Bequest Establishes $14 Million Endowment to Fund VMI Scholarships
LEXINGTON, Va., July 23, 2009 – In late June, the VMI Foundation learned that a bequest made to it by the late Robert B. Rust Jr. ’34 will result in a gift of more than $14 million for VMI.
“This magnificent gift is the largest bequest realized by the VMI Foundation,” said Brian S. Crockett, chief executive officer of the VMI Foundation. “Moreover, it places Mr. Rust in the company of some of the Institute’s most generous donors.”
Under the terms of Mr. Rust’s will, the money will create the Robert B. Rust Jr. ’34 Scholarship. The Scholarship’s memorandum of understanding – an agreement between a donor, the VMI Foundation or VMI Keydet Club, and VMI concerning the purpose, funding, and administration of any endowed fund – states that it will be awarded to cadets who have “good character, have superior academic potential, and have need for financial assistance.”
According to Rust’s niece and the executrix of his estate, Gretchen N. Arnold, the seeds of Rust’s generosity probably were planted between his 3rd- and 2nd-Class years as a cadet. He faced a problem common to many young people in the 1930s: the effects of the Great Depression denied his family the ability to pay for his education. “His family had enough money to pay for his first two years,” said Mrs. Arnold.
What happened next is the stuff of tales often told by VMI alumni. Robert A. “Buzz” Marr Jr. ’18, renowned for decades of teaching and innumerable instances of extending aid to cadets and alumni, heard of Rust’s financial plight and decided to help.
“Colonel Marr took an interest in this problem and found a scholarship that could support my uncle,” Mrs. Arnold said.
Specifically, it was the James H. Maxwell Scholarship, which, according to Col. Diane B. Jacob, head of the VMI Archives, “paid $300 per year, which was almost half the cost in the 1930s.” Established by Miss Mary E. Maxwell in 1921 in memory of her brother, James, who had died as a cadet in 1881, the Scholarship provided funds for “two needy and deserving young men – one from West Virginia and one from Virginia.”
With the money from the scholarship, Rust was able to complete his education at VMI as a civil engineer. He eventually joined the Southern Railway – according to Mrs. Arnold, he was attracted to the company because a large number of VMI alumni worked for it – spending his professional career with it.
In 1997, through his attorney, he approached the VMI Foundation with the idea of establishing a scholarship at VMI through a bequest. Mrs. Arnold described how it matched the man.
“He believed in education, and I think he liked the idea of providing young people with the same opportunity he enjoyed,” she said. “He also was not a man to want attention. As his history in The Bomb states, he had a ‘retiring nature’ and ‘in a measure he has kept the light of his abilities under a bushel.’ That accurately describes his thoughtful, reserved personality.”
In keeping with his personality, when Rust signed the memorandum of understanding related to the scholarship in April 1997, he required that the scholarship’s recipients “shall be of good character, have superior academic potential, and have need for financial assistance.” However, he did not assign a fixed amount to the scholarship’s endowment. That amazing sum became known only after his will was probated.
Explaining Rust’s obvious success as an investor, Mrs. Arnold related that he started buying stocks in the 1930s. “His work with the railroad meant that he moved around quite a bit. Owning shares of companies gave him a sense of being connected.”
His interest in business and the stock market never waivered.
“He closely followed the market,” recalled Mrs. Arnold, “and, daily, he read Barron’s and the Washington Post. A great way to get a conversation going with him was to ask him about the market.” Another possible reason his portfolio remained strong was that he resisted investment fads. As Mrs. Arnold related, the 1990s’ “tech boom” – that collapsed at the decade’s end – never interested her uncle. “He never bought tech stocks because he didn’t understand them. He only bought into businesses that he knew, that he could understand.”
Thanks to Rust’s consistent success as an investor, his gift will have an enormously positive impact on the ability of VMI to provide scholarship assistance to cadets.
“Any gift of this magnitude will have an outsized effect,” said Warren J. Bryan ’71, vice president of the VMI Foundation for major gifts, who arranged the original memorandum in 1997. “Mr. Rust’s gift will mean approximately $630,000 in additional scholarship aid for our cadets, an increase of 15 percent in available scholarship assistance. And, coming as it does, in an economic downturn, this money is especially valuable.”
Col. Tim Golden ’71, VMI’s director of financial aid, echoed Bryan’s thoughts. “This gift will have a significant impact in helping make VMI affordable for future cadets. VMI has been blessed with many alumni and friends who initiated endowments that provide ongoing financial support to our cadets. Their support has been crucial and remains crucial in a time of economic uncertainty and decreasing support from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Mr. Rust’s gift continues this admirable legacy of generosity that enables four out of ten cadets to attend VMI.”
When asked for final thoughts about her uncle’s gift, Mrs. Arnold remarked on the “interesting parallel between the time when my uncle received his scholarship, the Great Depression, and now, in the midst of a serious economic downturn.”
She then said, “It shows a nice thing: that a kindness can be repaid, even across the years.”