Largest estate gift funds St. Joseph’s College scholarships.
by Michael Puente
For two years beginning in 2008, Maureen Egan provided vital information about St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer to a complete stranger. She had no idea what this person was going to do with the information or to whom they were going to pass the information.
She provided details about how the 121-year-old small, private Catholic college helps low-income students pay for their education, how the school maintains its agrarian roots, and its commitment to sustainable living.
“I dealt for two years with a blind inquiry. For two years, they had me doing homework like no other,” says Egan, vice president for institutional advancement and marketing for SJC. “The person I dealt with always ended our meetings with: ‘Trust me. This is worth it.’”
Turns out, Egan’s work was worth it. In December 2009, she and other St. Joseph’s administrators found out who was the behind the blind inquiry.
Juanita Kious Waugh lived 30 miles from the college in White County, where her parents were very influential, affluent and above all else, very private. “She was a very private person,” says David Bechman, who serves as co-trustee for the Juanita K. Waugh Revocable Living Trust and overseer of Waugh’s extensive farm property in White County. “Her family had been in the Brookston area for a long time, several generations. They owned a bank and acquired a lot of land.”
Waugh, in fact, owned 7,634 acres of land in White County, right next door to Jasper County, where St. Joseph’s College is located. The value of Waugh’s land was put at $40 million.
Bechman says Waugh inherited the land from her parents and grandparents. She graduated from Tudor High School in Indianapolis and later attended Indiana University.
“She lived in Brookston in the very house her grandfather had built. In her younger days, she traveled quite a bit,” Bechman says. “But above all else, she was very much a business woman and very interested in agriculture.”
Waugh developed a close friendship with SJC President F. Dennis Riegelnegg.
In December 2009, Waugh told Riegelnegg she would gift the college her 7,600-plus acres, the largest in the college’s history. Just two months later, on Feb. 6, 2010, a day before her 88th birthday, she died.
“This is an extraordinary gift for Saint Joseph’s College,” Riegelnegg says. “We are both humbled by and grateful for Juanita’s generosity. Naming the college as beneficiary took many years of deliberation and we are also thankful for the wise counsel she sought.”
The only stipulation for the college is the land can never be sold and must remain agricultural. Waugh did approve wind turbines being installed on the land as a way to generate money, and today, 32 wind turbines are scattered over the land, with many easily visible by motorists traveling Interstate 65.
Egan says the land generates about $1.5 million a year in revenue for the college, which has about 1,000 students. Those turbines generate 1.6 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 12,514 homes.
“We dedicate all of those funds for scholarship aid for poor students,” Egan says. “We award about $14 million a year in financial aid. That $1.5 million is a tremendous help.”
Despite the months and months of negotiations and dealings with the college, Waugh’s decision to donate her land to SJC may have ultimately come down to the president of a small bank in White County with whom she dealt.
“She was very impressed with him. She would find out that he was a St. Joe’s graduate,” Bechman said. “She decided in her mind that ‘if he is the type of people they are turning out, this is where I want my farms to go.’ So, we never know when our impressions will have a huge impact.”