“One life linked to others can make a difference.”
In his final Commencement address as chancellor, the late William H. Danforth offered these parting words to the graduating Class of 1995. Danforth embodied this credo throughout his career as a physician, professor, and leader. A man of incisive vision and deep empathy, he viewed education as a force for change — and Washington University as the place to make it happen.
Nearly three decades after his retirement and three years after his death, Danforth’s spirit lives on through the alumni, parents, and friends who share his commitment to the university. Now, Washington University has established the William H. Danforth Leadership Society to formally recognize some of these supporters, specifically benefactors whose lifetime giving totals $1 million or more.
“Donors at this level are among the university’s greatest champions,” says Pamella Henson, executive vice chancellor for university advancement. “The Danforth Leadership Society is about honoring the magnitude of their contributions. They represent the past, present, and future of this institution.”
Remembering a friend
In the wake of Danforth’s death, Camilla Brauer proposed the founding of a new philanthropic group in his memory. She and her husband, Emeritus Trustee Stephen Brauer, have lent their counsel and support to the university for more than 30 years. Among their contributions are scholarship gifts as well as funds to endow the Stephen F. and Camilla T. Brauer Distinguished Professorship in Biomedical Engineering and the Lee Hunter Distinguished Professorship and to name Stephen F. and Camilla T. Brauer Hall, all in the engineering school. Their long association with the university blossomed under Danforth’s chancellorship, and he was a cherished friend and inspiration to both. “I knew Bill Danforth my entire life,” Camilla recalls, “and his life was dedicated to Washington University.”
The Danforth Leadership Society emerged from Camilla’s suggestion, and she describes it as the perfect way to honor Danforth’s character and impact in an enduring way. Although Danforth largely eschewed the spotlight during his lifetime, the Brauers imagine their friend would be gratified to know the university is recognizing those who generously give of themselves to support others.
This past October, the couple welcomed the Danforth Leadership Society’s inaugural inductees during an event at their home in St. Louis. Membership will be officially conferred by the Board of Trustees in May, followed by a new member dinner at Harbison House in the fall. The society joins established giving clubs like the William Greenleaf Eliot Society, which acknowledges donors who give $1,000 or more to the Annual Fund.
Donors at the Danforth Leadership Society level constitute some of Washington University’s most engaged citizens, and other membership privileges will reflect that. Through exclusive experiences and conversations with university leaders, they will gain even greater insight into the nuts and bolts of the institution. “They are going to be treated as insiders with front-row seats to what is happening at the university in real time,” Henson says. “We feel it’s important for them to witness the impact of their generosity firsthand.”
The future is now
During Danforth’s 24-year tenure as chancellor, the university’s application numbers, academic programs, research funding, and overall profile grew substantially. So did the endowment, which rose to $1.72 billion. Powered by Danforth’s leadership, these remarkable achievements were nonetheless a collective effort. “Bill was unafraid to step forward and say to our community, ‘We need you,’” Henson observes. “He understood people’s great capacity for generosity.”
With the launch of the “Here and Next” strategic plan and Make Way: Our Student Initiative last year, the university has entered yet another transformative new era. “We have an opportunity to propel this institution to the next level,” Henson says. “The support of our top donors helped us get where we are today, and their continued investment is critical for us to reach even higher in the coming decade.”
At its best, philanthropy is a collaboration, and Henson wants Danforth Leadership Society members to see themselves in Washington University’s future. “Dream big with us,” she says. For her, membership in the society is as much about inheriting Danforth’s legacy as it is about creating one’s own at the university. “That legacy includes the next generation of graduates who will leave equipped to tackle pressing issues like climate change, public health, and more.”
A personal investment
Before Sarah Boles, BSBA ’80, MBA ’81, knew Danforth by the nicknames “Chan Dan” and “Uncle Bill,” he was simply her father’s friend from their early years of practicing medicine, her younger brother’s godfather, and her childhood best friend’s dad. Across his roles as friend, father, and university leader, Danforth possessed an intelligence, kindness, and unwavering humility that she found inspiring.
After earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from the university, Boles moved from her native St. Louis to New York City, where she built a successful career on Wall Street and raised a family. Through it all, she never lost sight of the Midwestern values that Danforth embodied and her Washington University education fortified. Over the years, she has made her alma mater a philanthropic priority, and in 2021, she pledged $1.5 million to endow the Sarah L. Boles and Family Danforth Scholarship in the Danforth Scholars Program.
“I view investing in the university as an investment in what I value,” says the new Danforth Leadership Society member. “I am proud to be part of this community, and supporting this institution is one of the best ways I know of ensuring a brighter tomorrow for others.”
Learn more about the William H. Danforth Leadership Society and other giving clubs that recognize Washington University donors.