A Legacy in Action

At least once each year, LeRoy Cornwell, a farmer from Ankeny, Iowa, visits Iowa State University to talk with scholarship recipients, not unlike a typical scholarship donor. Except he wasn’t the one who funded the scholarship.

Cornwell took over his family’s farm in 1999. At that time, most of his interactions with Iowa State University either related to his two sons who were students or Cyclone basketball games.

It was his uncle on his father’s side, Dr. Gerald William Cornwell, a 1941 graduate of the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, who established the G.W. and Peg Cornwell Scholarship fund during his lifetime. Dr. Cornwell made outright gifts to the scholarship fund, enjoying the immediate effect of his philanthropy. However, he supplemented the scholarship fund with a planned gift, creating a “snowball effect” – increasing the impact and enabling future generations of his family to carry on his legacy at Iowa State. For LeRoy, this means a front row seat to a planned gift in action.

“Sometimes I see recipients’ names in the paper or in other university publications for various accomplishments or accolades,” said Cornwell. “It’s refreshing to see and converse with these students with a positive work ethic – not just for their future but also in their current studies.”

Normally Cornwell gets to meet with past and current recipients of his uncle’s scholarship at the College of Veterinary Medicine’s scholarship and awards reception each spring. One year, a scholarship student who studied large-animal medicine took a trip with a few of his peers to visit Cornwell’s farm. “It was nice to offer them some additional hands-on experience. The recipients tend to study small-animal medicine, so it was good to mix things up and interact with one of the scholarship recipients beyond the annual reception,” said Cornwell.

When it comes down to it, it’s the deeper feeling of connection with his uncle’s legacy, the recipients, and Iowa State as a whole that keeps Cornwell coming back year after year. “If anything, it’s nice to know these students are very appreciative. They’re always telling me how these scholarships help relieve them of worry and enable them to devote more time to their studies,” said Cornwell. “But mostly, I find it enjoyable to talk face-to-face with someone at the beginning of their life – it ‘spurs me on’ even at 73. It’s truly a testimony as to what life can be if you apply yourself to your education.”

The annual trips to the College of Veterinary Medicine inspire Cornwell time and again, as he gets to converse with the students who represent the effects of his family’s legacy that will continue generation after generation – a true testament to how planned giving is not just about one person making a bequest, it can be about a family making their mark at Iowa State and seeing an investment, both financial and personal, increase over time.

Most people don’t get to see what kind of impact a planned gift can make, whether for students, faculty, a program or a facility. That’s what puts LeRoy Cornwell in such a unique position – he can see what his uncle’s foresight has been able to accomplish. “By adding a bequest gift to his current giving, my uncle was able to keep the larger award amount per scholarship the same but increase the number of recipients per year, maximizing impact for years to come,” said Cornwell.