MACOMB, IL – For 20 years, Western Illinois University has celebrated Purple & Gold Day on April 24 to commemorate the day in 1899 when the Illinois Legislature approved the creation of what would become WIU. In “typical” years, the WIU Alumni Association would host events around the nation to celebrate Leatherneck pride, but 2020 isn’t exactly shaping up to be a “typical” year.
This year, for the first time in the celebration’s history, Purple & Gold Day went virtual, and added a new component: Day of Caring. The Western Challenge – a 24-hour fundraising event – is usually held in conjunction with Purple & Gold Day and donors pledge gifts to areas of their choosing. During the 2020 Purple & Gold Day of Caring, individuals were asked to donate to the Student Emergency Fund, which was established by WIU to assist Western’s students impacted by the pandemic.
As a result of the daylong celebration and fundraising campaign, more than $110,000, which includes a generous match of $25,000 by the WIU Foundation, was raised for the emergency fund. In addition, WIU Professors Emeriti Charlene Callison and Larry Balsamo matched $5,000 once $25,000 was raised during the event, and University Professionals of Illinois, WIU’s faculty union, donated $1,000, along with many other organizations and groups, individuals and corporations, to the emergency fund. An additional $14,000 was raised for other areas of the University. To date, over 1,400 students have applied for the emergency grants, which do not have to be repaid. The funds can be used for rent/housing, food, medical needs, technology and more. Students can apply at bit.ly/WIUStudentEmergencyAidForm
“Every year we’re amazed at the support and participation we have on this special day. But this year, words cannot even express our gratitude and appreciation,” said Annual Fund Director Tim Hallinan. “Thank you to everyone who took part in our Purple & Gold Day of Caring. I am so proud to be a Leatherneck.”
Along with the fundraising aspect of the day, because of the ongoing pandemic and stay at home order, WIU’s Alumni Programs and other University departments and organizations put on their creative thinking caps and came up with virtual events – both live via Zoom and pre-recorded videos – to engage faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends all day long.
“Thank you Leatherneck nation! We knew our Western family was going to come together to embrace our students and each other on the Purple & Gold Day of Caring, but we had no idea the support would be at the level it was,” said Alumni Programs Director Amy Spelman. “More than 1,000 alumni, friends, parents and students joined us throughout the day by participating in our events and contributing to the fund. You know it’s another great day to be a Leatherneck when you end it with tears of joy.”
A live town hall with Interim President Martin Abraham started the day’s events. Other live sessions included a panel discussion with GIS Center Director Chad Sperry and Geography Professor Chris Sutton on their statewide COVID-19 live map (LINK TO THE MAP); a “gut check” boot camp with WIU Alumnus Joe Decker and his wife, Nicole; a chat with WIU Alumnus and Super Bowl Champ Khalen Saunders; an update on enrollment/recruitment and retention with Admissions Director Doug Freed and Interim Executive Director of Retention Initiatives Justin Schuch; and a happy hour, along with other events in-between, brought WIU into the homes of alumni and friends around the globe. The videos and sessions can be found at wiu.edu/alumni/purplegoldday.php
“I am so humbled by what I saw Friday, April 24, 2020. I have always known we have a great group of people associated with Western Illinois University, but this year’s event really brought that even further home for me,” said Executive Director of the WIU Foundation Brad Bainter. “Our development and Foundation staff, Alumni Programs staff, University Relations, VPC, UTV and so many others across this wonderful institution put in so much time and effort to make this year’s event so special and meaningful. While we weren’t able to be together physically, we were together in spirit and in the name of Western Illinois University to help our students and celebrate our Leatherneck pride. Thank you so much.”