When Richard (BBA '81; MBA '82) and Karen (BBA '85) Willis of Colleyville, Texas, gave that first gift to Baylor University only five years after Karen's graduation, they had no idea what it would bloom into over the next two decades.
Their StoryThere was no big ambition for their first gift, really. Richard had received a bonus at work, and they simply decided to pass on the blessing.
"Since we had graduated from there, we both had a passion for the university," Richard, who also benefited from financial aid while at Baylor, recalled. "It wasn't that much money, but we sent it in."
But Karen's company--at the time--matched every dollar they gave with five more. And, in the end, there was enough seed money there to start a scholarship fund. They jumped at the opportunity.
But let's pause there for a moment.
Why in the world would two young married grads (with plenty of bills), give away the majority of a hard-earned bonus? The answer's the same now--after more than 25 years of marriage--as it was then.
"It's really important for us not only to tithe but give in other ways, as well," Richard said. "We're fortunate as a family that we have Baylor because we can do something good for students that also builds on the kingdom of God at the same time."
With the establishment of their first scholarship fund, Richard and Karen discovered that the most rewarding part of the experience for them was the connection they made with the students by "helping them make it through school." They heard the individual stories; they saw the direct effect their support had on individual lives. "I think that's what made us want to come back and give more," Karen noted. "Whenever we are creating a new scholarship, the first question we ask is, 'Where is the need?'"
By matching their areas of interest with the needs of Baylor students and up-and-coming programs, the Willis' influence has reached across the disciplines. The need-based Willis Family Scholarship Funds have been established in the Hankamer School of Business for first-generation college students and one for entrepreneurship or information systems majors; in the School of Social Work; in the area of Baylor Athletics, specifically the Baylor Equestrian team; two in the School of Engineering and Computer Science; and at George W. Truett Theological Seminary.
Still planting seed money, these visionaries-at-heart continue to look for opportunities to support new efforts and opportunities to come under and help set in motion.
Richard and Karen's biggest vision, however, is for their own (current and prospective) Baylor Bears: Marc, a current Baylor student majoring in computer science; Katie and Sarah. And it is for the heritage of these three that Richard and Karen decided to use the "Willis Family" name in every one of their scholarship funds.
"What a great way to teach your kids about the responsibility of sharing your gifts," Richard commented. It's their way, as Karen said, of "planting seeds" of philanthropy in the hearts of their own children™and, hopefully, each and every one of the countless current and future student recipients of the Willis Family Endowed Scholarship Funds.
"When we do things for Baylor, it's because we want to make sure Baylor gives the best education possible to these students," Richard stated. "Then, in leaving Baylor as Christians, they can go out and make an impact on the world. And that's something, hopefully, our family will participate in for generations to come."
Extraordinary Stories are unfolding at Baylor.
Set in motion before students ever set foot on our campus, their stories continue wherever their feet carry them. Just like Richard and Karen, you can write your own chapter in the life of a remarkable student. Baylor graduates are changing the world. And every gift, no matter the size, helps them get there. Make your gift today.