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Regents Approve Renaming Forestry School In Honor Of UM's Biggest Gift Ever

Bill and Carolyn Franke and their family visit the UM campus to celebrate their gift with the University community.
Courtesy University of Montana
Bill and Carolyn Franke and their family visit the UM campus to celebrate their gift with the University community.

Today the state board of regents approved re-naming  a school and an academic program at the University of Montana in honor of a major financial contributor.

University of Montana President Royce Engstrom:

"Earlier this fall, Bill and Carolyn Franke and their family pledged $24 million to support the University of Montana’s College of Forestry and Conservation and the Global Leadership Initiative," Engstrom said. “This gift is the largest single pledge in the University’s 123-year history, and we are deeply grateful for their generosity."

Bill Franke is the managing partner of the global investment firm Indigo Partners, and former CEO of several companies, including America West Airlines. He’s owned a home in Bigfork since the 1990s.

Franke explains why he’s supporting the College of Forestry and Conservation.

“I am concerned about our water supply and the lakes and streams, and so that’s a high priority to me,” Franke said. “I have had the good fortune to work around the world and lived around the world, and I’ve seen what other countries have not done to protect their natural resources, and the devastation that has resulted, and I want to make sure that that never happens here.”

The Frankes’ gift is somewhat unusual in that no family members are alumni of the University of Montana. Bill Franke graduated from Stanford, where he has also made large financial gifts. The family gave Northern Arizona University $25 million in 2007. He says his relationship with UM started when the forestry school helped answer some questions about a grove of trees on his property here.

The Frankes are also providing $6 million in scholarships for UM’s Global Leadership Initiative, which helps undergrads study abroad. 

"Whether anyone in this room likes it or not, you’re going to be globalized," Franke said. "And unfortunately a lot of students go through a college career without really understanding much more than is happening on the campus, and I wanted to be sure they understood there was another part to their lives as they went forward."

Bill Franke says he’ll be back to check on what he considers an investment in the University of Montana.

$6 million will fund scholarships for Franke Global Leadership Initiative for students pursuing educational experiences outside of the classroom including internships, service learning, study abroad, research and field experiences. Additionally, the gift will support critical staffing and operations to continue building the program.

UM’s Global Leadership Initiative is a four-year, 12-credit certificate program that provides undergraduate students opportunities to explore society’s most pressing questions by combining local and global practical experiences with classroom education.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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