A Generous Gift
A leading philanthropist establishes the largest scholarship fund in the University’s history
by Joe Wills | Photograph by Phil Schermeister
“I am a duck, but as you know, ducks fly south.”
With that quip, proud University of Oregon alumnus Dan Giustina introduced himself to Chico media and VIPs gathered on campus in August to hear about his $2 million gift to the California State University, Chico College of Agriculture, establishing the largest scholarship fund in the history of the University.
On paper, Giustina seems the unlikeliest of major donors to Chico State. A third-generation Oregonian, Giustina is owner of the family-run, Eugene-based Giustina Resources, a large forest products company with timberlands in Oregon and Washington. He earned both his BS and MBA from UO and is one of that university’s biggest supporters. He was the recipient of the University of Oregon Presidential Medal in 2007 for “long-standing and extraordinary support” for UO, and along with his father, also a UO alum, he has established 40 scholarships at Oregon. He was a main donor for Oregon’s Ford Alumni Center that opened in 2009 and is the former chairman and president of the University of Oregon Foundation.
Giustina bleeds green and yellow, and he might not have extended his extraordinary support for higher education beyond Eugene but for one propitious meeting. While learning the ropes on a Fort Klamath, Oregon, ranch in the 1960s, Giustina met Tom Bell, who built up the famed Bell Ranch in Butte County and ranched more than 16,000 acres in California and southern Oregon before his passing in 1987. Bell befriended Giustina, and through their long friendship introduced him to Chico and Chico State, where the Bell family had ties dating back to the school’s founding. In fact, Tom Bell’s aunt Ada was in the Chico Normal School’s first class in 1889.
“I grew up with the Bell family,” says Giustina. “Tom Bell was a big mentor for me, and I knew his wife Dorothy very well. I know what I know about education through them.”
Tom Bell’s sisters Claudine and Helen, both Chico State graduates, also made a big impression on Giustina. “They both taught in the local school system, and often talked about their education,” he says. “They were thankful of their education at Chico State, particularly that they had it during the Depression. They felt they made it through all right because they had an education, and they impressed that on other people. I remember Claudine showing tellers in the store how to count change correctly. Education was a big part of their life, and our conversations always came back to Chico State.”
My hope is this will be a transformative gift, and bring the best and brightest agriculture students in California to Chico State.
Tom Bell as well as his sisters made gifts to Chico State to benefit the University Farm and create scholarships for ag students. After Claudine died in 2011 and Helen in 2012—beloved figures on campus who lived to the ages of 104 and 95, respectively—Giustina wanted to honor the Bell family in like fashion.
Giustina made a trip to Chico in April 2013 to find out more about Chico State and the College of Agriculture. He met the first recipient of a Tom Bell scholarship, Dave Daley, the fifth-generation Butte County rancher and longtime professor who is now associate dean of the college. And he met the current recipient, Austin Fischer, an animal science major from Cottonwood who is the student herdsman of the beef unit at the University Farm. He heard some facts about the college, including
- The University Farm is one of the most diverse farming operations in Northern California, with livestock units, orchards, pastures, row crops, meats lab, and the first college-based organic dairy on the West Coast.
- More than 10,000 people annually visit the college or farm for events and trainings, and another 5,000 buy farm produce or products each year.
- There are about 750 agriculture students this fall, double the number from seven years ago.
- All agriculture majors and minors, including agricultural business, agricultural science, and agricultural education, receive hands-on experience in farming operations.
- In 2012, the college had only about 60 scholarship recipients among its majors.
“We provided lots of evidence that our college, like Chico State as a whole, is deeply committed to student success,” says College of Agriculture Dean Jennifer Ryder Fox. “Dan got a firsthand look at the outstanding quality of our faculty and students, and the opportunity to make a lasting difference in our program.”
Following additional meetings with President Paul Zingg and Vice President for Advancement Rick Ellison, Giustina decided to make a major investment in Chico State. “I was convinced from my conversations with them that Chico State was an up-and-coming university and that the quality of education a student could get here was second to none,” says Giustina.
On Aug. 22, as faculty, students, and staff applauded, Giustina handed Zingg a $2 million check establishing the Bell Family Presidential Scholarship Endowment. While Chico State has received a number of large gifts in its history, this was the single largest outright gift from an individual to the University.
Two College of Agriculture students next year, and up to four in subsequent years, will receive $5,000 per year as Bell Presidential Scholars. The college will have up to 16 scholarship recipients at any given time. Students who apply to be Bell Presidential Scholars must have strong academic backgrounds and a commitment to agriculture as well as demonstrate a history of leadership and service.
“My hope is this will be a transformative gift and bring the best and brightest agriculture students in California to Chico State,” says Giustina. He believes when private support helps bring the best students and faculty to an institution, it raises the quality of the educational experience for everyone. “That is what we’ve been trying to do at the University of Oregon, and there are a lot of similarities between Oregon and Chico State.”
Not only does private support lift an institution, it brings a spirit of giving that can last beyond any one gift, says Giustina. “If you have the ability to help students achieve their goals, you can instill in them the process of giving back—it’s a win-win that will multiply down the road,” he says. “I try to tell students, you feel pretty good when you earn a scholarship, but you don’t feel anywhere near as good as when you give a scholarship. The feeling will be twice, three times what you’re feeling right now.”
Just as he hopes to inspire students to be future donors, Giustina wants to inspire other non-alums like himself to give to Chico State. “One of the things I think is important with this $2 million gift is to show the way, show other people that you don’t necessarily have to be a grad to make a gift to a great institution,” he says. “And by doing this, it’s absolutely my hope that other people will see the opportunity that lies here at Chico State and invest in the future at Chico State.”
At the August event announcing Giustina’s gift, President Zingg noted the many exemplary contributions Giustina has made at the University of Oregon. “Dan has devoted so much of his time and his vision to education. He is a Duck through and through, and a great friend of that institution. And now he is a Wildcat.”