History was made at California Baptist University on Feb. 27 when real estate developer Dale E. Fowler and his wife, Sarah Ann, donated $28.5 million to the school, marking the largest gift in the university’s 73-year history. Supportive of Christian higher education, the Fowlers have been actively involved with the community for years.
“The Fowlers have a couple grandchildren who graduated from CBU,” said Dr. Ronald L. Ellis, president of CBU.
“They were also very close friends for a long time with Gene and Billie Yeager, who the Yeager Center is named after. They’ve also come to Grandparents Day. They’ve given generously during the pandemic to the Endurance Fund, [and] also to endowed scholarships for students as well as general scholarships.”
As a way of honoring the Fowlers for their contribution, the Events Center has been renamed the Dale. E and Sarah Ann Events Center. Paul J. Eldridge, vice president for university advancement, recounted the decision to rename CBU’s largest building.
“When you have a gift of this significance, we want to make sure we recognize and honor them in a way that is consistent with the size of their gift,” Eldridge said. “So really because of the magnitude of the gift, the Event Center is the largest building on campus so we thought that would be an appropriate way to honor them. And it’s a conversation with the donors, if they would be comfortable with that, if that would be something they would appreciate. And they thought it was great. They were happy for us to do that.”
A process is ongoing to ensure the best usage of the donation funds. This process is required because the donation is an undesignated estate gift, meaning the university will receive it once the estate is administered. The money is yet to be allocated.
“While we know that it will have a remarkable impact on the school, we don’t know specifically what the impact will be,” Eldridge said. “When a gift is undesignated, basically the donor is saying, ‘I’m going to leave it to the university to decide the best way to use this money that I’m giving.’”
Ellis noted that despite the lack of specifications, the gift will certainly highlight CBU’s mission, which includes the Core 4. The Core 4 is integral to the “Live your purpose” university motto, and includes being academically prepared, biblically rooted, globally minded and equipped to serve.
“It’ll be used for the students specifically to enrich their experience at CBU,” Ellis said. “But from a bigger standpoint, it’ll really position the university and the city of Riverside — because of the magnitude of the gift — in a really positive manner.”
Eldridge hopes that the donation will inspire others to invest in CBU’s mission.
“Regarding philanthropy in general, when CBU receives a gift of this size, then I think it says many things,” Eldridge said. “It says CBU is worthy of a gift of this magnitude.
“In a case like this, when a donor, like the Fowlers, gives a really significant gift like this to CBU, I do think it creates a sense of excitement and a sense of buzz with others that are giving to the university. [There is] not only a sense of gratitude to the Fowlers, but I think a sense of encouragement to say, ‘Wow, there are others in our donor pool who probably have the capacity to give a gift like that.’ And it might encourage them to give more than they might have otherwise considered to give because they see something of this size.”
Both Eldridge and Ellis expressed gratitude for the gift and are excited to see how it impacts the students.
“We are just so grateful to the Fowlers for their tremendous generosity, for their support of Christian higher education, specifically for their support of the California Baptist mission,” Ellis said.
“You think about the legacy that is established by naming this Event Center after them — all of the people who will come through here and the generations to come for Chapels, basketball games, Christmas celebrations and on and on you go. So, quite a legacy and thank you very much to the Fowlers.”
Ultimately, Eldridge credited this blessing for the university to God and looks forward to the future.
“[I have] just a great sense of gratitude,” Eldridge said. “And honestly, [I have] a great sense of gratitude to the Lord. We pray together as an advancement team every Monday morning in our staff meetings and we ask God to give CBU favor, and then he does. He does something like this.
“There’s this great sense of gratitude to the Lord for giving us favor with the Fowlers, and then there’s this great sense of gratitude to the Fowlers who were willing to do this.”