Staff member makes a big impact for future Wayne State students


As Wayne State staff member Marion Ringe sat down in the Alumni House to tell her story of giving back, she said, “This is where it all started.”

Ringe first came to Wayne State University as a student in 1965, working as a student assistant in the Alumni House as she completed her bachelor of arts in English with a minor in geology. During her time on campus, Ringe’s Detroit roots grew deep, and her passion for nonprofit institutional development sprouted.

In 1969, Ringe accepted a full-time secretarial position with the Wayne State Fund while she finished her undergraduate degree. From 1971 to 1978, she worked for the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, before it was incorporated into Wayne State as a university-wide research institute. She went on to work for the Detroit Institute of Arts, overseeing membership development. Ringe then was recruited to assist in fundraising for Harper Grace Hospitals, now known as the Detroit Medical Center, and spent the next 24 years there. Once a position opened up in the Division of Development and Alumni Affairs at Wayne State, Ringe “came home.” She has been a staff member at Wayne State ever since.

In 47 years of fundraising, Ringe has worked within one square mile, right in the heart of Detroit.

Change Leads to Transformation
Ringe’s love of writing and fundraising has been reflected throughout her professional career. A direct mail package she wrote while she worked at the DIA brought in more than 1,100 memberships in one month, and was later published in A Treasury of Successful Appeal Letters. As a breast cancer survivor, she also has a published chapter in the Breast Cancer Book of Strength and Courage.

When Ringe’s mother passed away, Ringe decided to use the funds left to her as an opportunity for philanthropic transformation. When her church needed a new grand piano for the sanctuary, Ringe contributed $10,000 to match gifts from the congregation. This generous gift only whet Ringe’s appetite for making a big impact on her community.

“I always knew I wanted to do something for the English department here at Wayne,” Ringe said. “My strength in writing and my passion for literature came from spending time in those classrooms. I wanted other students to know that writing is a skill that can help provide a meaningful and fulfilling life in whatever field they choose to work.”

Marion Ringe, fourth from right, with the Wayne State alumni relations staff in 1968.

A Moment of Passion
Most people who hit 300,000 miles on their car would consider replacing it. Ringe drives a 1997 Saturn with nearly that amount of mileage. But her love of philanthropic gestures surpassed any thought of replacing her car in one moment of passion.

At a division meeting in 2014, Ringe stood up in front of the entire development and alumni affairs staff. “I started talking about my car,” she said with a laugh.

Ringe announced that, in lieu of purchasing a new car, she would endow a scholarship for $25,000 in the Wayne State University English department. “It was such a neat feeling,” she said. “If I had thought about it too much, I wouldn’t have had the courage to do it.”

“You just never know how these things can snowball, or what kind of influence they have,” Ringe added. “In fact I made a little lesson out of it: you never know where the money is. Who would have thought that I would come up with $25,000, right on the spot?”

Paying it Forward
Ringe’s tremendous act of generosity inspired other courageous commitments from fellow faculty and staff members. After hearing her story, one faculty member endowed a professorship for $750,000.

Ringe’s deep roots in the Detroit and Wayne State community strengthened her resolve to give back to the university, and to inspire others to do the same. “Wayne has always been a part of me, even when I worked for other places in Detroit. I never really left it,” she said. “It’s a ‘bloom where you are planted’ kind of thing.”

The Marion K. Ringe Endowed Scholarship will support generations of students who may not have had their big break otherwise. Ringe purposefully made her scholarship for the average student, believing that they can have a tremendous impact on their community just like she did. “I was never a stellar student,” said Ringe. “That is why I created a scholarship to help average undergraduate students in financial need.”

It only took a moment of courage and the rush of philanthropic generosity for Ringe to make the decision to give back to her community. Her spirit and resolve resulted in a meaningful gift to the university and to the future success of Wayne State’s students.

(April 8, 2016)

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