Witherington's Endowed Contest Encourages Creative Writers
Unlike the typical retirement gift, the one given in 1993 to honor Professor Emeritus Paul Witherington keeps on giving thanks to a charitable gift annuity.
The annual Paul Witherington Creative Writing Contest was established by his graduate students in recognition of Paul's 22 years of teaching English at SDSU. The contest is designed to motivate youth to explore creative writing.
"I can't imagine a world without informed writers and attentive readers. I am honored by their gift, and as a winner of a writing contest myself, I understand how such awards can motivate young students," explained Paul, who won a campus-wide short story contest as a college junior in 1953 and went on to become a prolific writer, publishing more than 40 short stories.
After years of having the contest only funded for one year at a time, Paul and his wife, Gay, decided to endow the contest through charitable gift annuities in each of their names. In return for the gift of appreciated stock, the SDSU Foundation pays the Witheringtons a fixed income for their lives. After they pass away, the remainder of the charitable gift annuities will fully endow the contest in perpetuity.
"The SDSU Foundation staff have been very helpful, good to work with, and keep us informed on how the contest goes. The endowment is continuing to grow," said Gay, who manages the family finances. After a lot of research, she chose to give through a charitable gift annuity because of the tax benefits and the fact the couple has access to funds if they need them. However, at this point, the Witheringtons gift the annuity right back to the university.
"This way we can give every year, but if we should need the money for health issues or other unexpected things, we can use the income," she explained.
Fulfilling careers remembered
The SDSU English Department was the fourth Paul taught for, and his favorite. "It was a congenial atmosphere, with some of the best and most committed teachers I've ever known. I found a significant number of SDSU students who valued the importance of writing," Paul recalled.
Although not every student entered his classroom with strong writing skills, he said because of their dedicated efforts, they made progress.
"I've learned the best writing whether fiction or non-fiction always involves a kind of self-discovery. I value those who take time to go beyond tweets and other ephemeral postings," Paul explained as the reason he feels strongly about supporting the contest that perpetuates his teaching legacy by inspiring South Dakota youth to practice creative writing.
Gay also recalled fond memories of her time and experiences at SDSU where she launched her career in psychology and counseling. Gay had been pursuing a master's degree from University of Pacific when Paul accepted the position with SDSU's English Department, so she completed her master's in education in counseling psychology at SDSU.
Gay was impressed with the graduate training she received at SDSU, noting that before SDSU, all her training had been academic. Whereas at SDSU, Orv Schmieding and other faculty encouraged her to engage in self-reflection and participate in group counseling sessions to gain experience. At that time, Orv Schmieding was the supervisor of the counseling and guidance graduate program at SDSU.
"I knew I wanted to be a psychologist and do counseling from the time I was very young. Orv Schmieding had so much knowledge and encouraged us to get to know ourselves and practice active listening. I felt like I was really prepared to be a counselor," Gay said.
Once she received her master's, Gay taught courses within continuing education at SDSU and worked as a counselor for the Women's Center in Brookings. After Paul's retirement, the couple moved to Arizona, where Gay continued teaching psychology classes for Prescott College.
Each year, Gay makes a gift to support the Orville and Trudy Schmieding Scholarship in Education and Human Sciences. By contributing to the scholarship and endowing the contest, she and Paul invest in a legacy which honors the impact SDSU had on the careers they loved.
"I think it is very important to give and support what you believe in. South Dakota and SDSU gave us a lot," Gay said.