By Jim Tranquada
Dane Gillette ’72 and  Pat (Kruse) Gillette ’73

Capitalizing on a personalized appeal at a time when the pandemic made in-person visits impossible, Oxy’s Legacy Challenge documents more than $7 million in planned gift commitments to the College

If it worked at Swarthmore, Oxy trustee Gil Kemp P’04 reasoned, it could work in Eagle Rock. A longtime board member at his alma mater and chair of its recently concluded comprehensive campaign, Kemp saw firsthand how a personalized appeal to alumni and parents to document estate gifts to the college could be “a really powerful tool.”

And work it did: During the 2020-21 fiscal year, Occidental’s Legacy Challenge produced $7.38 million in previously undocumented planned gifts from more than two dozen graduates—as well as an additional $290,000 for the Oxy Fund thanks to the generosity of Kemp in tandem with fellow trustee Mike Gibby ’68 and Mike’s wife, Barbara Nogy ’68. Together, they made a donation of $10,000 to the Oxy Fund for every newly documented planned gift.

Gil Kemp P’04 calls the Legacy Challenge “a wonderful way to support a marvelous institution.”
“For all of us it was a wonderful way to support a marvelous institution,” Kemp says. “It’s an easy way to make a difference for the College in the long run, because you’re not giving from current income or assets. I hope more people will think about it for themselves in the future.”

“Occidental is indeed fortunate to have leaders like Gil and Mike whose expertise—and generosity—pay huge dividends for the College,” says President Harry J. Elam, Jr. “We are tremendously grateful to both of them and to every member of the Oxy community who has chosen to include the College in their estate plans.”

Participants in Oxy’s Legacy Challenge span four decades of alumni, from the 1950s through the 1980s. Their gifts to both the endowment and the Oxy Fund will eventually support everything from scholarships to athletic programs. Regardless of their age or program of choice, donors say that it was the lasting impact of their Oxy education that motivated them to give.

“We decided to invest in Occidental because we really do believe in a liberal arts education,” says political science major Pat (Kruse) Gillette ’73, a successful civil trial lawyer, mediator, and gender equity advocate. “We want to put our money where it makes a difference. And if we give it to Oxy, we know it is going to make a difference.”

Increasingly today there is an emphasis on science and tech in higher education, adds Dane Gillette ’72, a psychology major who retired as California’s chief assistant attorney general in 2014. “That’s obviously important, but I think there is a lot to be said for a broad-based liberal arts education that gives you an understanding of literature, history, and philosophy.”

Legacy participant Michael Fields ’70, who also majored in psychology before becoming a successful San Francisco dentist, couldn’t agree more. “Oxy showed me that the path to one’s goals need not be linear or conventional,” he says. “I learned how to think, to write, to create; to trust my instincts and pursue my interests with passion and a standard of excellence. … Not a day has passed that I have not been rewarded in some way by my Occidental education.”

Legacy Challenge participant Kristin Kenyon ’87.
Kristin Kenyon ’87, a Denver-based transportation planner, is the youngest of the Legacy Challenge participants. “Being a single woman with no kids or spouse, I feel a responsibility to give back to the school that got me to where I am today,” she says.

Raised by a single mother, Kenyon says it was a generous financial aid package, paired with campus work and loan opportunities, that made it possible for her to attend Oxy and earn a degree in economics. She credits her liberal arts education for her “knowing how to write, to think analytically, use numbers, and to communicate effectively.” She also feels that the experience of working with people from different cultures and backgrounds at Oxy was invaluable.

For Kemp, it was daughter Rebecca’s experience as a history major and athlete who ran cross country and track that sold him on Oxy. When Rebecca, a New Yorker, took a year off after the trauma of 9/11, “What impressed me was that Oxy was very supportive of her and worked thoughtfully with her to make her feel welcome back,” he says. “The fact that she could catch up and graduate with her class was to me a demonstration that Oxy really is committed to its students.”

Kemp, who called many potential legacy donors himself, often jokes that making a planned gift seems to add 10 years to a donor’s life expectancy. “I can’t promise that, of course, but there is evidence that being philanthropically minded is good for one’s health and happiness,” he says. “Under the rubric of supporting Occidental, all of us can find one or more parts of the institution we particularly care about and want to support.”

Top photo: Dane Gillette ’72 and Pat (Kruse) Gillette ’73. Photo by Jim Block