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The Athletic Endowment Fund Grows from a Seed to a Towering Tree

Preface: This article and the information in it is based on different sources, and research is still ongoing.

The Charles R. Ely, G-1892/Donald A. Padden, ’45 Athletic Endowment Fund today is the embodiment of the Finnish proverb: From small beginnings come great things. The endowment fund, now worth over $300,000, began when members of the Gallaudet College Athletic Association came together and decided to establish an Athletic Endowment Fund of $10,000, the annual interest of which was to serve a four-fold purpose: to furnish equipment, to secure competent coaches for the different branches of sport, to enable different departments to secure as many home games as possible and to enable the association to meet all its expenses.

Since its founding, and until the 1960s, Gallaudet did not have an athletics department. Federal funding to the University could not be used to support athletic activities. If students wanted to hire a coach, purchase sports equipment, or rent a bus to travel for away games or activities, they, with the help of student managers for each sport, had to raise money themselves. Some of the expenses for athletic activities were also met from funds distributed with the Associated Student Financial Department, which divided and distributed each student’s unit fee to various student activities.

The students sought and received the support and guidance of Charles R. Ely, G-1892, then a chemistry professor at Gallaudet, in managing and growing the fund. Ely was appointed treasurer of the fund and furnished monthly reports of its growth. When the establishment of the fund was announced in January 1919, the association set a goal of raising $500 that year. However, reporting on June 2, 1919, Ely indicated that contributions to the fund were $830.86, far exceeding the goal that had been set for the year. Individual contributions to the fund ranged from as little as $0.11 to $10.

Other sources that were used to support athletic activities were small non-federal donations that trickled in through concerted efforts of students, Ely, and Percival Hall, G-1893, Gallaudet’s second president.
The women’s basketball team of 1890. Athletic activities could not use money from the federal appropriation to Gallaudet University’s operations. The Gallaudet College Athletic Association had to raise money for its activities.

“Many times students bought their own basketball shoes or other items necessary for athletic activities,” said Padden. “Things were not as expensive then as they are today.”

Ely passed away in 1939 before the target amount was raised. In recognition of his efforts and commitment to the fund, it was renamed the Charles R. Ely, G-1892, Athletic Endowment Fund. Following Ely’s death, William J. McClure, assumed responsibility for guiding the fund, taking care of it for several years until leaving to become superintendent of the Indiana School for the Deaf. In 1945, the year he graduated and started teaching at Gallaudet, Padden became the fund’s treasurer.

Financial growth occurred in the 1940s and the early 1950s from alumni contributions. When Leonard Marvin Elstad, became president of Gallaudet in 1945, he reached out to alumni extensively-Gallaudet saw growth in alumni giving. Elstad also raised money to support athletics, and students were no longer required to give contributions.

“We were always encouraging people to give any amount they could,” said Padden. “No amount was too small for us to accept. Each contribution was valuable and an important growth component.”

In 1952, 33 years after the fund was established, the $10,000 target was reached. Soon after, fund managers focused on growing the fund through investment in stocks. Padden and the fund’s management team continued to steer it as an independent, standalone endowment for many years.

He and others involved wanted to see the fund move to an organization that could manage it far into the future, and concluded that GUAA would be the right organization. In 1997, GUAA renamed the endowment, setting up The Charles R. Ely, G-1892/Donald A. Padden, ’45 Athletic Endowment Fund, which now serves the general student population although athletics remains at its heart. Recent renovations to the basketball court and exercise facilities were made possible by the endowment.

The Gallaudet men’s cross-country team claimed the 1942-43 Mason-Dixon Conference championship. The conference, once an NCAA Division II athletic conference formed in 1936, disbanded in 1974.

“It is amazing that this fund, now worth over $300,000, started almost 100 years ago with small contributions from students,” said Samuel M Sonnenstrahl, Alumni and Donor Programs executive director.

Students today benefit from approximately $10,000 worth of equipment or improvements to facilities every three years.

Eleven cents given by one student in February 1919 was certainly a small seed that has blossomed into what the fund is today. For today’s donors, the fund’s growth is ample testimony that a donation of any amount does make a big difference in the future.

If you would like to talk with someone about how to make a gift to Gallaudet, please contact us.

All photos courtesy of Gallaudet University Library Deaf Collections and Archives

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