Jim and Candy Unruh donate $15M to University of Jamestown
Gift establishes UJ’s School of Character in Leadership and kick-starts capital campaign.
JAMESTOWN — University of Jamestown President Polly Peterson announced a $15 million gift from Jim and Candy Unruh on Friday, May 5. It is the largest single donation in university history, as well as the largest single gift given to private education in North Dakota, UJ said.
The gift goes toward the creation and naming of the University of Jamestown’s new School of Character in Leadership and will support the renovation of Voorhees Chapel and a new building that will become the center for faith and life. This gift kick-starts UJ’s next capital campaign, which will launch publicly in the fall, the university said.
“Jim has been an incredible visionary for University of Jamestown, challenging us to think boldly while never losing sight of the values upon which we were founded,” Peterson said. “With my heart and mind still absorbing the magnitude of this gift, I thank Jim and Candy through tear-filled eyes knowing that their love and commitment for UJ will forever secure the integrity of our commitment to values-based education rooted in Christian principles.”
Leadership is something we are all engaged in, and the pressure of leadership today is enormous. We can’t be more supportive of trying to raise this program up, because the need is great. ...
In 2006, the University of Jamestown embarked on a mission to formally embrace leadership education in its academic curriculum by creating and launching the undergraduate Character in Leadership program. The program emphasized the core attributes of a Presbyterian Christian education, including ethical and moral discernment, the search for truth, and the holistic development of self and others.
“This program was originally established as a minor because we believe that students in any major — from biology and exercise science to accounting and teacher education — can be great leaders," said Elizabeth Hunt, director of Character in Leadership.
In 2015, the university extended its leadership education by developing and launching a Master of Arts in Leadership program geared toward the working professional. With nearly 200 graduates since its founding, the program has helped guide executives in myriad industries including banking, technology, health care, sports and the nonprofit sector.
“The ideals of leadership training and character development stem from the founding values of the university, as well as our mission to develop wholeness in students,” Peterson said. “The blessings of this gift will impact the lives of every single student we serve. The university has been building character since 1883, and this gift will allow us to expand our reach, serve an even greater number of students and transform the way we deliver character in leadership for students of all ages and stages of life and career.”
The new School of Character in Leadership will provide diversified programming options including workshops, certificates and degree programs at the undergraduate, master and doctoral levels, blending leadership theory with practice. Courses will be available on the Jamestown campus as well as through the university’s online learning division, University of Jamestown Accelerated.
“Leadership is something we are all engaged in, and the pressure of leadership today is enormous," said Jim Unruh. "We can’t be more supportive of trying to raise this program up, because the need is great. The success I’ve had has a lot to do with the values that were reinforced here at UJ. We’re happy to be able to provide this kind of support.”
Hunt said UJ’s leadership program is different from others because it transcends traditional business leadership. It is based on the servant leadership of Jesus, focusing centrally on the continued development of self, others and teams for the good of organizations, communities and the world.
“Our vision is that University of Jamestown, through its School of Character in Leadership, will be the premier institution for character-based leadership education on a regional, national and international scale,” Hunt said. “Character is developed through identifying values, engaging in principled action, intellectual discipline, discernment, humility and service to others. It can be guided and nurtured in ways that honor the unique gifts and qualities of everyone. We aspire to become a dynamic hub for the creation and dissemination of leadership research.”
The Voorhees Chapel and the new center for faith and life are also part of the upcoming capital campaign. The chapel, which was built between 1917 and 1918, will undergo renovation while the center for faith and life will be constructed to house the School of Character in Leadership, connecting the chapel to the Badal Nafus Center.
“This new space will serve as a bridge between faith and student life,” said Brett Moser, vice president of development and alumni relations. “We want to give our students the opportunity to explore their beliefs, ask questions, and be critical thinkers in a modern space that fits the needs of today’s students.”
Peterson said the new center for faith and life is significant.
“Providing space and place for this new program is very important," she said. "The center will act as a student union where students, faculty, and staff gather, socialize and discuss ideas. This space will help fulfill our commitment to co-curricular education and learning that happens beyond the classroom.”
Moser said the Unruhs' gift sets the tone for the university’s upcoming campaign.
“It’s inspiring to see a couple so committed to our mission and vision. Jim and Candy are longtime supporters of UJ, with Jim serving on our board of trustees for 33 years,” Moser said. “A gift of this size and aimed in this direction ensures that University of Jamestown honors the history and foundation we were built on through our Presbyterian founders in 1883. It allows us to create a space where students can grow as leaders and explore the biggest questions in life. We’re thankful to the Unruhs for giving us this opportunity.”