At 1:30 p.m. on Saturday during EMU’s Homecoming and Family Weekend, the Community Bell rang out to mark the end of an historic fundraising campaign. The celebratory toll honored the Class of ‘70 and the culmination of their record-setting $1 million fundraiser to support student scholarships at EMU.
It also echoed their connection to another history-making fundraising event when they were seniors at then Eastern Mennonite College – the Library Drive of 1969 also concluded with a bell ringing.
“What’s amazing about the Class of 1970 is that when we include new estate gift commitments they actually raised more money than they did in 1969,” said Tim Swartzendruber, senior associate director of advancement who worked with the group.
The total of $111,000 in 1969, calculated for inflation, is $829,000, Swartzendruber says.
While all of the donors could not be present, those with the hands on the wooden rod were members of the Class of 1970 reunion planning committee: Bob Bishop (chair), Bob Brenneman, Marian Driver Hackney, J.B. Miller, and Gloria Horst Rosenberger.
A fundraising campaign is a tradition of most classes as they approach their Jubilee reunion and induction into the more than 3,000-member strong Jubilee Alumni Association.
“It’s often a moment when alumni take extra time to reflect on the impact EMU has had in their lives. Some have more resources, relative to other periods in their lives, to consider special giving to EMU,” says Swartzendruber.
The Class of ‘70 has always been different: carrying on the philanthropic legacy they witnessed and participated in while at EMU, over ensuing decades, the class had already set a record lifetime giving mark of $3.8 million.
Bishop said learning that fact helped the group better assess “collective resources.”
“I think also the idea of joining a class giving effort made a difference to a lot of people who had already given as individuals,” Miller added. “That collective community effort was important.”
As their campaign began, the group initially seized on a goal of $829,000 in current giving and new estate gift commitments – remember this was based on the total raised during the 1969 fundraising drive, adjusted for inflation. But when the pandemic delayed their in-person reunion, raising the goal to $1 million was a natural step.
In October 2020, they hosted a virtual reunion that was fun but definitely not what they had in mind: The group always intended to get together in Harrisonburg at the next, safe opportunity.
With extra time to plan, to track down classmates, to keep communicating, the giving continued throughout 2020. Bob Bishop was given the credit as the PR man and the cheerleader.
Bishop’s philosophy, for all his life, has been “to look for excuses to celebrate along the way,” he joked during an interview with the committee during Homecoming weekend. “You don’t have to wait for the end. I was cheering when we got a quarter of the way, and then halfway, and then when we got to $800,000 [in early October], that gave me goosebumps.”
“Bob was one of the most encouraging leaders,” said Brenneman. “We reached a certain point and he said we need to go to the finish line with this.”
Eventually the finish line coalesced around $1 million. During the two weeks leading up to Homecoming, classmates gave $200,000 to attain the goal.
Rosenberger remembers being on a phone call with Miller and EMU Advancement personnel when Miller stated he thought they could actually raise that amount. “I didn’t really believe it until JB, who is a banker, said we could do it, and then I started thinking it was possible.”
“Well, I actually wasn’t so sure,” Miller admitted, to general laughter.
With such camaraderie, one would think members of this group share a long history. During the interview, there were finished sentences, lots of teasing, and laughter. Not true.
Bishop, Brenneman and Hackney were class officers (president, business manager, and treasurer respectively), and Hackney sang in the choir with Brenneman, but other than that, “we didn’t really know each other very well,” Hackney said. “We definitely didn’t run in the same social circles.”
Their friendship has deepened over these months, perhaps sustained by pandemic isolation and a new awareness about the value of connection. They pass along family and class news, console each other in grief, invite input on personal projects.
And they enjoy, very much, the idea that future students might share what they have had: both a transformative education and transformative friendships.