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Published January 24, 2024
Foundations partner with UW to nurture Wyoming’s future.
By Tamara Linse
Public service is the University of Wyoming’s mission, just as it’s the mission of Wyoming’s foundations. That’s why the partnerships between the university and foundations are particularly impactful. Their expertise comes together to have long-lasting impacts that ripple through future generations.
Below are four foundations that, in partnership with UW, are making the world a better place.
John P. Ellbogen Foundation
Every child is pure potential. That’s the belief that drives Mary Ellbogen Garland and the John P. Ellbogen Foundation. Its mission is to benefit the people of Wyoming, and to say that the foundation has had an impact is a huge understatement. It has supported every corner of UW as well as initiatives across the state.
The Ellbogen Foundation was founded by John P. “Jack” Ellbogen, a Wyoming entrepreneur, oilman and Worland native who believed strongly in education. On his passing, daughter Mary took the helm and has made it what it is today — a force for good in the state.
The foundation has given over $13 million to UW that has benefited more than 60 programs and units across campus and the state. The foundation’s focus began on education but has expanded to all areas of campus. “Our best work is done in partnership,” Garland says.
As Jack believed, education is key to reaching a child’s potential, but even before kids are educated, they need a healthy family support system. “We realized that we have to give attention to basic needs — food, shelter, clothing, physical health, mental health, connectedness, community, feeling loved and having that support system,” Garland says.
A great example is the Ellbogen Opportunity Scholarship, which began as a pilot program at Laramie County Community College for nontraditional student scholarships and then was extended for three years and then to all community colleges and UW. In five years, approximately 280 scholarships were funded for nontraditional students, all while collecting data to present the effectiveness of the program to the Wyoming Legislature.
“The data is proof of impact both academically and in positive daily living outcomes,” says Garland. “The scholarship can support a degree program or certificate or a credential — whatever it is that gets them a job that creates financial stability and that allows them to stay in the community where they have roots.”
The Ellbogen Foundation then took that data and presented to communities and legislators across the state, showing how effective the program is. The Legislature is now building an endowment with the goal of continuing this vital investment.
“It started as an Ellbogen Opportunity Scholarship,” Garland says. “But we want the state to take the reins in a significant way for nontraditional student support. This is
an incredible return on investment for the state of Wyoming in terms of family workforce and overall community well-being and health.”
Mick and Susie McMurry of Casper believed in the power of community, and that’s why they established the McMurry Foundation. Their goal was to build a better Wyoming, and build a better Wyoming they did.
Both Mick and Susie were from Wyoming and graduates of UW. After graduation, Susie was a school teacher, and Mick was a businessman and entrepreneur. Through “luck and guts,” Mick successfully developed the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah Field in southwest Wyoming with business partner John Martin.
“They helped change the way people give in Wyoming,” says Trudi Holthouse, director of the McMurry Foundation and their daughter. “I’m really proud of them. They were two people who set the example for what philanthropy can look like and the strong impact it can have.”
To UW alone, they gave more than $30 million for the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center, UW Athletics, Western Thunder Marching Band, UW-Casper, the School of Nursing, the College of Business, the College of Education, the College of Law, University Plaza and Conference Center, the Wyoming Technology Business Center and more.
“Personally, philanthropy goes way beyond just the dollars and is about the relationships we get to create with each other,” says Holthouse. “It’s just a blessing to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”
Most recently, the McMurry Foundation gave the kickoff match of $500,000 for UW Giving Day, UW’s annual celebration of philanthropy. Gifts of up to $5,000 were matched 2:1. The match was used up within minutes of going live, and in total almost 9,000 people gave over $3.6 million in just 24 hours. “It is fun to be part of the motivation for other people to give,” says Holthouse. “Every dollar counts.”
The mission of the McMurry Foundation focuses on Natrona County but also includes UW because of UW’s impact across the state.
Holthouse says: “Supporting UW is a priority for us. We only have one university, and it’s an excellent place for students to get a wonderful education. It is awesome that we can help create an experience at UW through the scholarships, programs and facilities that entice our youth to stay in Wyoming.”
Holthouse misses her parents terribly: “Creating memories was a goal of my mom’s. My dad worked so much that she had to take advantage of the time that we could spend all together, and so we had meals every night. We waited until my dad got home. My fondest memories are when she would invite everyone and anyone who needed to be a part of a good old-fashioned Sunday family dinner. She was a master at creating relationships and doing what has to be done.”
People work hard in Wyoming, and no one works harder than Wyoming ranchers and farmers. Joe and Arlene Watt of Sheridan were just such people, but they were also kind and generous, staunch supporters of the things they believed in. Their Watt Foundation has supported generations of UW students and had a big impact on Wyoming in other ways — a befitting legacy.
“Joe was a consummate gentleman, a handsome devil,” says Richard Hammer, president of the Watt Foundation. “They were the most approachable people. They remembered your name and always had time for a bit of advice. They were just sage, warm, wonderful people and just so generous with their time — and, of course, their money.”
Joe and Arlene’s family homesteaded in Moorcroft and Gillette. The couple attended UW in the 1920s, marrying in 1928. They established the Triangle T Ranch and built it into one of the most efficient cattle operations in the industry, retiring in 1984.
“The money (for the foundation) largely came from their minerals,” says Hammer, “but Joe and Arlene always called themselves ranchers. They never said they were oil people.”
Over the years, the Watts served the state in many ways. Joe was a member of the UW Board of Trustees and director of the UW Foundation Board. Arlene served as president of the Wyoming and the National Cowbelles, which honored her as a lifetime member in recognition of her contributions to the cattle industry.
One way the Wattses gave back was by establishing scholarships at UW. The first was the Watt Brothers Scholarship established in 1962 with one of the most unusual gifts ever presented to the university — 238 head of yearling Hereford cattle given by Joe and his brother Robert. The profit from the sale of these cattle established this scholarship.
After Arlene passed away, Joe established the Watt Foundation in her memory in 1999. The Watt Foundation established scholarships in colleges across UW as well as the Joe and Arlene Watt UW Presidential Scholarship, the first presidential-level scholarship of its kind at UW with the goal of keeping the best and brightest in the state. Collectively, these scholarships have benefited hundreds of students.
“Joe was just very clear about what he liked to benefit,” says Hammer. “The main beneficiary is northeast Wyoming, but Joe had a very big spot in his heart for UW.”
Hammer continues, “I think Joe and Arlene will be proud of what we’re doing, and we really appreciate the university and the opportunities and the good stewardship that the university does with those funds. To feel that connected to an institution — that means something to us and meant a lot to Joe and Arlene.”
Natrona Collective Health Trust
The Natrona Collective Health Trust’s mission is to advance the mental well-being of young people. As part of this mission, it is dedicated to nonprofit capacity building and community development.
“Our focus is youth,” says Beth Worthen, CEO and fifth-generation graduate of UW. “In the area of mental and behavioral health, there are a lot of issues that impact a young person’s ability to learn and to grow and to be successful in life.” These include adverse childhood experiences, unmet economic and social needs and lack of a safety net.
The trust began in 1977 as the Wyoming Medical Center Foundation. When the Wyoming Medical Center was purchased by Banner Health three years ago, the foundation converted to its present form, a private health foundation that has grown quickly both in size and mission.
The trust uses an approach called trust-based philanthropy. Worthen says, “Our nonprofits are on the front lines of delivering services and solving problems in our community.” The trust gives multiyear grants that are not focused on a particular program but rather on general operating support. The only question asked on the application is, “How do you plan to use the money?”
One of the trust’s current projects is working with other funders on a report on the impact of philanthropy in Wyoming. The Legislature has been considering how best to support mental health in the state, and out of these discussions came the idea for this report. The report shows where philanthropy is having an impact, what issues are being addressed and what is the role of the government versus the role of private funding.
Another project that is having a big impact is a scholarship program, the Natrona County Non-Profit MPA Fellowship, which is open to any staff member of a Natrona County nonprofit pursuing a master’s degree in public administration at UW.
“One of the things that we heard from our nonprofit partners is that they wanted to take advantage of UW’s nonprofit governance track within the MPA program to really build skill sets that they didn’t have, and so we began offering the scholarship,” Worthen says.
The scholarship has been so successful that the trust is now working to support scholarships in mental and behavioral health infrastructure for master’s degrees in social work and licensed professional counseling at UW-Casper.
“I’m just grateful for the partnership that we have with UW,” Worthen says. “It’s a very fruitful partnership. We value the expertise that comes from faculty and administration, and we’re really excited about what the future could bring.”