A guest post by Gary L. Bukowski, MA, CFRE
Recently I was a patient in a local hospital, where I had open heart surgery and spent time recuperating. I had the pleasure to be attended by some great caregivers and doctors. I have a tendency to ask a lot of questions, and during this period of recovery it was no different, especially since I had never gone through surgery in my life. This was a new experience for me. I asked the nurses that assisted me where they had gone to college and what their motivation was for becoming a nurse. What their dreams were for their future in the field.
It was on the night of June 3rd that the stars aligned, as I was speaking with my nurse for the shift named Emily, I asked her where she went to college to get her nursing degree and she told me that she started at Edinboro University and finished at Mercyhurst College, as she conveyed to me it was due to a major scholarship in nursing that she had received that convinced her to finish at Mercyhurst.
Ironically, in my past life, I was the VP for Institutional Advancement at Mercyhurst College and one of my passions was to help enhance and grow the endowment and secure endowed scholarships for students needing financial assistance, and there were many!! I couldn’t help asking Emily if she recalled the name of the scholarship she was so fortunate to receive years ago and she told me it was The Martin Haas Family Scholarship. I was speechless for a few moments and said to her that the Haas Family would be very pleased to see that she had received their scholarship, I told her that she was exactly the type of young lady that they would have wanted to receive their scholarship, someone who was compassionate, caring and professional.
I proceeded to tell her that I and other members of the Advancement team had asked Martin Hass on a rainy night in the State Dining Room at Mercyhurst for his and his family’s support over 16 years earlier for this scholarship that she had received. She was speechless, we both shed a tear, what would be the likelihood of her speaking to a guy that was recovering in a hospital bed telling her such a story.
The story gets even more interesting, at that time we had a Million Dollar Challenge to build the Scholarship Endowment at Mercyhurst North East, there was none in 2002 and this gave us an opportunity to greatly enhance our ability to help more students, the Challenge emanated from one of our trustees Bob Miller, who I called the “George Washington of Mercyhurst North East “because of his incredible support of this campus and its students. Bob recently passed away on May 26th, I had my surgery on May 29th and was unable to pay my respects based on my physical condition, which I felt bad about but I really didn’t have much of an option. The scholarship that we had asked Martin Hass for was able to be doubled, based on Bob Millers One Million Challenge, making it a significant endowed scholarship.
That scholarship would eventually make a difference in Emily's life and many others who received it, the scholarship would help her finish her nursing degree, and launch her into her professional career. Bob Miller had played a significant part in Emily’s life without her ever knowing that as well because of his match, now he had passed away just days earlier as I lay in my hospital bed. Also it was on June 3rd ,1985 that my father died in this same hospital 33 years earlier and I was recalling that difficult time as I lay in my bed now recovering and remembering him, and all he had gone through, he met a early death because of complications caused in the Battle of the Bulge many years earlier, because of that experience he never reached his 61st birthday.
When you are recovering and laying in your hospital bed you do a lot of thinking and soul searching, actually too much thinking!! What could have been, how you might have done things differently. I am glad that I had been the grand inquisitor on that evening of June 3rd, 2018. By asking all my questions, I was able to uncover this story and it brought back a great feeling that I was able to touch a person’s life by making that “Ask." This was a special moment for me to speak with one of the recipients from our fundraising efforts years ago, and have the opportunity to speak with this caring and professional nurse.
As I suggest to younger fundraisers you need to stick around in your job for a while to experience these special moments of knowing that you touched someone’s life, without them ever knowing it! It takes time for our efforts to mature.
Years ago, ironically on June 3rd, 2004, Bill Sturtevant, one of my fundraising colleagues shared this quote with me after one of his speaking engagement and I think it is so appropriate for this story. I share it with you for you to ponder and reflect upon:
“It takes a noble person to plant a tree that will one day provide shade for those whom he may never meet." -Author Unknown
In my case, I have been very fortunate to experience that shade and meet someone who had benefitted from special giving by those noble persons, I had the great pleasure of sitting under that philanthropic shade tree.
Gary Bukowski is the Associate Vice President of development at Sarah A Reed Children's Center in Erie, PA. He has over four decades of fundraising experience in the higher education and human service arenas.