The gift of education

Anne Marie Amacher
Attorney Diane Puthoff talks about a $1.38 million estate gift left to St. Ambrose University in Davenport to offer scholarships to Iowa students.

Endowment fund establishes scholarships for Iowa students to St. Ambrose

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT – A $1.38 million estate gift, the largest single endowed scholarship fund in the history of St. Ambrose University, will provide scholarships for eligible students who live in Iowa and have graduated from an Iowa high school.

St. Ambrose University President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, announced establishment of the Dale and Lavonne “Bonnie” McFarlin Scholars Program on Sept. 10. Four students from Iowa (new or transfer students) will receive $4,000 scholarships each, which are renewable yearly for up to four years.


“The growth of our scholarship endowment and our focus on affordability is something that we are most proud of,” Sr. Lescinski said. The university has 128 current and future endowed scholarships. That number has more than doubled since Sr. Lescinski arrived in 2007. “This will make a tremendous impact on the accessibility of a St. Ambrose education and is vital to the strength and future of our university,” she said.

Sr. Lescinski shared a story about how the gift came to be. “This is an amazing story about a couple who lived nearby, met our students and staff, and began a remarkable 40-year relationship with the university. And I think this illustrates a great deal about the McFarlins and about St. Ambrose.”

Lavonne, known as “Bonnie,” and her husband Dale developed an appreciation for St. Ambrose after selling their farm in western Iowa and moving to Davenport in the early 1970s. They purchased a six-plex near Vander Veer Botanical Park and often encountered St. Ambrose students, faculty and staff while walking on campus and in the neighborhood, Sr. Lescinski said. “They were taken by the friendliness and how welcome they felt.”

The couple did not have children and, as health issues arose for Dale, they explored options for their estate. “The couple strongly believed the ability to achieve a college education was important to every child’s future,” Sr. Lescinski said.

The couple evaluated three potential recipients in Iowa for their estate and decided that St. Ambrose embodied the educational spirit, mission and drive that reflected their ideals.

Following Dale’s death, Bonnie moved to Texas in 1999. Sr. Lescinski said she visited with Bonnie many times. “I can tell you she was a friendly, outgoing and energetic woman who loved life, learning and travel.”

After Bonnie’ death, St. Ambrose received two-thirds of her estate, which totaled $1.38 million in support of a named endowed scholarship. Diane Puthoff, an attorney with Lane & Waterman, LLP, and a member of the St. Ambrose University Legacy Gifting Council, worked with Bonnie since 2010. “She already had a strong affiliation with St. Ambrose” and had set up two charitable gift annuities benefiting St. Ambrose.

Later, Bonnie named St. Ambrose as the beneficiary of three commercial gift annuities and added the university as a payable on a death beneficiary of her fixed-income assets. “This was in addition to the charitable gift annuities previously established,” Puthoff said.

Jamie Loftus, the university’s vice president of enrollment management, said gifts such as the McFarlins’ generous estate gift, “are so important to our work to address the affordability challenge while ensuring that our students get the best education possible.”

Loftus said St. Ambrose has been responsive to the need to keep a college education affordable and accessible by holding the increased cost of tuition to 3 percent, well under the national average, for seven years in a row. He said that 99 percent of first-year students and 85 percent of all undergraduate students receive scholarship support from St. Ambrose University.

Eligible students must be accepted for admittance by the university and demonstrate financial need. Preference will be shown to students in Davenport or from rural Iowa high schools. Students should have a 3.0 GPA, an ACT score of 20 or SAT score of 1040. Additional factors will be weighted in the selection process.

Potential candidates will be reviewed, interviewed and selected by the deans of university’s three colleges and the vice president of academic affairs who also serves as provost.

Sandra Cassady, vice president of strategic initiatives, said all scholarship recipients will be mentored. “This is a unique mentorship program designed to build leadership skills and prepare students to be active citizens in their chosen professions and communities after graduation.”

“Like all organizations, philanthropic support is vital to St. Ambrose,” Sr. Lescinski said. But, beyond the gift provided, it is that acknowledgement from the donor, a vote of confidence if you will, that is so meaningful. I know today Bonnie is watching us with a smile and through the McFarlin Scholars Program she and Dale will be with our students for years to come.”

Applications for students fully admitted for Fall 2020 are now being accepted. Visit The deadline is Feb. 15.

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