitable support and providing services to the University and its affiliated organizations.

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