Linda Burnes (front), with (back, left to right), Ferris women's head coaches Marie Foster (softball), Matt Kellogg (soccer), Tia Brandel-Wilhelm (volleyball) and Colleen Lamoreaux-Tate (basketball), and Director of Athletics Perk Weisenburger.
The generous support of a private donor has significantly advanced women’s athletics programs at Ferris State University.
A supporter of Ferris women’s basketball, soccer, softball and volleyball for many years, Linda Burnes, of Big Rapids, has attended almost all of the teams’ games – at home and away. Now, through an estate gift, Burnes has championed Ferris’ female student-athletes in an even more remarkable way, creating an endowment that will provide important funding to their athletics programs for years to come.
“A couple of friends of mine started taking me with them to women’s basketball games. They got me interested, and we went regularly. Pretty soon, the players started to recognize me in the crowd,” Burnes recalled. “It was such a nice time that I started going to volleyball games, too.”
Soon after, Burnes met Ferris’ head volleyball coach, Tia Brandel-Wilhelm, and started saving newspaper articles about the team for the players, who began to look for Burnes in the stands and wave at her. Eventually, Burnes was hosting meals for the women’s basketball team at her home and traveling with them to away games, becoming what many of them describe as a “superfan.”
“Linda is not only a very generous donor – she is also one of the biggest fans that we have at FSU. Her passion is for women's sports, and we are so very thankful for that passion,” said Ferris State Athletic Director Perk Weisenburger. “Linda is a true Bulldog, and we realize that we are very fortunate to have a supporter and fan like Linda Burnes.”
Her support is especially important to out-of-state students; Burnes serves as a friendly face in the stands for those whose families cannot attend games.
“At an end-of-season awards banquet, one student from Ohio and her parents thanked me for coming to support her at all of her games, since they couldn’t. That meant so much to me,” Burnes explained.
With the gift, she will boost a lot more than just morale; the Linda J. Burnes Endowment will help ensure the continued success of women’s sports programs at Ferris for years to come. Weisenburger emphasized the importance of Burnes’ gift in supporting programs that create opportunities for female student-athletes.
“The opportunity to earn a scholarship, receive a top-notch college education and compete for championship with your teammates is something that every young person should be able to do. We look to be able to provide such opportunities to young women as much as we do young men, and the generous support of people like Linda Burnes certainly helps us in attaining that goal. It is very important for young girls to know that there will be opportunities for them to compete at the collegiate level,” he explained.
“I watch our players grow from 18-year-old girls to 22-year-old women,” said Burnes. “They learn so much about teamwork, pride and time management – there are plenty of aspects of leadership that athletics teaches.”
Thanks to her generosity, there also will continue to be plenty of opportunities for female student-athletes to become leaders at Ferris State. The university’s full complement of athletics programs for women was established in 1972, but there is a long and rich tradition of women’s sports at Ferris State, with yearbooks from as early as 1908 depicting a women’s intramural basketball team coached by Mary McNerney. With her “superfan” status and remarkable gift, Linda Burnes has become very much a part of that tradition.
“It was a heartfelt gift,” she said. “Those kids have touched my life for a number of years, and I just wanted to make sure I left them with something to remember me by.”