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Creating Scholarships for Veterans, Securing Income for Retirement

Photo of Marcella Stapor

"Seeing what my gift means to the students has been one of the highlights of my life."

Soon after retiring in 2018, Marcella Stapor ’59GS found that she had little tolerance for the ups and downs of the stock market. "I just wanted to live my life without worrying every day about my investments," she says.

So she decided to look into charitable gift annuities, a giving vehicle that provides fixed payments for life at attractive payout rates. She reached out to Columbia, and what happened next surprised even her. But first, you need to know a little more about Marcella.

The importance of independence

Marcella lost her father when she was fourteen years old. Her mother managed to support her and her sister by working as a nurse—a skill she was grateful to have as a single parent—and she insisted that her daughters be able to support themselves independently as well. She encouraged Marcella to become a lawyer.

Marcella completed her first two years of college at a women's college in Virginia then transferred to The School of General Studies of Columbia University to complete her degree. "I had no mentor, only my mother's conviction that I would make a good lawyer," she says. "Columbia did a world of good for me. It gave me a sense of well-being and confidence, and it paved my way to law school and beyond."

As the only woman in a law school class of a hundred men, Marcella would need all the confidence she could get. She recalls: "Every other day one of them would come up to me and say, 'Do you know you're taking a job away from a man?' I had to ignore all that, and luckily I did."

When she found out that she had passed the bar exam on the first try, she called her mother at work to share the good news. "I heard her screaming on the other end of the phone," she says. "It made her so happy."

Finding a way into the legal profession

Actually landing a job as a lawyer proved even more difficult. In fact, Marcella remembers showing up at one interview only to be told that they had no intention of hiring her, they just wanted to see what she looked like.

After months of this type of treatment, Marcella paused her search and took a vacation to England. As the trip drew to a close, she decided to delay her return and to stay in the U.K. to work as a paralegal in the area of patent law. When she finally returned to the U.S. a few years later, gender and racial barriers to employment in the legal profession had begun to fall—and she was able to advance her career with her newly developed area of expertise.

"The law turned out to be the perfect field for me," Marcella says. "I traveled a lot and made friends all over the world." She says she feels fortunate to be in a position now to give generously to the causes that are important to her.

Values align

Nearly six decades after graduating from Columbia, Marcella found herself back at the University discussing ways she might support the School of General Studies. This was soon after the tragic death of the school's former dean, Peter Awn, and the conversation turned to one of his personal priorities: scholarships for veterans.

"That's when everything lined up for me," says Marcella. "I've always thought that our nation needs to do so much better by the young men and women who serve in the military. Hearing that this was important to Dean Awn as well, I decided that's what I wanted my gift to do—to support returning veterans who want to earn a Columbia degree."

So in March 2019, Marcella established a charitable gift annuity at Columbia. It will pay her fixed payments for life at an annual rate of 7.5%, based solely on her age, and the balance will establish the Marcella Ann Stapor Endowment Fund at the School of General Studies, with a preference for the support of service men and women. Her gift will also help fund a student lounge to be named in honor of Dean Awn.

Giving in this way earned Marcella membership in Columbia's prestigious 1754 Society. It also inspired a member of the School of General Studies Board of Overseers to match her gift outright, doubling its impact.

"The first reunion I ever attended was my 60th," says Marcella, "but I've never forgotten Columbia." At a reunion event, she received a standing ovation in recognition of her gifts and a special thank you from a group of current students and alumni who had served in the military.

"That felt so good," she says. "Seeing what my gift means to the students has been one of the highlights of my life."

Looking to provide fixed income for life to you and/or a loved one? Please let us know. We would love to discuss ways to match your philanthropic goals with your financial needs—and perhaps welcome you as a member of the 1754 Society.

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