ASU receives largest estate gift ever

(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A pair of A-State alumni were honored on Tuesday.

Students, faculty, and staff gathered on the third floor of the Student Union Center for a dedication ceremony unveiling the "Vaughn Student Lounge," named after Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn.

Not only were they A-State alumni, they were also educators who maintained a love for ASU.

The two also established an unrestricted estate gift to the Arkansas State University Foundation for $3.69 million.

The executor of the estate and friend of the Vaughns, Steve May, said this would have meant a lot to them.

"Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn were lifelong educators," May said. "They worked in the education industry, both as teachers and as entrepreneurs. They would be so honored to be celebrated this way with such a crowd at ASU. They loved ASU. They loved the community of Jonesboro. And we're all just so excited they were kind enough to bestow this endowment to the Foundation."

May said education mattered to them both.

"Jim and Wanda Lee," May said. "Started their careers as educators. So, this to me comes full circle in that the delivery of this endowment. The endowment of these professorships, that every student will be impacted by it. It would mean so much to them because of their love of education and their love of people and love of their community. And so, I think they would be so proud of this event and really so humbled. They were humble people and I just think they would be very honored."

The two met while in graduate studies at the University of Oklahoma.

They eventually ended up at Hoxie High School, where Wanda Vaughn taught speech and drama. Jim Vaughn was the principal of the school.

Vice Chancellor for Advancement at Arkansas State University Jason Penry said the Vaughns have been a part of A-State for some time.

"The Vaughns have been supporters of Arkansas State for a long time," Penry said. "This ultimate legacy gift of over $3.6 million is a great testament to their passion for education. On the bronze plaque that we put together it said education was their passion and that is true today."

Penry said the Vaughns' generosity will have a lasting impact on A State students.

"One of the things I heard so often were the Vaughns were passionate about education," Penry said. "And education, in one word, is about opportunity. And what they've provided is all about opportunity for decades to come."

"I knew Jim and Wanda Lee my whole life," May said. "I feel honored to be able to represent them here today along with their friends and it just warms your heart to see that people who loved their community and loved education so much, that they made such an everlasting gift. This will go on for generations. My sons are students at Arkansas State University and hopefully, my grandchildren will be. So, this is a gift that will go on for many generations to come."

The funds are being used to establish scholarships, create endowment professorships and support the Bradbury Art Museum.

Dr. John D. Hall is a professor of psychology and counseling at ASU and one of the recipients of the endowed professorships.

Hall said he was shocked when he first learned the news.

"I actually thought I was hallucinating," Hall said. "I was really taken back. I was called into our Dean's office and thought we were going to talk about research when I was told I was actually a recipient of this."

Hall said this endowed professorship is going to make a big difference.

"The importance of this award is very significant," Hall said. "It allows a professor to continue their work with students. Especially in terms of research and program development, curriculum development. It allows them resources that they might not otherwise have to really better serve students. To also understand and discover new ideas and concepts. And so, without this type of support it's often very difficult."

Professor of history, Dr. Cherisse Jones-Branch and professor of metabolic engineering, Dr. Argelia Lorence are also recipients of endowed professorships established by the gift.

A bronze plaque will hang on the wall in the lounge and their name will be placed above the entrance way.

For more information about Arkansas State University, log onto their website.

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