As the founding dean of Missouri Western State University’s School of Fine Arts, Dr. Robert Willenbrink is already making a difference in the lives of students. But he and his wife wanted to make an even greater difference.

With a recently pledged gift of $100,000, Dr. Willenbrink and his wife, Susie, joined the recently established President’s Centennial Circle, founded by Drs. Robert and Laurel Vartabedian.

“The Willenbrinks’ gift is greatly appreciated, and their generosity certainly helps us with our Centennial Capital Campaign efforts,” said Dr. Robert Vartabedian, Missouri Western’s president. “We are very grateful for their support and commitment to Missouri Western.”

Dr. Willenbrink said the gift is a way of expressing their deep commitment to Missouri Western’s programs and students. “I believe the capital campaign is important to the future of Missouri Western and to our region.”

Although Dr. Willenbrink was hired as founding dean less than a year ago, he said it didn’t take him very long to realize that “not only could I make a difference in my job as founding dean, but that a financial contribution would make a substantial difference to the students.”

“I am inspired by Missouri Western’s mission,” he said. “I believe in the University and its programs as much as they believed in me when they hired me.”

Dr. Willenbrink said he is most interested in the capital campaign components that benefit Potter Hall’s academic facilities as they are in great need of more space. And, he noted, because of the strong impact of the arts on this region. The Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study, conducted by Americans for the Arts, found that more than $10.8 million was invested in the arts in Buchanan County in 2010 alone, supporting the equivalent of 489 full-time jobs.

Jerry Pickman ’85, vice president for University Advancement and the executive director of the MWSU Foundation, noted that as Missouri Western begins to prepare for a Centennial Capital Campaign, high participation from employees sends a strong message to other donors.

“The dollar amount of a personal gift from faculty and staff members is not what matters the most,” he said. “As we begin to contact major prospective donors, like foundations and corporations, they need confirmation of support from employees as evidence that they should invest in Missouri Western’s mission.”

Dr. Willenbrink hopes the gift will inspire his fellow employees to reach 75 percent participation.

Pickman noted that there are many ways to give substantial gifts to the University besides an outright cash gift. If anyone is interested in learning about the variety of giving avenues, they can contact the Missouri Western State University Foundation at

(816) 271-5647.