Inspired by their families, a love of Northwestern and the desire to make the University and the world a better place, women philanthropists have created exciting new spaces, programs and opportunities for students.
There is no denying the unprecedented leadership Shirley Welsh Ryan ’61, ’19 H has brought to Northwestern, in everything from the musical arts and groundbreaking research to athletics excellence and continuing education.
She and her husband, University Trustee Patrick G. Ryan ’59, ’09 H, made their first major gift to Northwestern in the early 1980s — Welsh-Ryan Arena is named in honor of their parents. In 2018 the arena underwent extensive renovations and is now one of the most accessible facilities in college athletics, thanks in large part to Shirley Ryan’s influence.
In addition to the many other Northwestern facilities that bear the Ryan name, she and her husband have supported numerous endowed scholarships, fellowships and professorships. She also founded and remains involved in the University’s Learning for Life Lectures series.
“Impact is marked by empowering others to use their skills, their creativity and their education to live a good life and to contribute to making America even better,” says Ryan, who earned a bachelor of arts in English from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, was awarded the Northwestern Alumni Association’s Alumni Medal in 2013 and received an honorary degree from the University in 2019.
“I was inspired by the education I received at Northwestern, which made me ready to face a rapidly changing world and try my best to make a difference for others,” she says.
Through her generous support, Kimberly K. Querrey has propelled Northwestern’s prominence in scientific and medical research.
When she and her husband, Louis A. Simpson ’58, both University trustees, were considering where to direct their philanthropy, “We felt like the transformative research taking place at Northwestern was something we wanted to support, as it will change the future of human health and disease,” Querrey says. Querrey and Simpson’s contributions during We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern represent the highest total giving from an individual family.
They have supported initiatives such as the Simpson Querrey Institute, the Simpson Querrey Center for Epigenetics and the Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center. This year they made an additional gift to advance research through the University’s Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics. “We’re on the cusp of many exciting discoveries in biomedical research,” Querrey says. “What was once science fiction is now becoming reality through some of the brightest minds collaborating across disciplines.”
A former athlete, Querrey honored the two women who raised her when she and Simpson contributed to the Walter Athletics Center. The facility’s Querrey Simpson Wing includes Nona Jo’s Dining Center, named for her grandmother Nona and Aunt Jo.
Roberta Buffett Elliott ’54 has expanded opportunities for international studies and research at Northwestern through her exceptional generosity — including the largest single gift in the University’s history.
It was Elliott’s dedication to her alma mater that led her to give back. A graduate of Weinberg College with a degree in history, she looks back fondly on the “wonderful four years” she spent as a student. “I had gone to a smallish high school in Omaha, and Northwestern just opened my eyes to the world. It changed my life.”
While co-chairing her 50th class Reunion, Elliott made her first major gift to the University, setting up an international visiting professorship program, followed by several other gifts benefiting global research.
In 2015, she made a historic $101 gift million gift to create the Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs.
“It’s exciting helping students, from our country and other countries,” Elliott says.
Donors often are inspired to give by others, such as University Trustee Paula Pretlow ’77, ’78 MBA, who travels across the country to engage alumni and friends in the “We Will” Campaign as its co-chair for participation. A member of the Campaign Steering Committee, she also co-chairs the San Francisco Regional Campaign Committee.
“My view of philanthropy was shaped at a very young age,” Pretlow says. “Even though I grew up in a household without the financial means to give money to certain causes, my mother would bake goods to distribute to neighbors and take to people who were sick, and my grandmother would visit people in their homes.”
Pretlow earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Weinberg College and is now a member of its Board of Visitors. She supports several areas of the University, including the College, Student Enrichment Services, the School of Education and Social Policy and the Kellogg School of Management, where she earned her MBA.
“It’s important to me to support Northwestern because Northwestern has supported me in so many ways,” Pretlow explains. “I arrived on campus with very little. I left with a ton more knowledge and with the tools and opportunities to make the best of my life that I could.”
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