Five years ago, as St. Thomas announced its Opening Doors campaign, I reflected in a column about how my dad became the first person in his family to attend college. He had the misfortune of enrolling at St. Thomas in 1929, the first year of the Great Depression, and he could scrape together enough funds to stay for only two years.

Those years shaped his life, however, and enabled him to serve as an educated man in business management and raise eight children with my mom in a household that put a premium on education. When he retired, he became a permanent deacon and worked in faith instruction and pastoral care of the sick.

My dad comes to mind again as I now look back on our Opening Doors capital campaign, which soon will conclude. I am confident we will surpass our $500 million goal by the time of our celebratory events on Oct. 17 and 18.

The campaign has been a daunting challenge. Months after announcing Opening Doors, the worst economic times since the Great Depression arrived, and more than one person asked me if we would even come close to our goal. I remembered my father’s experience, and I hoped we would have the wherewithal to achieve our goal and to meet the needs of students who would be more dependent on financial aid than ever before.

To our good fortune, any lingering doubts always were swept away when I saw in action people like Lee and Penny Anderson, the Janicke sisters, the Class of 2010, Mary Dillon and 40,000 other donors thankful for the presence of St. Thomas in their lives.

Lee and Penny stood with me before reporters five years ago to announce their $60 million gift. Those funds enabled the construction of a student center, an athletic and recreation complex and a parking ramp – three projects that truly have transformed our St. Paul campus. Lee and Penny aren’t alumni of St. Thomas, but they gave because they were moved by the impact that our mission, spirituality, traditions and character have had on students’ lives.

All six Janicke sisters – Lisa, Jena, Angela, Sarah, Rebecca and Deborah – and their mom received St. Thomas degrees between 1993 and 2004. Their dad died in the early 1990s and finances got tight, but each daughter was able to pursue a St. Thomas education because of the generosity of scholarship donors. The sisters joined forces several years ago to establish the Alfred and Janet Janicke Endowment Fund to help other students who have lost a parent.

The Class of 2010 also had scholarships on its mind. A senior class gift is a longstanding tradition at St. Thomas, and that year’s graduates established an endowed scholarship to enable students to participate in our VISION (Volunteers in Service Internationally or Nationally) program. More than 720 seniors (65 percent) made a donation, ensuring that VISION will continue to thrive.

Mary graduated from St. Thomas in 2002 and has established an annual scholarship in the name of her parents, Richard and Patricia Dillon. They fervently believed in the value and importance of a college education, even though she didn’t go back to school and receive her degree until she was in her 30s. She received scholarships, and she knew that her parents’ scholarship would give other deserving students the same opportunity she had.

I could go on and on with stories like these – after all, we have 40,000 Opening Doors donors! – but I think you get my point. People of all ages, backgrounds and means have made gifts large and small, and the result is a stronger university better able to fulfill its mission. Each gift reflects a commitment, and for that I conclude with two simple but powerful words:

Thank you!

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