Described as modest spenders in their daily lives, Darlene and Wilbert Carlson were just the opposite in their death. These Camarillo residents who died at the ages of 84 and 85 in 2013 and 2014, surprised many by leaving California Lutheran University a $2.32 million estate gift.
They designated $1.4 million to establish an endowed chair for youth and family ministry, $584,700 for the construction of a new science building, $300,000 towards a summer research program in chemistry and $40,000 for an endowed scholarship for aspiring teachers.
Director of Stewardship Lana Clark met with the Carlsons several times and facilitated their desire to make a difference at Cal Lutheran. She knew the Carlsons initially because of their scholarship donations. When Darlene Carlson died, Clark became better acquainted with Wilbert Carlson and worked closely with him to plan the estate gift.
“They were very modest people and they were very diligent about saving and really good planners, so Will called me one day and said, ‘I want to talk to you a little more about our legacy at CLU. Right now all the money is going to the scholarship but I want to see if there is more that we can do’ and so at that point he told me it was a gift of over $2 million,” Clark said. “After I got over the initial shock of such a large gift, Steve Wheatly and I went and met with him to start dreaming about what Will wanted to do.”
The Carlsons’ daughter Dee was an alumna of Cal Lutheran and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1978. She went on to become an adult education administrator, but died suddenly in 2009 at the age of 52. The Carlsons created the scholarship for aspiring teachers in her honor.
“They lost their only daughter unexpectedly and I think their vision of what they wanted to do with their money changed significantly when she died,” Clark said. “They knew that they couldn’t take their money with them and they really wanted to know that the money was going to make a difference. I think because they had been scholarship donors for so long at CLU, they saw the impact and we could already show them through our work that we were good stewards of their funds. They knew we would honor their legacy.”
Wilbert Carlson worked hand-in-hand with Cal Lutheran to decide how to best use his funds to reflect his life. As an aerospace engineer and eventually the manager of manufacturing and engineering at Northrop Corp, science was one of his interests. The Carlsons were also devoted to their Lutheran faith.
“We realized he had a passion for ministry, passion for science and then the scholarship with teachers. One of the things was the chair of youth and family ministries. They’re lifelong Lutherans so for them that was something that they wanted to promote,” Clark said. “He worked in the engineering field but he saw how faith and reason really helped him become a better person and better at what he did later on as a manager. So he wanted to support that idea of ministry at a liberal arts school like CLU.”
The endowed chair position is now held by Dr. Colleen Windham-Hughes, who had the job before it was an endowed chair.
“It was actually the original plan in starting Theology and Christian Leadership. There was an idea to gather money for an endowed chair but the money was a little slower coming in than anticipated,” Windham-Hughes said. “Dr. Kimball had given the go-ahead to the program anyway so we had been running the program on other funds, but it’s great to have the money for the endowed chair and it frees us to do some other things.”
Windham-Hughes already has several plans in the works for Youth and Family Ministries, made possible by the Carlson’s estate gift. Next spring, the program will invite professionals in youth and family ministries to come on campus and talk with students about faith formation.
“I hope that Cal Lutheran can kind of be like a meeting place or a convening place for people who really want to put their energies in faith formation for children, youth and families and especially for our students and also people who are looking for ongoing professional development and connection,” Windham-Hughes said.
The Carlsons were honored for their donations at the 55th Founders Day Convocation on Oct. 9. Larry Johnson, who spoke at the event, was Wilbert Carlson’s cousin and lifetime friend of the couple.
“Wilbert was my cousin so I knew him really well all of my life. He was an engineer and he was a very organized person and made lists of what to do, notes of when he did it and notes about how it went,” Johnson said. “Everything he did he did with a kind of meticulous care. They were very loyal to the church and felt a kind of trust toward CLU. They had a basic grounded faith in God and love for CLU’s mission.”
Published October 28th, 2015