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MC trustee gives $3 million in honor of Peter Bunce

Jeff Rankin
Former Monmouth College chairman of the board Peter Bunce (left) and fellow trustee Bill Goldsborough were photographed at a recent college event. Goldsborough is honoring Bunce’s 40 years of service with a $3 million gift to the college’s new Center for Science and Business.
Bill Goldsborough identifies with people who quietly make a difference.

For years, the 1965 Monmouth College graduate has himself been quietly making a difference through such activities as funding transportation for prospective students to visit the Monmouth campus. A retired securities analyst and portfolio manager who formerly taught economics, he prefers to work behind the scenes, sharing his financial expertise with MC’s board of trustees, of which he has been a member since 1985.

Recently, Goldsborough and his wife, Beverly, decided to honor a fellow board member whose leadership has quietly but significantly transformed the campus over the course of 40 years. Their $3 million gift to Monmouth College’s new Center for Science and Business will create a plaza named in honor of longtime trustee Peter Bunce and his wife, Gail.

Bunce, who served as chairman of the board from 1975 until 1984, and who continues to serve on the executive committee, was the founder of Bunce Building Corp., a St. Louis-based construction firm that specialized in highly finished pre-engineered bank buildings, prior to branching out into general contracting and consulting. Despite his four decades of dedicated service to Monmouth College, Bunce remarkably had no personal ties to the institution prior to joining the board.

“Peter is one of the senior people I have admired during my 25 years on the executive committee,” Goldsborough remarked. “He is a smart, sharp guy who has made innumerable important contributions to the college, especially in his work on the buildings and grounds committee. The curb appeal of this institution is spectacular, thanks in large measure to Peter’s vision. The Bunce name, I decided, should be on something on campus.”

After getting initial approval from President Mauri Ditzler to name an aspect of the new building in honor of the Bunces, Goldsborough decided his next step was to get approval from the Bunces themselves. A railroad buff, Goldsborough took an Amtrak train from his home in Glen Ellyn, Ill., to St. Louis, where he scheduled a lunch meeting with the couple.

“We went to a nice restaurant, but I could tell Peter was a little uneasy,” Goldsborough recalled. “He thought for sure I was there to ask him for a gift to the college.”

The unease soon turned to surprise, and eventually to gratitude. “I showed Peter and Gail some ideas for possible areas of the new building to carry their name,” Goldsborough said, “and they liked the idea of a landscaped plaza or garden near the northeast corner of the building.”

The permanent gardens will be symbolic of the permanent home that Peter Bunce found at Monmouth College many years ago, after having traveled a winding road that just happened to lead to the small college in western Illinois. A native of Palmerton, Pa., Bunce attended Princeton University, where he majored in economics. He enlisted in the Air Force after college and served as a combat intelligence officer before founding his steel building company in 1959. The Monmouth College connection came about in 1970, when he met Bruce Mainwaring, the president of a steel tubing company. A classmate of newly-installed Monmouth College president Richard Stine at the University of Pennsylvania, Mainwaring was preparing to join the Monmouth College Senate, and suggested to Stine that Bunce would make an excellent addition to the board.

“I talked to Bruce at a meeting in Florida,” Bunce reminisced, “and he said ‘You ought to get interested in Monmouth College.’ And I was interested. My older sister was on the faculty of Oberlin, so I had an interest in academic affairs, and I was also doing business in the area, constructing bank buildings.”

“I made the mistake,” Bunce joked, “ in dropping by campus just to see how things were going. They took that to mean that I was really interested in the job!”

It wasn’t long before Bunce was asked to succeed Caterpillar CEO Lee Morgan as chairman of MC’s board. It was turbulent period in history of the college, as it teetered on the brink of financial insolvency, but Bunce skillfully piloted the college to calmer waters. One of his most significant achievements in those years was convincing a dean from Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio to accept the presidency.

“In those days, we didn’t have a consultant; we ran the search ourselves,” Bunce explained. “Our only really good candidate was DeBow Freed from Mount Union. We offered the job to him, but he declined.”

During a business trip east, Bunce stopped at Alliance and had a conversation with Freed. “I told him we knew we were in trouble, and we needed someone who also knew we were in trouble, and who wanted to fix it. As a result of that talk, Freed decided that he was that person, and it was largely through his strong management that we were able to get back on our feet financially.”

Bunce’s leadership did not end with his tenure as chairman. He served as national chair of a capital campaign from 1983-1986 that raised more money ($15 million) than all previous drives combined, and the goal was reached a year ahead of schedule.

“I love this campus, I really do,” Bunce reflected. “It’s just a wonderful surprise that my name will now be attached to it.”

That sentiment brings a lot of pleasure to Goldsborough, who admits he enjoys surprising people. Five years ago, he secretly told only President Ditzler about his desire to name a new residence hall in honor of legendary MC music lecturer Gracie Peterson. That $2 million gift, when announced at the end of a Homecoming gala dinner, proved to be quite a surprise to the large audience of alumni.

Goldsborough also enjoys being unconventional. After making an initial $1 million contribution toward the Center for Science and Business last year, he decided to reserve the remainder of his $3 million pledge to challenge others to pledge gifts to the $40 million project. He agreed to anonymously match every new dollar pledged with 50 cents of his own, up to the $2 million mark. The strategy succeeded in raising $4 million in new funds. With his gift added, the $6 million goal necessary to break ground was reached on schedule.

The 138,000-square-foot facility, which will house Monmouth College’s departments of science, math, business and accounting, is scheduled for completion next spring and will officially open in August 2013.