Preparing the Way
Ann Meacher Vander Vennet
By Scot Erin Briggs
Classmates Ann Vander Vennet (third from left), Jackie Berg (far left), and Barbara O’Toole (far right) with Class of 1959 Scholarship recipient, Anastasia Kaloydis ’09 (second from left).
Ann Meagher Vander Vennet ’59 studied sociology at Saint Mary’s. Sociologically speaking, 1959 was an interesting year: the world stage saw the first of Barbie, Fidel Castro, and the Daytona 500. Vander Vennet, however, left Saint Mary’s with more than a deepened understanding of people, culture, and the ways of societies. She left with ideas about the way society could be. “Catholic education at Saint Mary’s is not just required religious studies or philosophy classes,” she says. “It’s a way of life. I think in today’s world, it is important to be exposed to Catholic social teaching and have the opportunity to participate in social justice activities.” For Vander Vennet and her husband, George (ND ’59, JD ’62), the emphasis on social justice at their alma maters was influential, guiding them to help and encourage others with their generosity.
Her conviction that Saint Mary’s offers women a unique educational experience led Vander Vennet to become active in the Chicago Alumnae Club in 1963. She served as club president from 1984 to 1986. Classmate Barbara O’Toole, who shared the Alumnae Association’s Distinguished Alumna Award with Vander Vennet in 1999, has seen firsthand Vander Vennet’s ability to motivate her classmates and fellow alumnae. “Ann has continually reached out and persuaded others to get involved,” says O’Toole. “My own formal involvement with Saint Mary’s activities began in the 1980s when Ann invited me to join the Chicago Alumnae Club Board. Although I had zero aptitude for planning social activities or raising funds, she was very persuasive, and I accepted her invitation. Under Ann’s leadership at that time, the Chicago Club began to move from modest annual scholarship support to what is now a substantial endowed scholarship.” Vander Vennet’s initial engagement with the College at the club level sparked a passion that only burned brighter over time. In 1988, she was nominated to the Alumnae Association Board of Directors, on which she served as president from 1992 to 1994. It was during this time that Vander Vennet spearheaded the establishment of the Alumnae Memorial Scholarship Fund. “Family, friends, and alumnae may donate to that fund to increase that endowed scholarship,” says Vander Vennet. I am proud that I was involved in the establishment of that fund.” Since the Alumnae Memorial Scholarship was first awarded in the 1996–97 academic year, a total of $128,000 has been awarded to 38 students, a fact that makes Vander Vennet beam. Also during this time, Vander Vennet’s estimation that a great library required great resources inspired her to establish an endowed library fund in 1993.
In 2005, the vision of a new Student Center with spaces where students can live and grow outside the classroom inspired Vander Vennet to give Saint Mary’s the money needed to build the Vander Vennet Theatre. In 2007, she established the Ann Meagher Vander Vennet Endowed Scholarship. Vander Vennet’s passion for sharing her Saint Mary’s experience with other young women continued to grow and take new forms, including hosting and presenting at numerous student and prospective student events.
Vander Vennet and O’Toole would continue to collaborate during their Reunion Gift campaigns. “Over the years, we have had enjoyable, sometimes hilarious, planning meetings. I believe that our class has grown in our understanding of the importance of education for women. If we value the education we have received and want that for the next generations, we have to step up to the plate. Working with Ann and a core of equally dedicated classmates toward this goal has been invigorating and rewarding.”
Ann and George Vander Vennet
Now planning their 50th Reunion, Vander Vennet and O’Toole have a lot of classmates at their side including 45 alumnae who sit on two organizing committees. Vander Vennet has been instrumental in helping the class establish the Class of 1959 Endowed Scholarship in honor of their 50th reunion. “I am very proud that we have already established an endowed scholarship and dollars have been awarded this year to a freshman student,” says Vander Vennet. The class also has established the Class of 1959 50th Reunion Gift Fund. “My wish is that we can garner additional funds to establish another scholarship or two and then direct any additional funds to areas and priorities stated in President Mooney’s strategic plan for the College in The Path to Leadership,” says Vander Vennet.
The Class of ’59 has a goal to raise $300,000 in total gifts and pledges with 60% participation. Vander Vennet emphasizes the importance of participation. “All gifts make a difference,” she says. “Small gifts combined with other small gifts become large gifts. An important statistic in fundraising for higher education is the percentage of alumnae donors. Increased participation means greater eligibility for Saint Mary’s to receive dollars from corporations and foundations.”
For Vander Vennet, staying engaged with her alma mater has been its own reward. “I have had the privilege of being on campus to work with administration, faculty, staff, and students in projects that benefit the College community,” says Vander Vennet. “I have met some very outstanding fellow alumnae, students, and staff as well as Sisters of the Holy Cross. I have learned a lot about higher education in general and higher education at Saint Mary’s in particular.”