Westmont Magazine Gieser Generosity
Ernest Gieser knew little about Westmont when he wrote to the college in 1964 and asked about a gift annuity. Tipped off by a mutual friend familiar with the Gieser’s financial holdings, Gordon Caswell, the chief development officer, flew to Colorado to visit the childless couple. He returned with enough AT&T stock to fund a $648,000 trust, the largest to date in the college’s history.
This gift helped build Deborah Clark Halls, home to 248 students. Although he made the major donation for the residence hall, Ernest didn’t consider his name suitable for a building. He chose to honor his wife, Gertrude Deborah Clark Gieser, instead. Friends, who called her “Pat,” may not have recognized the tribute!
A series of smaller buildings and wooded courtyards, Clark won an Award of Merit from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for its beautiful, non-institutional design.
An early resident of the Pomona, Calif., area where he owned an orange grove, Ernest moved to Iowa and started a rendering business, which disposed of dead animals. Not only was the operation very profitable, but he eventually sold it to Swift Packing Com-pany. By the time Gordon Caswell visited them, the Giesers had retired to a ranch in Colorado.
Devout members of the Plymouth Brethren Church, the Giesers contributed generously to missionaries and Christian organizations, giving up to 50 percent of their income. When he traveled overseas to developing nations, Ernest took money just to give away. Before returning home, he also donated leftover spending money and all his clothes except what he was wearing.
The Giesers developed a close relationship with Gordon Caswell and his family. Once when Gordon and his wife, June, went away, the Giesers took care of their children. Ernest told the youngsters they could have whatever was in his safe if they could figure out how to open it. Although they spent hours trying to discover the combination, they never succeeded. When their parents returned, Ernest opened the safe, and gave Gordon a $200,000 check for Westmont.
The Giesers also set up an annuity with the college. Although they were entitled to regular payments under the terms of this agreement, they returned as much as 60 percent of what they received to fund student scholarships. In addition, they made annual gifts and supported special projects, such as refurnishing the lounge in Kerrwood Hall.
Not only did the Giesers consider Gordon and June Caswell good friends, but they were well acquainted with then-President Roger Voskuyl and his wife, Trudi. In fact, Roger served as executor for both of their estates. The couple remained faithful supporters of the college during the final years of their lives.
One of the founders of a retirement community for Plymouth Brethren in Claremont, Calif., Ernest and his wife spent their last years there. Pat died in 1985 at the age of 92, and he followed her exactly six years later at the age of 96.
To honor their 50th wedding anniversary in 1971, the college sent them flowers, a photo album of Clark, and a large picture of all the students living there. Ernest framed this gift and hung it on the wall of his living room. Every day he prayed for 15 students by name.
Research by Alisa Joy Von Schimmelmann ’01 and History Professor Emeritus Paul Wilt