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Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University

A Gift From the Heart

One Family's Way of Saying Thanks

from The Bridge: Fall 2009 issue

Philanthropy has many motivations.

Few motivations are as compelling, personal or poignant, however, as the one behind a recent gift to W&L from the Rudolph family of Fort Wayne, Ind.

The family decided to make a gift as their way of thanking the University for the support the community gave W&L alumna Lauren Rudolph '08 in the wake of her brother's tragic death.

Lauren was a sophomore in February 2006 when her brother, Kenneth, died in an automobile accident in Washington. Lauren's mother, Laura Rudolph, said the support the Rudolphs received from W&L in the days and months, even years, following Kenneth's death surpassed any expectations they might have had.

"The University's response was incredible, from the moment I contacted Brian Snyder, Lauren's volleyball coach, at 7:30 in the morning. I knew that I needed to notify Lauren, but I had wrestled with the question of how to go about it from 2 in the morning," Rudolph said. "Coach Snyder had always been supportive and communicative with players and parents, and I felt this was a person I could turn to. So I called him. I explained my situation very tearfully and said, ‘Coach Snyder, I need your help.' He said, ‘Whatever I can do.' I told him the situation, and he said, ‘I will take care of it.' "

From that moment forward, Rudolph said, the response of everyone at the University so amazed her and her husband, Dr. Rhys Rudolph, that they could not imagine another school providing such a level of support.

Snyder gathered volleyball teammates and Lauren's friends to give her the news. Vice President for Student Affairs Dean Watkins called the Rudolphs to offer her help. Watkins contacted Lauren's professors, arranged transportation and, later, assisted in Lauren's transition back to the University following her brother's funeral.

Faculty also were more than empathetic. Rudolph said. From Lauren's advisor, psychology professor Robert Stewart, to university counselor Jennifer Sayre, and many others, the faculty and staff went out of their way to help Lauren cope with the tragedy.

"I had been supported in countless ways by the faculty and administration in the year and a half before this occurred," said Lauren Rudolph. "But the way in which everyone in the community rallied around me during this tragedy meant so much to me. And I know it meant a lot to my parents."

Mrs. Rudolph recounted how Watkins invited the Rudolphs to be houseguests during a family weekend when the volleyball team had home matches and hotels were unavailable in town.

"Getting support in the immediate aftermath was one thing, but it continued at the same level all the way through Lauren's graduation," Mrs. Rudolph said. "Clearly people understood that this type of loss isn't something easy to get over. It takes years and years and years to come to grips with it, if one ever does. I don't think any other school would have gone to the extent that W&L did and put it on such a personal, one-on-one level. That says something about W&L and how they view their students and the families of their students. They become their family. It gives parents such a sense of trust and a sense of belonging that it's overwhelming."

The Rudolphs, who also created a scholarship in son Kenneth's memory at his alma mater, Wabash College, knew that they wanted to create an endowment of some sort at W&L to express their thanks. Together, they decided to make a $100,000 gift establishing the Rudolph Family Endowment. The purpose of the endowment is to support faculty, because, as Mrs. Rudolph says, the professors are the heart of the institution.

"If the faculty don't have support for research or to attend meetings or to take sabbaticals, how do they bring that energy and new knowledge back to the students and have it transferred so that the students are energized and enthusiastic about what they're learning?"

Lauren, who majored in psychology and neuroscience, insisted that the endowment be targeted to the Department of Psychology, with special emphasis in the neurosciences. Neuroscience is her passion. Lauren has just started a PhD program at Indiana University in Bloomington, and she hopes to return to a school like W&L one day as a faculty member.

"I would really love to be that person who provides the support inside and outside the classroom for my students, the way that the W&L faculty has for me," she said.