50th Reunion Efforts Renew Unique Fellowship

During their 50th reunion, the MBA Class of 1961 endowed a fellowship and thereby established a resource that will provide financial support in perpetuity to generations of deserving students.

March 15, 2012

The MBA Class of 1961 is a cohesive group that has taken the concept of “giving back” to a new level. During their 25th reunion in 1986, classmates established a unique fellowship fund that served as a pilot program to encourage future gifts for MBA fellowships. And during their 50th reunion in 2011, they raised enough to endow the fellowship and thereby established a resource that will provide financial support in perpetuity to generations of deserving students.

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MBA Class of 1961 50th Reunion

Frank Countner (left) and Bill Preston, both MBA ’61

Since its creation, the Renewal Fellowship has supported more than 40 students who have been encouraged to “renew” the fellowship fund through contributions after graduation, to provide today’s students with support similar to what they benefited from during their time at Stanford GSB. So far 92% of recipients have financially supported the school since graduating, with approximately 30% of them specifically directing their support to the fellowship.

“It makes a student aware of the benefits that they have received, and that they have a responsibility to renew that benefit for someone else in the future,” says Frank Countner, the former owner of nonprofit housing and job-creation firm California Community Builders, Inc. He is one of the original three donors to the fund. “With the fellowship, students aren’t burdened by an amortizing situation that starts the minute they come out of school. They have the opportunity to establish themselves and contribute when they are comfortable,” he adds.

To coincide with the 50th reunion, the name of the fellowship was changed to the Renewal Fellowship to reflect that the support for the fund had broadened beyond the original donors. It was previously named the Countner-Preston-Rehmus Renewal Fellowship after Countner and the other two founding donors, Bill Preston and Fred Rehmus.

“It’s clear that we’re not going to be able to fund it forever, so taking it to an endowed capacity was important,” says Rehmus, the person who originally conceived and proposed the idea of the fellowship and the founding principal of Brownson Rehmus & Foxworth Inc. “Our great hope is that subsequent generations of recipients step up and replace us for the funding so it’s something that is theirs rather than ours.”

Between 1986 and 2011, the Renewal Fellowship was funded on a yearly basis through the generosity of the founding donors, additional members of the MBA Class of 1961, and recipients of the fellowship once they became alumni. For the 50th reunion, nine members of the class contributed $350,000, with a portion of those funds structured as matching gifts to provide an incentive for other prospective donors to add to the fellowship.

In addition to Countner, Preston, and Rehmus, the classmates who provided matching funds were Bill Estes, Bob Gee, Woody Ives, Jerry Measer, Beeman Strong, and Angus Wurtele.

“We all have connections and friendships that we made through the business school that have continued throughout our careers, and I think that supporting the student side really encourages that,” says Preston, president and chairman of Cortica Benicia USA , which manufactures cork closures and other packaging materials for wine, spirits, and food. “We all felt that we made great contacts and lifelong friendships through that experience and that’s important to us, and we think that it will be important to those people coming on.”

In all, classmates raised $5.5 million in honor of their reunion, including $523,039 for the fellowship, which brought total commitments to the fund up to nearly $600,000. In fact, the class achieved the “Triple Crown” by setting records for attendance, total funds raised, and 93% participation in the fundraising campaign. As part of the 50th reunion activities held in spring 2011, five alumni who were past recipients of the Renewal Fellowship spoke on a panel moderated by Countner and Preston. The heartfelt stories and perspectives shared by the panelists raised awareness among the classmates of the impact that the fund has generated over the years and helped encourage new gifts.

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