Choosing a retirement gift for a beloved member of your organization can feel overwhelming, but when the perfect idea comes along, the sense of being overwhelmed may belong to the recipient. This was the case for Michael (Mike) Clowser (BSJ, 1978) when he retired last year as the executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia (CAWV). The gift for him was actually a gift to others: a $175,000-plus scholarship endowment in his name to support future media students.
Mike’s wife, Dale, and fellow CAWV member and WVU alumnus Bob Orders, Jr., a graduate of WVU’s Civil Engineering program and the owner of Orders Construction Company, rallied 58 (and counting!) individual association members and friends to support the scholarship endowment in Clowser’s name. The gift was presented to Clowser during what was supposed to be a small retirement celebration.
“I thought we were having a kind of small gathering in our office for my retirement, and it was a little bigger than that,” Clowser said with a laugh. “I am so honored, and I would have never guessed in my wildest dreams that they would do something like this – it’s just a testament to the quality of the people I’ve had the privilege to work for all these years.”
Clowser earned his degree in Public Relations in December 1978 and was hired as the CAWV Director of Member Services the very next month. He became the executive director in 1983, when he also took over as editor of West Virginia Construction News. In his 44-year career with CAWV, he worked with members and state officials to improve infrastructure in West Virginia and played a central role in the Roads to Prosperity initiative championed by Gov. Jim Justice.
“I truly believe I work for the greatest people in West Virginia,” Clowser said. “Our contractors have built roads, schools, bridges, hospitals, water and sewer infrastructure – they are putting their boots on the ground every day to go out and build projects that support economic development. They are the greatest group of individuals I could have ever hoped to work for.”
Clowser is reluctant to take credit for his success with the CAWV, but the fundraising for his retirement gift speaks for itself. CAWV members contributed more than three times the amount required to establish a standard endowed scholarship in the College of Media, which allows for a larger scholarship amount to be awarded each year.
Scholarship giving isn’t a new concept for CAWV members. In 1990, the board established a foundation to award scholarships to West Virginia residents enrolled, or planning to enroll, in civil engineering or a construction related four-year degree program at a West Virginia college or university. Each year, the organization awards a $7,500 scholarship to the top applicant and smaller awards for finalists.
“Over the years, our association has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to award scholarships to deserving students in the state to pursue construction-related subjects,” Clowser said. “Our membership has put education and helping young people with their careers as a top priority for years. I think that’s probably what led them to create this scholarship in my name as a retirement gift.”
In a world of engineers and contractors, Clowser’s public relations education has served him well – first as the advertising manager and then as writer and editor for West Virginia Construction News, but also in the advocacy work he has performed on behalf of the construction industry. As part of the CAWV mission, Clowser has led several public awareness campaigns to gain voter support for amendments and bonds that benefit the construction industry.
“When you’re putting together information related to a statewide issue or campaign, certainly the things that I learned through the School of Journalism came into play,” Clowser said. “This scholarship will hopefully make it easier for more students to pursue journalism at WVU and go on to have a long, fulfilling career like I did.”
Clowser is quick to point out that he wasn’t alone in this career journey – for nearly four decades, his wife and fellow WVU alum has been by his side. Dale retired from her role as vice president of BB&T, now Truist, in 2020 after 38 years with the bank. While navigating her own successful career, she was a constant supporter of the CAWV and confidante to Mike.
“She’s been right there in it – for all of it,” Mike said. “A lot of the work I did required countless hours, and I couldn’t have done it if she hadn’t been so supportive.”
Following Mike’s retirement celebration, the couple also donated to the scholarship that was established in his name. They hope that sharing this story will spur others to consider a similar way of crowd-funding a scholarship in honor of a colleague.
For more information on ways to make donations in support of media students and programs at WVU, contact Mary Esposito at email@example.com.