History of the HU Foundation

A Polish-born chemist, Jacob L. Brenn, and a Huntington College professor, Fred A. Loew, who met over a mutual interest in bringing soybean cultivation to Huntington County, are credited with the incorporation of the first Huntington University (then College) Foundation. Seventy-five years ago on February 26, 1938, the pair along with eight other local business leaders, felt a “link” between “town and gown” was so important, the Foundation was begun.

In the original Articles of Incorporation of the Foundation, Loew was named the Resident Agent, Brenn would serve as the first president of the Foundation and the additional charter directors included Walter H. Ball, president of the Ball Printing Company; attorney George M. Eberhart; Philip P. Bash, president of the C.E. Bash Company; chiropractor Jacob P. Young; Dee R. Wygant, president of First National Bank; Lyman O. Knecht, Bippus farmer and stock dealer; attorney Sumner Kenner and Charles H. Cline of the Simpson Tile Factory.

None of the directors of the original Foundation were a graduate or employee of the college, nor a member of its parent denomination, the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. The Foundation was organized as a not-for-profit and remains so today. Dedicated public servants that the original directors were, they issued a statement upon the organization of the Foundation which praised the “valuable service in the educational field” Huntington College had performed “toward the development of worthy citizens with high moral and ethical standards.”

The newly-formed Huntington College Foundation’s purpose was “To promote education and all things pertaining thereto and especially to promote the interest of Huntington College of Huntington, Indiana. To promote the interest of said college, financially and otherwise, in all legal methods, and to do all other things necessary to carry out such purposes.”

Though the community and college were patiently enduring the Great Depression, the Foundation went to work seeking gifts of cash, annuities and bequests from local businessmen. Cash was in short supply and some students bartered farm produce for their college education. Many faculty members were sometimes paid with the same. Donors in 1938, as well as today, could designate gifts for immediate use by the college or deem them be invested in an endowment to ensure the institution’s long-term financial stability. 

Brenn served as the Foundation president from 1938 until 1964 when he was named honorary president and continued in that role until his death on January 21, 1967. Brenn was born on April 16, 1895 in Pinsck, Poland and immigrated with his parents to Chicago when he was quite young. Brenn came to Huntington upon completion of college and is known for taking charge of the floundering Huntington Chemical Company in 1920 and turning it into the very successful Huntington Laboratories, which today is known as Ecolab.

Robert M. Thompson became president of the Foundation in 1964 and served in that role until 1969. Other Foundation presidents include: 1970-1975, Carl R. Bailey; 1976-1978, Donald Purviance; 1979-1981, Jack Fink; 1982-1984, Ted Bendall; 1985-1987, Dick Coyle; 1988-1990, Tom Tyler; 1991-1993, Wilford A. Hahn; 1994-1996, Ted Bendall; 1997-1999, Steve Zahn; 2000-2002, John Easterday; 2003-2005, Dennis McNeely; 2006-2008, Travis Holdman; 2009-2011, Brooks Fetters; 2012-2014, Ed Vessels; 2014-2017, Holly Sale; 2017-2019, Michael Zahn; 2020-Present, Adrian Halverstadt.

Early documentation shows that the Foundation recognized what a college means to a community. Those involved saw that a college attracts industry; adds new payroll; aids local business; keeps real estate values high and is a cultural center attracting musicians, artists and forums for the community. The information also showed that adult education programs formed, assistance was provided in training community leaders, quality school teachers were readily available and area college students were also readily available when needed for part or full-time employment in local firms.

At the time, Brenn wrote “a college is one of the best civic enterprises and wisest investments in which any community can participate. Actually, the benefits which this community derives through the constantly changing and growing student body are incalculable.”

The Foundation became active in 1949 when financial aid was given to the Alumni Project for the construction of a new library. Over the next few years $33,000 was raised toward the completion of the Loew-Alumni Library, which today is the Administration Annex building on the campus of Huntington University.

The library was named for Professor Loew who graduated from Huntington College in 1902, was the first Resident Agent of the Foundation and served on the faculty longer than any other individual in its history, retiring a few months before his death at age 76. He is also known for his early work at Huntington College in agriculture, the establishment of the botanical gardens and an arboretum on the campus.

In 1956 the Foundation began to raise the initial funds of $150,000 for a science hall on the campus. They raised about two-thirds of the amount in the community and continued their money raising efforts after the building was in process until $236,288 was received. Brenn was an active participant in this fundraising and as a permanent tribute to his efforts, the Jacob L. Brenn Science Hall, dedicated in the fall of 1963, was named in his honor. 

In October 1958 the Foundation lent its approval and support to the conducting of monthly college Breakfast Hours at the Hotel LaFontaine. The purpose of the breakfasts was to share information concerning Huntington College and educational issues in general. The breakfasts continue today on the second Wednesday of each month from 7:45 to 9 a.m. in the Habecker Dining Commons on the campus of Huntington University.

The Foundation has helped to make many significant enhancements to the campus over the years including dorms for men and women, apartments for married students and in 1966, Lake Sno-Tip. The Lake was named for Foundation board members Gene Snowden and F.L. Tipmore.

Also in 1966, a Foundation committee was responsible for the fundraising efforts, securing 90 percent of its initial goal in the first month, toward the Huntington Union Building (HUB). This building was the first home of the Student Union, cafeteria facilities for 500 students, a snack lounge, recreation room, bookstore, student offices, conference rooms, student newspaper offices and a prayer chapel. The HUB is still in use today and houses the Huntington University bookstore and offices.

In the 1970s Huntington College received gifts toward the Merillat Complex for Physical Education and Recreation. Orville and Ruth Merillat gave over one million dollars toward the construction of the facility. Greater numbers of students also sought the meaningful education Huntington College could provide during this time period and the Foundation continued its efforts to receive scholarship funds.

The campus grew significantly from 1980 to 1990. Seventeen facilities were built or remodeled. New construction included the Forester Village Apartments, the Physical Plant Maintenance Building, the RichLyn Library, the Loew Center, Habecker Dining Commons and the Merillat Centre for the Arts. The Foundation assisted in raising funds for construction costs, and as academic programs were also broadened and strengthened and athletic teams achieved a new level of competitive excellence, the need for additional scholarships depended on the Foundation’s efforts.

The Campaign for Huntington College, May 1996, began with a fundraising goal of $37 million including plans for a new science building, an addition to J.L. Brenn Hall of Science, the rerouting of College Avenue to a complete perimeter drive around the campus and the renovation of the historic Administration Building and the HUB. The aesthetics of the campus were also to be improved by enhancing the points of entry to the campus including landscaping the frontage along the U.S. 24 Highway. The campaign was planned to enable Huntington College to serve over 1,000 students, and a result of a 51 percent increase in freshman class, record-breaking enrollment over the previous two years.

As part of this campaign the college received a major gift for the Science Hall in January of 2000. Huntington College President G. Blair Dowden announced that local residents Homer and Marjorie Hiner would gift $500,000 toward the new 93,000-square-foot, $16.5 million facility. The University also received $5 million in Lilly grants toward the building, and the Science Hall was dedicated in 2002. In March 2007, the Bachelor of Science in nursing program began on the lower level.

The Foundation’s first Distinguished Service Award was presented to Gene Snowden in September of 2002 by John Easterday, outgoing Foundation president, and Dr. Dowden. The award has continued each year for an individual or business that has made a significant contribution to Huntington University.

Huntington College became Huntington University in 2005 with diplomas for the graduating Class of 2006 reading “Huntington University.” The Foundation became the Huntington University Foundation in conjunction with this change.

The Horizon Leadership Program in partnership with Youth for Christ began at Huntington University in 2008. As part of this program a group of community leaders, committed to making the city and county more welcoming to minorities, formed the Harmony Initiative Task Force under Dr. Dowden’s direction. Today, 10 percent of the Huntington University student body is comprised of U.S. minorities and international students. The first recipient of The Horizon Leadership Scholarship graduated from Huntington University in 2013.

Each year the HU Foundation conducts the Local Scholarship Fund Drive raising funds for student scholarships. Local students have directly benefited from the tax-deductible gifts of area businesses and community leaders to the Huntington University Foundation. With enrollment of approximately 1,250, nearly 20 percent of students are from Huntington County. Gifts may also be given to increase an existing Endowed Scholarship or to establish a new one. The interest earned from the principal is used to benefit students for years to come.