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Exceptional UW Alum Supports Exceptional Students

September 4, 2020
two men posing together
John Clay, left, meets with UW Honors College Dean Peter Parolin. Clay has included UW in his estate plans with a charitable gift to establish the John and Esther Clay Honors College Excellence Fund. (UW Photo)

John Clay has always supported excellence. He has quietly and consistently done more, been more and given more. That’s why his support of the University of Wyoming Honors College is so appropriate.

From his service as a fighter pilot in World War II to his financial career at RBC Wealth Management (formerly Dain Rauscher Inc.) to his support of and service to UW, his contributions have been remarkable.

“Early on, I saw great potential for the Honors program, and I wanted to do what I could to help it grow and develop,” Clay says.

Clay has included UW in his estate plans with a charitable gift to establish the John and Esther Clay Honors College Excellence Fund. The purpose of the fund is to foster excellence and provide financial support to the Honors College. Clay hopes to provide opportunities for the hard-working, high-achieving honors students.

“The UW Honors College promises students an exceptional experience,” says Peter Parolin, dean of the college. “This magnificent endowment will help us keep our promise, enabling us to enrich students’ education through initiatives like innovative multidisciplinary seminars, independent research and internship opportunities, and valuable leadership and service roles.”

The estate gift supporting the Honors College caps a lifetime of generosity by John and Esther. The Clays’ first donation to the university was $25 in 1966 to the Annual Fund campaign. Since then, their philanthropy to UW has spanned all seven colleges, the Department of Athletics and the American Heritage Center, among others. In addition to estate gifts, they have included UW as a beneficiary of an IRA retirement plan, which is an easy and tax-efficient way to include UW in philanthropic goals.

“John Clay’s inspirational commitment to Wyoming students is second to none,” Parolin says. “We in the Honors College are so grateful for the confidence John has shown in us. In his honor, and in memory of his wife, Esther, we will steward the John and Esther Clay Honors College Excellence Fund to ensure that Wyoming students get the world-class education and world-class opportunities that they deserve.”

Born in 1923 in Missouri, Clay was the second of four sons. His father passed away when he was 4, and so his mother, Wana, moved them to Wyoming to her family’s farm and ranch in Albany County. Times were tough, with the Great Depression just beginning. After earning two degrees in elementary education from UW, Wana taught for 38 years in the region’s rural schools. She also served as superintendent of schools in Albany County and director of special education for the state.

Clay graduated from Laramie High School in 1940 and began his career working for First National Bank in Laramie and enrolling in UW. But then World War II broke out, and he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps at F.E. Warren Air Force Base. He met his future wife, Esther, in California, and they were married before John was deployed in 1944 to Europe. Esther would become an accomplished watercolor painter who was active in civic affairs and arts promotion in Cheyenne.

During World War II, Clay flew 68 missions in his P-47 Thunderbolt fighter over Germany and France, and provided front-line support to the U.S. 1st and 9th Army groups. He was routed over Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge, for which he received a Distinguished Flying Cross, and his unit was awarded two Presidential Citations.

At UW before and after the war, Clay studied business and accounting. He went on to a storied career, starting at First National Bank and Utah Power and Light, moving up to Wyoming Farm Bureau and Mountain West Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance, where he was CEO, and then on to Dain Rauscher Inc., retiring as senior vice president.

John and Esther led a full civic life and raised two daughters, Carroll and Diane. They were married for 74 years, until Esther’s death in 2016.

Clay has served on many boards and volunteered his time for the things he believes in, including Rotary Club of Cheyenne; Laramie County United Way; Laramie County Community College Foundation; Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce; Cathedral Home for Children; Cheyenne Civic Center; Wyoming Deferred Compensation Board; Civilian Advisory Council for F.E. Warren Air Force Base; and Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming.

First among those things he believes in is education. He has served on numerous UW boards. He is a former chair and current member of the UW Foundation Board, and he was an ex-officio member of the UW Alumni Association Board. Clay was the recipient of UW’s 2006 Medallion Service Award, which recognizes outstanding service and dedication to the university. He also received the President’s Best Friend Award in 2000 from UW President Phil Dubois; an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 2004; and the College of Business Distinguished Service Award in 2005.

“My life indoctrination came about with the fact that young people need some help,” Clay says. “I was one of them who needed some help, and I got some help. Both Esther and I decided that we would try to help other students.”

Contact Us

Institutional Communications

Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137

Laramie

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-2929

Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window) Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window)

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