BUCKHANNON – West Virginia Wesleyan College has more than one reason to celebrate this weekend.
While the college will welcome home numerous alumni for Bobcat Homecoming weekend, it’s also enthusiastically welcoming a gift in excess of $11 million – the single largest donation in the school’s 129-year-history – from the estate of the late Thomas H. Albinson, who graduated in 1976.
President Dr. Joel Thierstein and vice president for advancement Bob Skinner briefed media on the historic gift during a Friday afternoon press conference ahead of the Founder’s Day ceremony.
Thierstein planned to deliver the news to the entire campus community at Founder’s Day.
The more-than-$11 million gift will be funneled into endowments for the Thomas H. Albinson School of Business, the college’s media studies program and the campus radio station, according to a Wesleyan press release.
“This is unprecedented in our history,” Skinner said at Friday’s press conference. “This is obviously a great day for the institution. You didn’t have to be with Tom more than 30 seconds to understand how much he loved Wesleyan. He loved his experience and he loved all the people; it was the passion of his life.”
Albinson was pleased with the progression of the Thomas H. Albinson School of Business made possible through a 2014 gift from his mother’s estate and had planned to visit his alma mater in April 2016, but tragically, passed away in March 2016, Skinner said.
“The sad thing about all of this, is that Tom was going to come back to campus in April , and was actually going to speak at a class and was going to be here for a Board of Trustees meeting and was going to meet with the students,” Skinner said. “We had just talked all about that, and then he died in his sleep. I probably talked with Tom about a week before he died.”
So, exactly how will the college use the money to enhance the School of Business, media studies program and college radio station?
Thierstein said the funds from the endowments won’t become available for about three years, so college administration and the Board of Trustees have some time to consider their options.
“We are looking at a whole variety of options at this point,” the president said. “This is, again, a decision the administration and the trustees won’t make lightly. They’ll take input from a variety of sources. We take student input into consideration with everything.”
Although Skinner said he became aware the college would likely be a recipient of a gift from Albinson’s estate two years ago, he hadn’t fathomed just how large the gift would be.
“Tom had a really close relationship to [late economics Wesleyan professor] Frank Bayard and the Economics Department, and he was a student assistant for Frank when he was here, and when you would talk with Tom, the first thing he would talk about was the days of Frank Bayard and he remained close with Frank until Frank died,” Skinner said.
Skinner said he and Albinson became chums while working at the college radio station together.
“He had a fabulous relationship with the radio station, and that’s really where our friendship came from,” he said. “We had business classes together, but we were also on the radio together and I was the Voice of the Bobcats and Tom was the rock n’ roll music guru.”
“That friendship lasted, but a number of people from the college, from the Advancement Office, visited Tom for years and maintained a really close relationship with the family,” Skinner added.
The $11-million-plus gift marks the second time Wesleyan’s been the beneficiary of the Albinson family’s generosity, Skinner said, noting that college received $2.1 million from the Mary B. Albinson Trust, the trust of Tom’s mother, in 2014.
That gift was utilized to fund a slew of capital improvement projects and resulted in the naming of the Thomas H. Albinson School of Business.
Throughout his career, Albinson worked as a financial analyst, human resources staffing coordinator and technology specialist.
In 2005, Albinson struck out on his own, founding p-Quest Data Systems, which developed custom PC-based application for nonprofit organization involved in cemetery management. Then, in 2005, Albinson was tapped as the director of finance and budgeting for Sarah Ward Nursery in New Jersey and throughout his life, held several leadership positions at the Roseland United Methodist Church in Roseland, New Jersey.
Thierstein said the gift announcement was “a really sweet way to start Homecoming weekend.”
In the release, Skinner credited current and former Advancement staff for their combined efforts in helping the college to realize the gift.
“This historic donation was cultivated through a great team effort by previous and current Advancement staff members,” Skinner wrote. “Every person who encountered Tom quickly discovered his passion for Wesleyan. I was fortunate to share a wonderful friendship which began through our association at WVWC-FM. His life exemplified the college’s mission in many ways and his commitment and love affair for West Virginia Wesleyan College will love in perpetuity through this generous planned gift.”