In 1927, Kenneth Rumsey left his Pharmacy studies and the football team at Ferris State University — then known as the “Ferris Institute” — at the end of his freshman year. Ken’s connection to Ferris’ College of Pharmacy easily might have ended there, and that it did not is a curious reflection of the spirit of giving and Ferris’ unique power to transform lives.
Proud as Ken was of his position as quarterback and his prized possession, his crimson and gold Ferris letter sweater, he also was deeply missing the love of his life, Alma Nellis, who was back home in Lansing, Mich. Though Alma visited campus that year to accompany Ken to the yearly Pharmacy dance, Ken soon found that he could not stand being apart from her and ended his studies at the College of Pharmacy to return to Lansing, marry Alma and take a job in a furniture store.
Many happy years later, Ken and Alma met George and Patricia Walsh, a young Lansing couple with whom they became close, lifelong friends — so close, in fact, that the Walshes came to consider the Rumseys a second set of parents and ultimately played a key role in preserving their ties to Ferris.
“Patricia was a daughter to them, and I was a son,” said George Walsh, who first got to know the Rumseys when, as a young professional, he rented a room from the couple and helped take care of their property while they were out of town. George’s early care for Ken and Alma’s interests foreshadowed his later advocacy for the couple, seeing through their estate plans after their passing and even adding to an already generous gift that became the Kenneth A. and Alma L. Rumsey Endowed Scholarship.
Strong supporters of higher education throughout their lives, the Rumseys had made planned giving provisions to benefit Michigan State University in their hometown. However, their plans did not seem complete until, with the Walshes’ help, Ken and Alma included the Ferris College of Pharmacy in their plans, endowing the scholarship that today bears their names.
Ken often spoke very fondly of his experience at Ferris but had never continued his studies there — making his and Alma’s generous gift, while most welcome, a little mysterious. After all, Ken had spent a short time at the University.
“The gift is an incredible testament to the lasting effect that Mr. Rumsey’s involvement in the College had on him,” said College of Pharmacy Dean Stephen Durst. “There was something very positive in that experience, a sense of belonging, a connection to the College.”
Certainly, Ken would have appreciated the supportive academic and vibrant social environments at Ferris in the late 1920s. The Ferris Institute had recently seen founder Woodbridge N. Ferris proudly serve as a United States senator and two terms as Governor of Michigan, and the year marked the school’s first official homecoming celebration. It was a time of exciting changes for Ferris and its students.
On the other hand, the Rumseys also were thoughtful and giving by their very natures. The Walshes recall how Ken and Alma brightened the days of a seriously ill child in their community, taking him on a fishing trip at their cabin on Higgins Lake. Perhaps their gift was simply a product of their natural goodwill.
“Ken was a dynamo who never stopped moving,” said George Walsh. “He couldn’t do enough for other people.”
What is certain is that the Walshes’ friendship with the Rumseys and profound respect for their commitment to helping others led them to help coordinate a gift that will meaningfully honor the couple for years to come.
“It’s remarkable, the Walshes were committed to carrying out the Rumseys’ desires. They followed through with this gift and enhanced it,” added Durst, who noted that the exceptional gift has been made at a time when the definition of a ‘typical donor’ to the Pharmacy program is changing.
“In the past, we’ve thought that there would always be a few select, successful alumni who would be the donors. Now, when we look at the changing demographics of pharmacists and Pharmacy students, we see a really different picture. For the pharmacists, we see many more who maybe donating at a middle level — maybe not in a way that names a building after them, but in a way that really recognizes what they’ve gained from their studies here,” said Durst.
“Ferris has a unique story, in that donors give because, in addition to helping someone become a pharmacist, they might also be helping someone become a college graduate for the first time in his or her family. This is still a school of great opportunity, in Pharmacy as well as throughout the University. To me, the rewarding part of that is that we are working with a group of very knowledgeable, committed, enthusiastic students, and the difference that we’re making in their lives is perceptible and significant.”
The Rumseys’ and Walshes’ wish to leave a legacy at Ferris may be owed to the University’s brief but profound impact on Ken in his freshman year — after all, he did insist on being buried in his Ferris letter sweater — or on the two couples’ inherent kindness and philanthropy. Their gift is sure to have a positive impact on deserving Pharmacy students and their patients for years to come.