Three families, three gifts, untold impact
The reasons people give are as varied as the individuals making the gifts. Some make financial commitments to Furman to remember a loved one. Some give to advance a program or major of study. Still others see financial giving as a way to perpetuate what they deeply believe in. But no matter the specific motivation, each donor gives because they want to invest in something – and a future – that’s much bigger than themselves.
Emeritus Professor of History David Spear shared a special bond with his son Sam Spear ’09. David read to Sam each night from a history series when Sam was 6 years old and continued the bedtime ritual well into adolescence, until the pull of other interests prevailed over stories of world history. They shared a love of baseball, too, traveling in the summers to see 15 of the 30 Major League ball parks, sometimes hitting as many as five parks in a single trip.
For Debbie Spear, it was the flowers. Every Mother’s Day for close to two decades, Sam would barrel up the stairs with “his huge feet,” beaming smile and enormous hug to deliver flowers to his mom.
Memories like these sustain David and Debbie in the wake of their son’s death on July 23, 2019. The Furman health and exercise sciences graduate succumbed to alcohol addiction made worse by a traumatic brain injury sustained after a fall, and a series of personal and other health struggles that together took their toll on the 32-year-old.
More than a year later, the Spears, still reeling from the crippling loss, wrestled with how to honor Sam through a financial gift to Furman.
“What we really wanted was to have a sober-living house,” said Debbie – a drug- and alcohol-free place where students with similar addiction stories can support one another and hold each other accountable during their recovery. But without a straightforward way to set up a house through Furman, the Spears looked to the Department of Health Sciences, formerly known as health and exercise science.
“Sam loved exercise science, he just loved it,” said Debbie.
Sam’s effervescence shined most when he worked as a fitness trainer at The Cliffs at Glassy, she remembers. “He just liked everybody. There was never anybody, any group, or nationality he was uncomfortable with,” said Debbie, an English as a Second Language teacher, who frequently had guest of different nationalities and backgrounds in the house while Sam was growing up.
“Sam was right at home, and he made them feel right at home,” she said.
“We came into some unanticipated family funds – not millions of dollars – so we were able to think about something we could do,” Debbie said. “Sam had benefitted so much from Furman, so we thought, ‘What would Sam have wanted to do to encourage people to be as crazy about this [health and exercise science] as he was?’”
The Spears concluded that if they could find a way to make it possible for students to do extra things, such as attend conferences in the field, the funding would go a long way toward enhancing their understanding and appreciation of the discipline – “providing just the right encouragement at just the right time – much like Sam’s internship at The Cliffs changed his life,” said Debbie.
With the confidence their gift would be used in a manner that would honor Sam, the Spears made a decision to move forward. “The health sciences department, which encouraged Sam’s internship at The Cliffs, knew Sam and the kinds of things he would have liked,” said Debbie.
But more than the gift itself, the Spears want all to remember Sam’s love of people. “He had such an ease with people and excitement about meeting new people,” said Debbie.
“There’s not much we can do to redeem this [loss], but I think Sam would be thrilled to know there’s something at Furman that is supporting what he was most passionate about and the department he loved the most.”
For Henry Barton and Melanie (Dodd) Barton, both members of the class of 1984, an investment in The Furman Advantage is what drives their gift earmarked for scholarship support and for those with financial need.
Their backgrounds set the stage for how they would make decisions on giving decades later. Henry, a Greenville native and political science graduate, comes from a long line of Furman alumni, including his father, grandfather, great aunt, uncle and many cousins. Political science and history alumna Melanie, on the other hand, is a first-generation graduate from Alpharetta, Georgia. Their children – Chandler and Hannah – graduated Furman in 2013 and 2018, respectively. Chandler married Elizabeth Koppang, who graduated in 2013.
The Furman Advantage framework as it’s known today didn’t exist in the mid-80s, but elements of it did, such as study away and a chance to have meaningful relationships with professors.
Henry remembers having spirited discussions with Professor Emeritus of Political Science Don Aiesi and Don Gordon, professor of political science and executive director of The Riley Institute, who encouraged Henry to take an internship through the Washington Center in D.C. – a post that would have life-long repercussions, both personally and professionally.
Melanie also participated in a Washington Center internship, and that’s how the two met. They became engaged after a Bell Tower proposal by Henry in 1986 and married in 1987.
“Don Gordon takes credit for us getting together,” Henry jokes.
The Capitol Hill internship also informed Henry’s later foray into political life as he served Congressman Carroll A. Campbell, Jr., who became governor of South Carolina. Later, after working as a utility lobbyist, Henry launched his own consulting firm focusing on utility and renewable energy issues.
On the advice of William Montgomery Burnett Professor of History Marian Strobel, Melanie pursued a master’s in public policy analysis at Duke University. After graduating in 1986, she moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where she has worked in education policy for the South Carolina General Assembly and now for Gov. Henry McMaster.
Her desire to help first-generation students and others with financial need at Furman meshes with her work ambitions.
“Advancing educational opportunities is my career and passion for all children, but especially for children who must overcome significant financial barriers to achieve their personal educational goals,” she said.
Together, the Bartons hope their gift will be transformational.
“We hope our long-term investment will transform the personal and professional trajectory of students for years to come, just like the Furman experience changed us,” said Henry. “We look forward to meeting the scholarship recipients whose lives will enrich and bless ours.”
You could say Chairman P. Edwin Good, now in his 14th year on the Furman Board of Trustees, is a fixture on campus. You’d also be correct in saying the 1967 Furman history major and his wife, former board member and French alumna Peggy Ellison Good ’67, are committed to a life of giving in terms of their time, talent and financial resources.
Ed’s service to the Greenville Community – about 40 years – is marked by his more than 15 years on the board at Hollingsworth Funds, a major Furman University benefactor, and scores of other governing bodies dedicated mostly to children, education and social services concerns.
For Furman, Ed and Peggy have served as class agents for fundraising and have been heavily involved in reunion activities. Ed also served many years on the Paladin Club board and on the Furman Advisory Council.
The two met as freshmen in a French class at Furman. They married in 1966 during their senior year then went to graduate school at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where they both earned Master of Arts in Teaching degrees.
As freshly minted educators, they taught school in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in Rome, Georgia, before returning to the home of their alma mater in 1971, when Ed took a position in Furman’s development office as director of alumni programs for a couple of years.
Successful ventures in commercial real estate financing, then commercial real estate development came next for Ed, founder of Hampton Development Company.
But it was Ed’s time in Furman’s development office that led to so many board seats.
“People heard I was involved in the fundraising business, so they thought, ‘Hey, this guy would be a great board member or a great committee member, because he’s actually raised some money and he’s not afraid of it,’” Ed said, laughing.
Except that now and in years past, he and Peggy are the ones doing the giving.
Their most recent gift isn’t fully “fleshed out,” said Ed, but he expects that half will go toward funding campus operations, and the remaining half will probably be set aside for student financial aid.
Multiple financial contributions from the Goods over the years have bolstered the Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection, the James B. Duke Library, the tennis program and others.
But for all their generosity, the Goods remain humble.
“We’ve tried to do what we could,” said Ed. “We think Furman does a great job. We think people who finish Furman have a good experience and come out caring about others and wanting to serve.”
He applauds the Heller Service Corps, the Cothran Center and other campus organizations that provide outlets for social good.
Parents of three sons who graduated Furman in 1993, 1996 and 1997, the Goods continue to believe in Furman’s approach, especially what they see in The Furman Advantage and its deliberate focus on study away, mentorship and undergraduate research opportunities for students.
“You read about these young alumni and how they’ve done great things,” said Ed. “It’s obvious to us that Furman is making a difference in the world, and that’s something we want to support.”
Gifts – both large and small – have untold ripple effects throughout generations and do not go unnoticed.
“Gifts to student scholarships, like these, ensure that we can fulfill our promise to provide every student an unparalleled education – The Furman Advantage,” said Furman President Elizabeth Davis. “Such donor support, of all levels, allows us to continue to provide aid to every student who has financial need. Thank you to David and Debra Spear, Henry and Melanie Barton, Ed and Peggy Good, and every member of the Furman family who support our students’ academic journeys through gifts to student scholarships.”