CORVALLIS - Fifty years ago this month, Mr. and Mrs. A.V. Young sent a letter to Oregon State College with $5 enclosed, they said, in memory of Wilbur Carl. It was the first gift recorded in a new foundation and development program at the institution.

From that modest beginning, the Oregon State University Foundation has evolved into one of the Northwest's most successful enterprises, recording nearly one-half billion dollars in gifts since it was incorporated in 1947.

The gifts have included not only cash, but everything from emu eggs to a bequest of timberland that provided $23.8 million to benefit the College of Forestry. The OSU Foundation has received stock gifts, money from living trusts and wills, gifts of personal property, and even a working cattle ranch.

This month, the university will celebrate the foundation's 50th anniversary and invite a number of its benefactors back to campus. It will be an opportunity to thank the donors and show them how their gifts have benefitted the state of Oregon, the university, its faculty, and, most of all, its students, said John Irving, director of the foundation.

"I've seen the foundation grow into an important organization on campus with the ability to facilitate great change," Irving said. "The foundation has helped students go to college who otherwise would be unable to attend; it has helped to construct buildings that otherwise would never have been built; and it has supported faculty and academic programs that are vital to the success of the university and central to OSU's mission within the state of Oregon."

In its 50 years, the OSU Foundation has received a total of $497 million in gifts and income, and maintains an endowment of $158 million, which is growing rapidly. The money has been donated from former students, their families, faculty and staff, charitable foundations, businesses, and people who have a special interest in OSU programs.

Philanthropy at OSU in the 1990s has been on the rise. In 1993, the estate of Kaye Richardson provided $23.8 million to benefit the College of Forestry. Two years later, the Valley Foundation of Oakland, Calif., pledged $10 million to help OSU fund the ambitious $40 million expansion of the Valley Library. And just last month, alumnus Bernard "Bing" Newcomb gave 200,000 shares of stock valued at $6 million to help boost student scholarships and programs in the College of Business.

The beneficiaries of this generosity are many, said OSU President Paul Risser.

"Virtually every student and every program at this university has, in some way, received significant benefits from the support of our wide range of donors," Risser said. "And many of them may never know it. Those gifts support not just student scholarships, but computers and software, equipment in our laboratories, jobs and internships, the hiring and training of the students' professors, and the buildings in which they take their classes."

One student who has seen the benefits of donations to the OSU Foundation is Isaac Mosgrove, a recent graduate in mechanical engineering. One of last year's 247 Presidential Scholars at the university, Mosgrove said he wouldn't have been in school without the support.

"My savings were drained paying for housing and books," he said. "I can't imagine how I would have paid for tuition. My scholarship made school possible."

Sarah Cummings, recipient of a Chiles Presidential Scholarship at OSU, noted that her scholarships freed her up for other pursuits. "Because I don't have to work during the school year, I am able to volunteer my time," she said.

A junior majoring in zoology, Cummings enjoys coaching students at the OSU Equestrian Center and volunteering at the Heartland Humane Society. She has gotten to know her scholarship donors and credits them for allowing her to broaden her education through her volunteer work.

The 500-acre campus in Corvallis bears many landmarks of the university's wide base of donors. Most visible, perhaps, is the Valley Foundation and the Valley family, whose names can be found on the university's library, a newly renovated football center, a nearby track, and a gymnastics training facility.

The Valley family has a long history at OSU. Frances Wayne Valley attended OSU from 1933-36, later marrying Gladys Leibbrand, a 1933 graduate. Their youngest son, Patrick Wayne Valley, graduated from OSU in 1969. Following Patrick's drowning, Gladys and Wayne Valley began a long commitment to help the future students of OSU, when they contributed funds for Patrick Wayne Valley Field. In addition to the numerous renovations around campus the Valley Foundation has shown support for scholarships.

Not all of the landmarks bear donors names, Irving pointed out. The Trysting Tree golf course, for example, was built on land and with materials donated by the Giustina family of Eugene. The 18-hole course has hosted the Pacific-10 Conference championships, attracts players from all over western Oregon, and is open to OSU students for surprisingly low greens fees.

"Nat Giustina basically built that course by himself," Irving said. "It represents the tremendous impact donors have had on this university."

Because of its many donors, OSU's academic program - already the most diverse in the state because of its ties to natural resources, technology, marine research and business - has been able to expand beyond the constraints of budgetary cuts and continue to aid students despite recent tuition hikes.

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John Irving, 541-737-4218