McGeorge School of Law

University of the Pacific receives $125 million gift

October 17, 2013

Powell Fund Logo

University of the Pacific has received an estimated $125 million from the estate of the late Robert and Jeannette Powell, the largest gift in the university's 162-year history and among the biggest single bequests to any institution of higher education in the United States.

With their gift, the Sacramento-area couple, who had no children and did not graduate from college themselves, will endow scholarships to help generations of students attend Pacific.

The gift also will create endowments for academic programs at Pacific, including endowed professorships and chairs; support the Powell Scholars Program, a prestigious honors program at the university established by the Powells; and provide ongoing financial support for Pacific's permanent art collection, including works newly donated from the Powells' estate.

"This gift means the world to Pacific, and Pacific students are poised to make a difference in the world," said university President Pamela A. Eibeck. "Bob and Jeannette's transformative gift will help us continue to advance in excellence and accessibility as we fulfill our mission of educating the whole student — intellect, character and spirit — and of going beyond our gates to enhance our communities. The university's future success will honor their memory."

The son of a small business owner, Mr. Powell became a visionary developer and entrepreneur after serving in the Air National Guard and the U.S. Army. His landmark projects, including the Gold River, Campus Commons and Selby Ranch communities and Pavilions shopping center, transformed Sacramento. Mr. Powell died in 2007 at age 76, six months after he and his wife announced their plan to make the bequest to Pacific.

Mrs. Powell, a professional interior designer, worked on projects built by her husband and became an influential patron of the arts. With her husband, she was a generous supporter of the Sacramento Ballet, Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra, Crocker Art Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her many contributions to Pacific all centered on students, whom she urged to find and follow their passions. Mrs. Powell died in December at age 80.

For more than 20 years, the Powells, who had homes in Gold River and San Francisco, made important contributions to Pacific. Last year, Pacific awarded its highest honor, The Order of Pacific, posthumously to both Mr. and Mrs. Powell. The honor is awarded to express the university's esteem and appreciation for individuals who have given distinguished service and made outstanding contributions to the university over a significant number of years. The Powells also were inducted as inaugural members of Pacific's 1851 Society, which recognizes donors who have contributed $1 million or more to the university. Pacific honored Mr. Powell with an honorary law degree in 1996.

In addition to their generous financial gifts, the Powells gave generously of their time. Mr. Powell served as a regent from 1989 to 1993 and was a board member emeritus when he died. Mrs. Powell served on the board from 1999 until her death. In 2000, the Powells gave $1.5 million to the university to name the Jeannette Powell Art Center, and in 2008 they endowed the Powell Scholars Program.

The Powells made the decision to leave their estate gift to Pacific in 2007. Originally announced as a $100 million bequest, it has grown in value in the years since. Today, the gift immediately boosts Pacific's endowment by more than 50 percent — to $337 million — a stunning leap.

"A single gift of this magnitude would be significant to any institution, but for a small private university with a modest endowment, it is truly transformational," said Kristen Soares, president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. "This gift ensures that Pacific will build on its rich history and contributions to California for generations to come, and secures its legacy of leadership among California institutions of higher education."

University of the Pacific, first established as California Wesleyan University, is the state's oldest chartered institution of higher education. It was the state's first private college to open its doors to women, and in 1848 graduated the first co-educational class on the West Coast. Its Conservatory of Music is the oldest in the West. In 1924, its move from San Jose to Stockton made it the only four-year private university serving the Central Valley. Today, Pacific has grown to include the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento and the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco.

A university's endowment is a collection of individual endowment funds received from benefactors and invested in perpetuity, generating revenue that allows a university to provide a level of excellence that would not be possible from tuition dollars alone. A strong endowment allows an institution to pursue critical initiatives and attract and retain top students and faculty, while providing stability for the future.

The Powell bequest will be invested in endowments as follows:

  • $30 million will support scholarships for Powell Scholars, and $5 million will support the Powell Scholars Program, which provides study abroad, research and other enrichment opportunities and experiences for scholars.
  • $25 million will create a matching fund to inspire others to create endowments for academic programs.
  • $3 million will be earmarked to maintain, store and display Pacific's permanent art collection, now and in the future.
  • The remainder — more than $60 million — will fund a matching campaign for endowed student scholarships. This means that at least $90 million will be used for student scholarships.

Also included in the bequest are works of art from the Powells' personal collection, valued at more than $400,000.

John P. Donovan, trustee of the Powell Family Trust, said that the Powells would be gratified to see how their estate gift — and its power to impact the university now and for generations ahead — has grown since they first announced their bequest.

"Pacific embodies every value that the Powells held dear," Donovan said. "They would be especially delighted to know that the university plans to use $60 million from their estate gift to inspire matching funds that will help even more deserving students earn an education at Pacific, and $25 million to inspire new endowments that will enhance academics."

Civic leaders say that the $125 million gift will be transformational for the region as well as the university. One third of Pacific's student body hails from the greater Stockton region (San Joaquin, Sacramento, Stanislaus and Calaveras counties).

"University of the Pacific's economic and cultural impact on Stockton and the San Joaquin Valley is profound," said Kathleen Lagorio Janssen, chair of the Board of Regents and one of the region's most prominent business leaders. "Pacific has always been an important employer and a vital intellectual center for the community. Bob and Jeannette's gift is an investment not just in Pacific, but in our region."

The gift will fund scholarships and academic programs across the university, including the seven schools in Stockton, McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento and Pacific's Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco. All Pacific's campuses provide extensive outreach to underserved populations in their communities, while offering exceptional training for legal and healthcare professionals.

Gifts of this size are rare in higher education. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy's "America's Top Donors" database, only 15 other private colleges and universities in the United States have received gifts of $125 million or more since 2005, the earliest year for which the database provides gift information. Three of the institutions were in California: Stanford University, University of Southern California and Claremont McKenna College.

About University of the Pacific

Established in 1851 as the first university in California, University of the Pacific prepares students for professional and personal success through rigorous academics, small classes, and a supportive and engaging culture. Widely recognized as one of the most beautiful private university campuses in the West, the Stockton campus offers more than 80 undergraduate majors in arts and sciences, music, business, education and engineering, computer science, pharmacy and health sciences. Graduate programs offer advanced degrees across the disciplines. The university's distinctive Northern California footprint also includes the acclaimed Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco and the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. For more information, visit