The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater has received its largest bequest to date – a $5 million estate gift from alumnus Byron R. “Chris” Chrisman.
Chrisman, who received a B.S. in business in 1959, previously donated $1.5 million in 2015 to help construct the Mary Poppe Chrisman Success Center. This brings his total actual and pledged contributions to more than $6.5 million – the most of any individual donor to the campus.
Since its founding more than 150 years ago, UW-Whitewater has enrolled and championed students from diverse backgrounds. This mission of access meant that Chrisman – who left school in the 9th grade to join the U.S. Army during the Korean War – could later pursue a college degree. He went on to have successful careers in accounting, law, and real estate.
“UW-Whitewater blessed me by admitting me, on probation, because I did not have a high school education, and provided me with the college education that made it possible to go on to law school and achieve success. UW-Whitewater sort of ‘kick-started’ the engine, so to speak, and made it possible for me to go above and beyond.”
The $5 million gift will be targeted to four endowment funds: Student Success, Warhawk Emergency Fund, Rugby, and Wheelchair Athletics.
Chrisman, who lives in Colorado, is the founding donor of the Student Success Fund, which supports the university’s robust tutorial services. Each year, thousands of students use the Mary Poppe Chrisman Success Center at UW-Whitewater, named after Chris’s late wife, herself a Warhawk alumna. The additional funds will be used to hire more tutors, purchase new technology, improve accessibility, and enhance programming.
Recent graduate Mackenzie Kroplidowski worked as a tutor and office manager at the center and said the experience “positively changed my life forever.”
“Not only did I receive support academically but I gained professional skills through working there such as communication skills, leadership skills, problem-solving skills, and advocacy skills,” she said. “I am proud of campus tutorial services and am grateful to anyone who believes in what (the Chrisman Success Center) does and the positive impact it has on students at UW-Whitewater.”
The Warhawk Emergency Fund helps low-income students stay enrolled despite financial emergencies. Since the fund’s establishment in 2017, 300 students have been awarded almost $250,000 to pay for housing, auto repairs and transportation, medical/dental bills, utilities, childcare, and a wide range of other emergency needs.
Every student who received a grant – 100 percent – was retained from the fall to the spring semester. The impact on student success and wellbeing is profound, said Professor Lauren Smith, who manages the program.
“My colleagues and I have worked with so many students who had no reliable place to stay, drove unsafe cars, had trouble affording required field placements, were sometimes choosing between gas to get an internship and food,” she said. “Student financial crises distract students from their academic work, and the quick infusion of money that the emergency fund provides allows them to get back on track before academic issues snowball. To be able to support these students is a relief and a joy for me.”
Two other areas that will receive money are the Rugby Fund and Wheelchair Athletics Fund. Both are club sports with a history of winning national championships. Because they are not intercollegiate sports, the programs are more heavily reliant on private contributions. Funds from the Chrisman gift will be used to recruit and retain student-athletes, pay for travel, and develop spaces for practices and competitions.
“We have become rugby fans because of the Warhawk team and know that they can use the support so that the players and their families have to give less. We love attending games when we can,” Chrisman said. “We also had the opportunity to watch some of the wheelchair basketball members play, and we were amazed and fascinated at what they do.”
Chrisman is so committed to fostering success at his alma mater, he hopes to be able to contribute even more.
“My estate is still growing and it is my hope that I will be able to give more because I know that more is needed.”